Diana Woodbridge grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and Shaker Heights, attended college at Miami University, and taught school for a short time in Painesville, Ohio. She discusses the struggle for fair housing in the Heights in the 1960s-70s and the formation of two key organizations: Forest Hill Housing Corporation and Heights Community Congress.
Woodbridge, Diana (interviewee)
Klypchak, Timothy (interviewer)
Timothy Klypchak [00:00:01] Good morning. My name is Timothy Klypchak, and I'm sitting with Diane Woodbridge in her home. Can you please state your name for the record?
Diane Woodbridge [00:00:09] Diana Woodbridge.
Timothy Klypchak [00:00:10] And where were you born?
Diane Woodbridge [00:00:12] I was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
Timothy Klypchak [00:00:15] And where did you grow up?
Diane Woodbridge [00:00:16] I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with a four-year term in Tucson, Arizona. And then back here when I was 8 in 1950, the big snow.
Timothy Klypchak [00:00:26] What was Shaker Heights like? That you remember?
Diane Woodbridge [00:00:31] Well, I would -- I lived on what they would call the other side of the tracks. I went to Lomond Elementary, lived between Scottsdale and Lomond and nice community, tree-lined streets. I lived in a double. My grandmother was down below and my mom and brother were upstairs. And so we were sort of an intergenerational family. I remember walking to school. I remember we did banking in school, things that sort of disappeared in recent days.
Timothy Klypchak [00:01:01] What-- why did you move to Tucson?
Diane Woodbridge [00:01:04] My mother and father split because my father was not particularly a responsible person.
Timothy Klypchak [00:01:12] And what was life like in Tucson, Arizona?
Diane Woodbridge [00:01:16] We lived on the-- what now is the middle of urban Tucson. But at the point where we lived, it was right on the edge of the desert. So very open, warm. Other than that, I don't remember a whole lot.
Timothy Klypchak [00:01:33] And when you moved from Arizona and came back, where did you move to?
Diane Woodbridge [00:01:36] Moved back to Shaker Heights so... And we lived above my grandmother. My grandmother was the wife of the Episcopalian priest, Reverend E.G. Mapes, that started Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights. And he had passed away and grandmother really wanted her grandchildren back. So my mom came back.
Timothy Klypchak [00:02:03] Well, when your mother moved to Arizona, what was some of the jobs she had?
Diane Woodbridge [00:02:08] She was a secretary and when she moved back here, she ended up working for Dr. Earl B.K., who did the very first heart lung machine. So she had -- she was his executive secretary and handled everything for him. Did a lot of traveling when he would go to teach and show the heart lung machine, for example, in South America. She had the pleasure of going along. She edited books he wrote. Anyway, she really enjoyed that long career. She stayed a single mom our whole life dedicated, to her two children, me and my twin brother, David.
Timothy Klypchak [00:02:48] When you moved back to Shaker-- before we started, you mentioned the big snow. What was that?
Diane Woodbridge [00:02:52] 1950. All I remember was neighbors had to come and shovel from our house on Winchell Road down to Lomond and the milk truck finally got down Lomond. I mean, it stopped traffic dead in its tracks. I was only in fourth grade and I was fairly short, but I remember looking up at the snowbanks. So it was a big snow. Really exciting for a kid from Arizona that hadn't had snow for four years.
Timothy Klypchak [00:03:21] So did you stay in Shaker until the end of high school?
Diane Woodbridge [00:03:26] Graduated from Shaker Heights High School. Right. And went to Miami University.
Timothy Klypchak [00:03:31] What was school like at Shaker Heights?
Diane Woodbridge [00:03:35] Um, school was school. It was not an integrated school, particularly. I think we maybe had one-- since this is about integration, we had one African-American maybe in each of the classes. And that was sort of it. So upper-middle-class community, upper-middle-class school. My friends wore all what you would call preppy Ivy League dresses, Bobby socks, Spalding shoes. I go back a ways.
Timothy Klypchak [00:04:07] (Chuckles) Yeah, I'm not familiar with Spalding shoes.
