Jim Rivers was looking for a way — any way — to express his anger in 1968.
He was attempting to buy a house in his hometown of Wadsworth, but owners were turning him away, sometimes to the point of slamming a door in his face.
He was convinced he was a victim of racism.
So Rivers came up with a plan that would involve multiple targets.
Barberton schools, where he was a second-year teacher, took pride in 100 percent participation in the annual United Way drive. In those days, almost every employer strived for 100 percent. And if one employee refused to pledge, there would have to be some explaining.
Moreover, the Summit County United Way included Wadsworth.
But what followed was a lesson in patience and the realization that out of an ugly experience kindness from an unexpected source could quell his anger.
Rivers was born in Wadsworth when his family lived in the Brickyard, named after the brick factory there. Attempts to stay in the hometown he loved were failing.
“It aggravated me enough that I said I won’t give to United Way, I just won’t,” he said. “The principal called me down and said ‘You know you’re going to be in trouble, the superintendent wants 100 percent.’?”
He went on to Barberton Superintendent Clarence Cox, who asked him to explain.
“I said because I have been house hunting for over a year and this is my way of protesting.” Rivers said. “And so he said ‘What’s the problem, why won’t they sell?’ And I said ‘Because of race.’ And so he said ‘If you give to United Way, I will see that you get a house.’?”
It wasn’t long after that when he got a telephone call from Alex Dombroski, who offered to be his new real estate broker.
“Every place we would go people would slam their door in my face,” Rivers said. “One person said, ‘I’m not selling it’ and slammed the door.”
Another day they were looking at a house on the north side of town when a car powered by, throwing gravel at them.
Another owner told him the house was sold, but when he called back using a falsetto voice, he was told it was still available.
“Then Alex called me and said ‘I have a house I think you will like and it’s not expensive,’?” Rivers said. “But he said ‘we’ll go at night.’ So there we were at night, looking at this house.”
It was everything they wanted at a price they could afford. This was 1968 and he was making about $5,200 a year as a second-year teacher in Barberton schools.
Dombroski told him to “put a bid on exactly what they are asking because if you go under and they know that you are black, they won’t sell it to you.”
The deal went through.
Years later — he thinks it was about 10 years after he moved in — he needed to look at the deed again and was shocked. He didn’t really buy the home from the people who lived there in 1968. There had been an intermediary named John Looney. Looney apparently bought the home from the original, reluctant sellers and managed to quietly sell it to Rivers.
Looney had been his former employer, one of the first jobs Rivers had after high school. Rivers remembered him as a fair man who always treated him well as a boss and was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, often called Quakers.
“I was just floored,” he said. “In fact, my wife and I were both floored.”
More years have passed and Looney has died, but Rivers, who went on to become a school principal, still reveres him.
“I really feel grateful to John not only because he helped us get this house but he also was my boss years before then,” he said. “I’m grateful for his fortitude and boldness.”
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.