College Facilities Named
for Outstanding Men
Three men who touched the lives of many during their service to Cowley were honored May 1 during a ceremony to officially place their names on college facilities. Ben Cleveland, Oscar Kimmell, and A.F. Tony Buffo were honored by the college during a ceremony attended by more than 100 people. A reception was held immediately following in the Patrick J. McAtee Dining Center. Cleveland, the late coach and Industrial Technology Department instructor and chair, was honored with the Ben Cleveland Wellness Center.
Kimmell, a former member of the college’s Board of Trustees, was honored with the Oscar Kimmell Dormitory. And Buffo, a former instructor and dean at the college, was honored with the A.F. Tony Buffo Plaza.
Former coach, instructor, mentor respected by all who knew him
Ben Cleveland’s work ethic and personal values helped shape the lives of everyone who knew him. His impact on students, players and co-workers at Cowley is immeasurable. Ben’s wife, Irene, accepted the award on her late husband’s behalf. “Ben would be very proud that the college would recognize him with such an honor,” Irene said. “He would be humble and in a way embarrassed. He never tooted his own horn, and when others praised him, he would be embarrassed, yet down inside so very, very proud that others thought so highly of him. I think he would feel much like when I surprised him with a football reunion.”
Cleveland’s 34-year career at Cowley ended on July 30, 1994, with a surprise retirement party in his honor. Irene, along with Ben’s best friends and a few former players, pulled off the ultimate surprise retirement party and football reunion all in one. Cleveland coached Cowley’s football team from 1960 to 1977. His teams won 79 games during that span, and two of his teams, the 1962 and 1972 squads, were ranked in the top 15 in the nation. Ed Hargrove, Cowley’s head softball coach and director of activities, played offensive right tackle for Cleveland in 1965 and 1966. “Other than my dad, Ben was probably the most honest and sincere man I have ever known,” he said.
Football wasn’t the only sport Cleveland coached at Cowley. He was head baseball coach from 1968 to 1983, head track coach from 1960 to 1967, head tennis coach in the 1960s, and assistant basketball coach from 1960 to 1975.
Cleveland received many honors during his career, but one of the biggest came six years after he retired. He was one of the original 10 members inducted into the Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 26, 2000. Cleveland was chosen as Teacher of the Year at Cowley for the 1986-87 academic year, and also received a recognition plaque for long-time commitment to student athletes at Cowley.
His community involvement was extensive. He was a member of Lions Club International for 40 years, was a member of the Arkansas City Residential Rehabilitation Council, the Arkansas City Camp Fire Board, the First United Methodist Church, and the International Gideon’s Cowley Camp. When Cleveland died on Jan. 15, 2002, at age 69, Cowley and the Arkansas City community lost a great friend. “Benny,” as he was known, had a storied career in education, first at the high school level, then at Cowley.
The Oklahoma native and his wife, Irene, moved to Arkansas City in 1954. After six years of teaching and coaching at Arkansas City High School, Cleveland worked for Cowley. Ben’s family also is very proud of their father and grandfather. They said Ben was a very loyal person who dedicated his life to serving the college. “He loved Ark City and the college very much,” they said. Irene remembers the long hours Ben used to put in to prepare for another football season. Following an eight-hour day, Ben would head to the practice field to make sure it was in top shape. Sometimes, Ben wouldn’t get home until two or three in the morning. “He would always say, ‘I just have to finish this and then I’ll be home,’ ” the family recalled. About an hour later, he would be home.
Cleveland was born Jan. 16, 1932 in Dewey, Okla. After graduating high school, he played football four years at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah. He also played for the Bob May Builders semi-professional baseball team. On May 6, 1951, he married Irene M. Webber in Dewey, and the couple lived in Tahlequah until Ben graduated. After graduation, the Clevelands moved to Arkansas City. At Cowley, known then as Arkansas City Junior College, Cleveland’s carpentry classes built more than 30 homes in Arkansas City. “Whatever it be, coaching, teaching or as an administrator, whatever it took to get the job done and get it done right, he would do,” the family wrote in a prepared statement. “Most of what Ben did went unnoticed, but today this is a just reward for his deep love and dedication to Cowley. “He always taught that a person should concern themselves with three areas of life. First, spiritual wellness; second, mental wellness; and third, physical wellness. Thus, today it is fitting that the college chose the wellness center to be named after him. We cannot find words to thank you for this honor.”