Diane Woodbridge [00:04:10] (Chuckles) Black and white oxfords basically.
Timothy Klypchak [00:04:12] Um, what were some of the things you did together as a family as a kid? Places you went?
Diane Woodbridge [00:04:21] My uncle would take my brother fishing and we would occasionally go to Canada in a very rustic kind of cottage, which was wonderful. We didn't have a lot of money to spend. Mom was a secretary, so we didn't go a lot of fancy places. We, I think we went one time to Conneaut and one time she rented a place, sight unseen, down in, I think, North Carolina. And it was hideous. So we didn't stay too long. But I had a wonderful growing up. My aunt and uncle also lived with us, so we had a real intergenerational family and a male role model as well. And so, just had a good time. I mean, I biked. I had friends. I was never without something to do.
Timothy Klypchak [00:05:06] Uh, that was my next question. What was some of your favorite things to do?
Diane Woodbridge [00:05:10] Well, I played field hockey at Shaker Heights High School, and I play-- I was a girls leader and I played basketball and I had good grades and got the scholarship key. And I think I was on student council. I don't remember all of the activities, but there was-- were a couple of clubs. Y teams, I think, that participated at high school and then at the Y's. And I think we came over actually to the Y and in Cleveland Heights, that's now the part of the library.
Timothy Klypchak [00:05:47] What were some of the places around Shaker Heights that you would go to in high school?
Diane Woodbridge [00:05:53] Well, there was a neat-- we called it, the triangle. It was about four blocks away and they had outdoor shuffleboard. And we would just, as kids, we would just meet there and spend time hanging around, talking, playing shuffleboard. So that was one of the favorites. We also hung out at Shaker Square. Take the rapid down to Shaker Square with my girlfriends, and there was a record store that had listening booths and they would actually let kids come in and go into the booth with albums and listen, and we would spend hours doing that. There was bowling alley at Shaker Square. We would go bowling. It was down in the basement under near where the old Franklin Simons, which is now the Goodwill Industries, was. I don't know what's down in the basement now. I have no idea. But Shaker Square was kind of the place that we would hang out. There was also the-- obviously, the colony movies that are still there. And so a rapid ride to the movies was fun.
Timothy Klypchak [00:06:52] Is there any movie that you loved to go-- like, I just?
Diane Woodbridge [00:06:57] My memory doesn't hold on to things. I enjoy them, like books while I read them. And then I won't be able to tell you that the author five minutes from then. But I've really been a part of enjoying it. So I kind of move forward, I think not backwards.
Timothy Klypchak [00:07:15] Okay. After high school where did you go?
Diane Woodbridge [00:07:19] Went to Miami University and took elementary education to be a teacher because back at that time, women didn't have quite the same open opportunities and weren't encouraged as much. I mean, I had plenty good grades. I could have gone to any school, but I sort of felt like-- that Miami was more affordable for my mom. And I got through in three years, which was nice.
Timothy Klypchak [00:07:45] What was life like at Miami University?
Diane Woodbridge [00:07:50] Oh, it's a beautiful campus. I just actually went back for my 50th class reunion for a day and a half of it, not for real long, just because some special friends were coming back. It's a beautiful campus, very collegiate looking. The buildings are all in the same Georgian architecture. So it was a free time. You know, you don't worry about what's in the world. And it's kind of-- you have cinnamon rolls at Toughies and sororities-- I was a Delta Gamma there, and that was a nice -- making a bigger place seem smaller, as was being in the College of Education. Because I would have classes with the same people over and over again. And then there were some honoraries and things that I did that brought me in with smaller groups. But it was a very, I don't know, interesting time. My college roommate-- we were counselors in a dorm called Wells. And she was-- she eventually got herself off track, in my opinion. But she was a beautiful woman and very philosophical. And her name was Bernardine Dohrn, and she ended up as part of the Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS, that wrecked havoc here in Cleveland on the Clark tennis courts and things like that. I think what happened-- she got sick and went home and graduated from the University of Chicago in law and worked really hard for changing fair housing and getting some fair housing laws and then discovered that it really didn't make any difference. It doesn't-- law doesn't alter people's racism. It doesn't alter the hearts and minds of people. I think we shared the same values. We would just swing on the swings by Wells and talk. And so it was a very life-shaping time for me. We obviously went in different directions. She surfaced and is now doing good things with her background in law, even though I don't think she actually passed the bar.
