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Alumni of Distinction class proves classy

A star of the basketball court becomes a life coach for kids coming before the juvenile court bench.

A high school newspaper editor becomes at age 29 a fearless real-life editor whose paper becomes a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

The son of a man who died of wounds suffered in World War II goes on to a 27- year military career in which he is awarded two silver stars, six bronze stars and two Purple Hearts, then sees two sons go off to service in Afghanistan, one commanding the same unit he commanded in Vietnam.

Thirty years after Newsweek chose Springfield as the focus of its American Dream Issue, the 2013 Springfield City Schools Alumni of Distinction Award winners confirm it made the right choice.

Wynette P. Carter-Smith, the late John G. Cole and Gerald Robert (Bob) Harkins make up one the smallest of the eight classes to be honored by the Springfield City Schools Alumni of Distinction Committee. It is a high-class class, nonetheless.

Perhaps the best known to current Springfielders, “Nettie” Carter-Smith was “regarded as one of the best, if not the best, female athletes to come out of Springfield North High School,” her boss, Clark County Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Monnin, says in his nominating letter.

A three-year letter winner in volleyball, basketball and softball who garnered a load of honors along the way, the 1984 graduate accepted a full-ride scholarship to Wright State University and was as successful there, scoring more than 1,000 points, becoming the school’s all-time leader in assists and serving as co-captain of the team in her junior and senior years.

Nor has she disappointed since.

Monnin provided long list of Carter’s community involvement in her 18 years at juvenile court, where she is now chief probation officer. It includes service to the Child Advocacy Center, the Rocking Horse Center, Junior Achievement, the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, the Family Stability Committee and McKinley Hall. Carter-Smith also is a certified self-defense trainer at the Ohio Peace Officer Academy.

The list seems impersonal next to Monnin’s remarks.

Having “had the pleasure of working with Nettie on a personal and daily basis for 18 years,” he writes, “I have come to know her to be a caring, compassionate and giving member of our community and our court” with “a commitment to the community and to the children and citizens that we serve (that is) second to none.”

The nomination packet for Cole, longtime editor of Lorain’s newsaper The Morning Journal, was assembled by lifelong friend and fellow North High graduate Vincent L. Crowell. It includes this striking letter from Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James M. Burge.

“No one (and I have been the subject of comment by news organizations around the world) has ever criticized me, indeed lampooned me, either as a lawyer or a judge with the journalist eloquence of John G. Cole,” Burge writes. “Nevertheless, John endorsed me as a judicial candidate, and when he thought it appropriate, his praise came with the same enthusiasm as his criticism.”

In a photo in the nominating packet, Cole looks out from the page like a happy David Letterman lookalike but is remembered by former Lorain Mayor and City Auditor Craig Foltin as “hard-hitting and brutally honest.”

Foltin said in a relationship that hit “every end of the spectrum” with the 1967 North High grad, he remarked: “One thing he never was, was afraid.”

“He would go toe-to-toe with the president of the United States, if need be. He looked at it as this: Right is right and wrong is wrong.”

Roy A. Church, president of Lorain County Community College, writes that Cole “was so well-respected that after he passed away, many from our community, including a judge and a few lawyers that did not always fare well under his pen, formed The John G. Cole Memorial Scholarship in Journalism Committee to raise money for journalism scholarships.”

The $32,500 raised to date would have greatly pleased Cole, said former colleague Richard Osborne of Cleveland’s Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, because he was “a man whose reverence for education was unmatched.”

Cole was 61 when he died two years ago.

A 1961 graduate of South High School, Harkins was a YMCA Camp Evergreen counselor whose cabin repeatedly was named cabin of the week when nominator Toni Conway and her late husband, educator Tom, saw his potential.

Harkins went on to lead the ROTC program at Ohio State as its major general, then was commissioned into the Army and endured ranger and paratrooper training before serving in Korea and Vietnam.

While a 1st lieutenant with the 327th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division on Sept. 3, 1967, Harkins “repeatedly exposed himself to the murderous hostile fire (of the Viet Cong)” and “led the platoon in a complete route of the insurgents,” one Silver Star citation says.

On May 20, 1969, after his company had lost 15 men and an officer, then Capt. Harkins continued to support another beleaguered company during the battle of Hamburger Hill, continuing even after he was shot through the neck by a bullet that lodged in his shoulder.

More than 20 years later, as brigade commander and deputy of staff for the 27th Airborne Corps, Harkins showed his strategic stripes when he planned and supervised the so-called end run of Operation Desert Storm, what one commentator called “the key to victory in the ground war” against Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards.

Now the associate vice president of Campus Safety and Security at the University of Texas at Austin, Harkins holds a master’s in education from Auburn University and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Pittsburgh, where he worked and studied after retiring as a colonel in 1993.

“I have been fortunate in seeing Bob evolve from a teenage boy to a man whom (the district) should be proud to award the Distinguished Alumnus honor,” writes Toni Conway.

The same can be said for all three in the small but classy class.

The award ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 12 at the Courtyard by Marriott. Anyone interested in attending can call Sandy Weiss at 937-505-2805.

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