Modest, thoughtful, kind a few words that describe Kimmell
Oscar Kimmell would just as soon live the rest of his life in complete anonymity. He’ll continue to be the kind, thoughtful, loving, giving person he’s been for 86 years. There’s no question about that. It’s Kimmell’s modest nature that rarely allows him to be in the spotlight. He’s so modest that he recently declined a nomination for a community award sponsored by a local bank. “That would have been too much publicity,” Kimmell said. The honor bestowed upon him by the college nearly left him speechless. “It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Kimmell said. “I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. There are other people who deserve it more than I do.”
Kimmell’s service to Arkansas City is legendary. He was made a lifetime member of The Salvation Army Advisory Board on June 15, 1992. He received the Harry Long Award for service in 1980. He co-founded the Ark City Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors, a group of retired businessmen; and has served on the boards of The Salvation Army and American Red Cross. Kimmell also received the Silver Beaver award for Scouting, the highest award for service to boyhood given to volunteer scouters. And on June 5, 1990, Kimmell was one of 150 Kansans who received a Governor and First Lady Volunteer Award created by then-Gov. Mike Hayden.
His service to the college also is impressive. He served one four-year term on the college’s Board of Trustees from 1979 until 1983, and served on the College Endowment Association from 1979 until 2002. A staunch supporter of the college, Kimmell can be seen at nearly all home athletic contests, regardless of the sport. When he was younger, he and former Cowley president, the late Dr. Gwen Nelson, would attend most of Cowley’s road basketball games. To meet the man, you’d never know about all of the contributions he has made. “(Service) is really an important part of your life,” Kimmell said. “And people who don’t do it are missing so much.”
Kimmell was born and raised on a farm west of Ark City. One day he graduated from Arkansas City High School in 1936, and the next day he went to work for his uncle, Roy Neer, at Osage Gas & Electric Company. His beginning wage was 75 cents a day. Roy and Ralph Neer had started the company in 1934. In 1940, Roy purchased Ralph’s interest in the business, and in 1941, Kimmell bought one-fourth interest in the company. In 1942, he purchased another quarter interest and owned 50 percent of the company. Osage Electric sold the first automatic washer in Ark City, a Bendix, as well as the first window and commercial air conditioners. Electrical wiring and appliance repair comprised much of the company’s business. Later, the company purchased a neon plant from a man in Blackwell, Okla. A butane business also was added, and in 1950, after Roy Neer’s passing, Kimmell sold his interest to Roy’s widow, Ollie, and her daughter, Betty Patterson. It was during that same year that Kimmell was hired to open and manage a new Sears store in Arkansas City. He retired in 1980 after 30 years of service. Kimmell retired at age 62 and has never regretted it for a minute.
A large portion of his service to Arkansas City has occurred since 1980. “The year I retired it was hot,” Kimmell said. “And being connected with The Salvation Army, I knew there were a number of elderly people who didn’t have fans. So I ran an ad in The Traveler.” The ad requested fans people were willing to donate. Kimmell would repair the fans and give them to The Salvation Army, which in turn distributed them to needy people. “My backyard was full of fans,” Kimmell said of his house at 909 N. Seventh St., his home for the past 59 years. “I’d work until midnight getting those fans out.” If Kimmell had one thing to do over in his life, he would go to college. “I always regretted that I didn’t go to college,” he said. “I had a heckuva time getting through high school because of finances.” Through the years, Kimmell has been committed to his church. He has been a member of Central Christian Church for more than 50 years and has served as deacon and youth sponsor. He is dedicated to the Boy Scouts, serving as the Assistant District Commissioner, and was presented the Distinguished Service Award, the Arrowhead Award, and the Silver Beaver. Kimmell also has served on the board of the Northwest Community Center and AC Industries. And last, but certainly not least, Kimmell has been committed to his family.
He was first married in 1939, but only a year later, his wife Ramona died. In 1941, Kimmell remarried, and it was a union that lasted 54 years. His wife Mary died in 1995. He has a son Tom, two grandchildren, and one great grand-child. “Going on our family vacations was the highlight of our time,” Kimmell said. “One year I borrowed money so we could go. Family time was very important.” And so is the college and the community. “Having the dorm named after me means so much,” Kimmell said. “It’s hard to put into words. It shows that the college has appreciated what little I have done. It should serve the students real well. I’d rather have my name on a dorm than anything else. The students are what’s important.”