Timothy Klypchak [00:09:50] Um, when did you graduate college?
Diane Woodbridge [00:09:53] Nineteen-- well, actually, 1962. I was the class of '63.
Timothy Klypchak [00:09:57] And from college. Where did you go?
Diane Woodbridge [00:09:59] I went to Painesville, Ohio. I got married and moved. We moved to Painesville, Ohio. We were both teachers and that lasted in two years until my first son was born. And I was teaching during the Kennedy assassination, which was again a really shaping thing in my life. We had to tell the kids. And the next day-- I had third graders. Some of the kids came back and I was trying-- and I was only 22. Trying to talk about how they felt about it and what their parents talked to them about. And a couple of my kids said their parents were glad he'd been assassinated because he was Catholic. You know, that just puts discrimination right square like a pie in your face. So that was also, I think, part of shaped who I was, who I am and what I cared about doing. And then I retired to have a baby, and my husband decided that teaching school was not the way to fund a decent life for his family. They didn't pay a whole lot. I think my first-- our first annual teaching salary was $4,800 a year. And of course, living costs were a little bit less back then, too. So anyway, we decided to-- he decided to go into business in some sort and started out with a company called Sherwood Refactories and moved from there. And eventually we decided to move into town closer to where he was working. And so that's what landed us eventually in Cleveland Heights. And again, that was a life-shaping kind of thing. I don't think I realized it at the moment, but we were clearly racially steered when it came to finding a house. We were looking in Shakerwood, which is south, just south of Shaker. It borders Shaker Heights, but it's actually in the city of Cleveland. And it was a lovely area of nice homes with decent-sized lots and all that. It was beginning to integrate. And all I remember was the realtor that was showing us around. And I don't remember how we even got to her. Saying, "well, you're making quite an investment. There are Black people moving into the neighborhood. Are you sure you want to look here?" And we did look. But you know that tape plays in your head. And we were making quite an investment. We were a young couple. Let me just -- so eventually we ended up in Shaker Heights with that. I mean, in Cleveland Heights with that tape playing in our head. Cleveland Heights at that time, its housing, and I think it's probably still true today. Its housing is a little less costly than was Shaker Heights. I mean, obviously, we might have naturally moved to Shaker Heights, having grown up there. But it was fortuitous, actually, that we ended up in Cleveland Heights. We bought our standard three-bedroom Cleveland Heights home and for a very reasonable price on Cambridge Road in Cleveland Heights and the Oxford School District. And we were there until the kids were actually grown and gone. Yeah. Then we moved once and now a second time.
Timothy Klypchak [00:13:20] While you lived on Cambridge, did -- is that when you began to get involved with the community?
Diane Woodbridge [00:13:25] Absolutely. Whole bunches of things were happening then. One was the-- a group called the Operation Bridge Nuns out of the Catholic Church and I think out of St. Margaret Mary, which was-- is now a closed Catholic Church, but was then very thriving for the neighborhood. Came knocking on doors in neighborhoods and said, and I may have this a little bit out of order. Said "the community is clearly beginning to integrate. You know, what we need to do is get out of our homes and meet our neighbors and do things to say we're going to stay and be part of it" and all of that. And so that was one shaping thing. That led to block parties. And I was instrumental in doing that sort of thing. Eventually, it led to street meetings and then neighborhood meetings where there was actually an official Oxford neighbors. It was staffed by actually Chip Bromley of the Heights Community Congress. And you may have interviewed Chip or maybe you will. A real fair housing guru. Yeah, and I was active on that. I don't know whether I was president or whatever, but I was very active in Oxford neighbors and we would bring in council people to talk about issues and, you know, and we would have programs on maintaining housing and that sort of thing. So that's, you know, one piece of my activity was in the neighborhood. The other big piece of my activity was-- we joined Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. I had grown up as an Episcopalian and always for some reason, my selection or what I'm-- what's kept me a part of a religious institution is a church that really walks the walk, that doesn't just yap about it, doesn't just talk the talk. It really gets involved in making a difference. And course, the times, the '60s were shaping times and integration was coming to Cleveland Heights. So there were a group of us at Forest Hill Church. I did a number of things. I was on the Adult Education Committee. I was elected to the session, which is the ruling body of the church from the Board of Church and Society and the Board of Church and Society's purpose was to do mission, you know, to be a part of the community. We wrote position papers on our church's commitment to be a part of its local community, to be a part of encouraging fair housing, open housing. We did a whole raft of-- and I actually have this book here if we want to look through it at any point. It kind of summarizes some of the things that we did early on with educational things for people. We did stuff on housing, fair housing. We did stuff on community change, on the role of street clubs and things of that sort, the positive role that those could play. And then eventually, and I'm probably going a little bit too fast through the history of the early days of Forest Hill Church...
Timothy Klypchak [00:16:29] That's fine.
Diane Woodbridge [00:16:29] But eventually we said we're tired of educating, you know, we really want to do something. And we were fortunate. Charles Ault, who has just recently passed away, was an attorney with his own firm, eventually ended up with Baker and Hostetler. But he was the church treasurer and church attorney. And so he was a little bit older than we were and much more experienced in how you get something together. So we wanted to do something. We formed a nonprofit, the Forestdale Church Housing Corporation, and it was officially chartered in 1971, September. And that was a year before the Heights Community Congress. Lots of activity was fomenting around. The issue of our community was changing. We all at Forest Hill Church-- we looked at East Cleveland. In three years, it turned from a White community to an all Black community, a really short order. And we said we think it should be different. You know, people need to learn to live together. We had-- the sessions studied a confession of the church called The Confession of 1967 that talked about reconciliation and the need for people to be reconciled one with another. And race was one of the issues of reconciliation. So was male, female and, you know, others. But race was a big one, and it was the one that touched our hearts. And we wanted Cleveland Heights to be a community where people could live together, where there would be a free flow. I remember, you know, real estate companies dumping out black kids to go knocking on the door and say, you know, community, you know. You walk up and down the street and then the realtor would follow and knock on the door and say, "you know, your community is going to integrate. Black people are moving in. Don't you want to list your house?" You know, that that kind of really blatant stuff and it really did. Blockbusting and steering really did happen. There was a Black family moved in around the corner on Northhampton from us, and shortly after moving in their garage was set on fire by people who didn't want them there, that kind of thing. I-- excuse me. Over the years, got to know some of the original African-American families into Cleveland Heights. Bernice Lott was one of them and she was president of the school board. And I have two experiences with her. One, we would do some adult education at other churches talking about the early days of Cleveland Heights. And Bernice and her husband couldn't buy the house directly. They had to have somebody get the financing for them because they were African-American. And I know that you've interviewed Doris Allen, who's another good friend, who was one of the very first Black families into Cleveland Heights.
Timothy Klypchak [00:19:18] Nobody has interviewed her yet...
Diane Woodbridge [00:19:22] You will.
Timothy Klypchak [00:19:22] But she's on the list.
Diane Woodbridge [00:19:23] Good, good. Because she's a dynamo and she continues to be a dynamo. Um, let's see. Where was I?
Timothy Klypchak [00:19:31] You were talking about Bernice Lott?
Diane Woodbridge [00:19:36] Oh, and the two things that I did. I did the adult education, whether that was such an eye-opening thing. To listen to somebody's story about not being able to buy a house in Cleveland Heights. One other thing I did shortly after moving to the community, and I don't remember who asked me, was I was asked to check real estate practices on rentals and there was an apartment complex. It's still there on Middlefield, just where down it was then down Oldsmobile, where the Toyota dealer is now.