Buffo made difference in students’ lives during his nearly 40 years in education
Tony Buffo was passionate about teaching. Ask any of his former students, and they’d probably tell you that he instilled in them a foundation for a strong work ethic, respect for their fellow student, and the desire to do what’s right. Buffo prepared students for real-life experiences, real jobs that paid real money. And many of his former students never have forgotten the impact Buffo had on their lives.
Buffo, 80, said the honor made him proud. “It makes me feel great for someone to recognize the things that went on,” he said. “My best remembrance is not of a single happening, but something that was accomplished for the students and staff of the college.” It was in the mid-1960s, and Buffo already had worked nearly 20 years for USD 470 as a junior high (middle school) and high school teacher and as director of industrial-vocational education. The college was going through some major changes at that time, and Buffo soon found himself in the middle of them. On Nov. 9, 1965, Cowley County voters passed, by a 1,520-vote margin, a measure that would create a complete, independent community college district that encompassed the entire area of Cowley County. Thus, began Cowley County Community College and Vocational-Technical School, in compliance with the acts passed in 1963 and 1965.
In 1966, Buffo was hired by the college as dean of vocational-technical education and director of the area vocational-technical school, a position he held until 1970. From 1970 to 1973, Buffo served as dean of general education and occupational education. And from 1973 until his retirement in 1985, Buffo served as dean of instruction. Buffo had considerable expertise in vocational education. He was brought to Washington, D.C., by then-President Lyndon Johnson as a consultant to a presidential commission charged with studying and recommending changes to the advisory committee responsible for developing the new Vocational Education Act of 1968. He was one of only eight vocational education directors from across the U.S. selected for this duty in June 1967. “That was an interesting experience,” he said. Buffo traveled the nation getting all of the information he could about vocational education. “Another thing I remember is the contacts I made and the people I came to know on a statewide and nationwide basis,” Buffo said. Vocational education always was in Buffo’s blood.
After he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from what is now Pittsburg State University, Buffo was hired in 1947 to teach in USD 470. He served many years as the printing instructor at the high school and college. He said teaching was a joy. “Most of the students we had turned out to be terrific people,” Buffo said. “Time after time I’d receive letters from students, or they’d stop in to see me. So many of them went on to become printers.” The print shop was located in the basement of the old junior high school that sat on the northeast corner of Third Street and Washington Avenue. Fred Menefee, a 1950 graduate of ACHS and 1952 graduate of the college, holds Buffo in highest regard. “I can name 50 outstanding professors and teachers that I had, and Tony is right up there among the very top,” said Menefee, who is retired and living in Wichita. “He’s that type of person. What I learned from that man helped me in my writing career. I eventually did a lot of industrial type movies and film work. All of that writing I learned I have used time and time again in everything else I have ever done.” Menefee was in his second year of the printing sequence at ACHS when Buffo began teaching in the district. Menefee said Buffo’s influence on students was legendary. “He brought attitudes to the classroom that very few teachers ever even envision,” Menefee said. “He even got the guys who sat on the back row involved. I think it started out with laying the challenges to us and seeing if we could handle it. He set some pretty high goals.”
Menefee, who went on to earn a degree from Wichita State University, worked for McCormick-Armstrong in Wichita for 30 years. “I think he influenced every kid he ever taught,” Menefee said. “Several of his students went on to become teachers.” Buffo had such an influence on Menefee that the former student dedicated a restored intertype press to Buffo. The press, which was the last generation of linotype presses, sits in the Peabody Printing Museum in Peabody. The museum is a collection of hot type equipment dating from 1870 to 1920. The intertype was dedicated in Buffo’s honor about four years ago. While Menefee spoke highly of his former mentor, Buffo also praised his former students. “The caliber of students we had was terrific,” Buffo said. “It was hard to duplicate.” Buffo said his role as dean of instruction at Cowley “gave me a chance to widen my horizons and work with people in the general education field and students in technical areas.”
Buffo and his wife, Wilda, have been married 43 years. Wilda said her husband lived and breathed Cowley. “The college was always his business, his life,” Wilda said. “He took care of things at the college as if they belonged to him.” Tony said Cowley always would be near and dear to his family. “It’s the best bargain in the country,” he said, “both in terms of courses offered as well as the savings in tuition. This is a terrific honor that was neither sought nor expected.”