Timothy Klypchak [00:20:05] I know, I'm so sorry for interrupting you, but--
Diane Woodbridge [00:20:07] That's OK.
Timothy Klypchak [00:20:08] I know that Kermit Lind when I was involved with doing that. Does that name sound familiar?
Diane Woodbridge [00:20:12] Oh, I know. I know Kermit very well. Yes, yes, yes. And he was director of the Congress for a while. But in any event-- I went to check there was an African-American woman who was told there was no apartment for rent at that complex. She worked at Cedar Lee for Ohio-- then Ohio Bell, and I went. And I must have been 22, 23, something like that. And this guy fell all over me. I mean, he would have-- he had two apartments he showed me that very day and then he called back later in the week and he had an additional one or two apartments that he would be happy to show me. But he had nothing for this woman, you know. Those are, again, the kinds of things that just hit you in the face. It's not fair. It's not just, and it really taught me that I am a privileged person just by virtue of my skin color. And that's not fair. So fairness and open housing and people learning to live together became the kind of call to ministry that was the start of Forest Hill Church Housing Corporation. And our first project was a buy and renovation of an old farmhouse that had been turned into a double house. It was right-- it was close to Nelaview on Taylor Road at the back end. What-- I don't remember exactly where I was when that phone rang. I should maybe just get rid of that phone.
Timothy Klypchak [00:21:38] It was that project with the uh--
Diane Woodbridge [00:21:40] Oh! Was a purchase and renovation. And we used a federal program. The 235 program, that after one house, Nixon declared a moratorium on that and that brought that to an end. But initially, the 235 program was providing housing to people who needed housing opportunity and who were of more modest means, lower-income. And the neighbors backed onto the Forest Hill neighborhood. Which I'm sure you know, by now, it had restrictive covenants. But-- until they were outlawed by the Supreme Court. If you weren't White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, you did not buy. You couldn't even-- you couldn't be Catholic, you couldn't be Jewish, but you certainly couldn't be African-American. And so it was obviously a neighborhood that had racial strong racism as its early days and history, which, you know, plays into the lives of people. Anyway, the neighborhood was up in arms. And so we called a community meeting and all I can recall was sort of feeling like I was hiding under the coffee table. And we let Mr. Ault run the meeting and he handled it magnificently. He was very straightforward. And he simply, as I recall, he simply said, we'll sell it to a qualified family. You know, it could be a black family, but it might not be. We will sell it to a qualified family. So we did-- the church gave us $5000 to get going and that was huge. We're not a church that has an endowment or had an endowment back at that point. We're trying now to build one, but we had nothing. So that was a big mission funding from the church. We ended up having-- we planned a ten-house project. We ended up having to spend the whole 5000 to finish this project in a way that we were pleased with it and felt we'd done the right job for the neighborhood. Plus we did-- we talked all of the different groups into the church into adopting volunteer projects, exterior painting, interior painting. All of the interior rooms were painted by volunteers. So it was a rather big undertaking. We came to a dead-end because Nixon said no more programs like that. And so then we called a meeting at church, to the best of my recollection, and brought together people who had originally been involved in Board of Church and Society and anybody interested in kind of brainstorm: where do we go from there? And we came up with what I think is the most-- the best program ever and one that should be still today in every community. It's-- we called it The Challenge Fund. And what it did and does still today is guarantee bank loans for Cleveland Heights homeowners who can't obtain conventional financing, either because they have no credit established or because of divorce, illness, job loss, they got credit screwed up and so they're not bankable. Originally, Charlie Ault got us connected, cause he was treasurer of the church, with the Cleveland Trust Company and with people at the upper echelon who could make decisions. We sat around a table at the Cedar-Lee-- at the Mayfield-Lee branch of Cleveland Trust Company with one of the vice presidents back when vice president was a very sparsely given title. Not as today. And we said, "here's what we'd like to do. We'll raise money. We'd like it to be a guarantee fund. We'd like you to write the loans. We would like to do the counseling so that we're sure that people can manage the payment and we'll make recommendations to you". And in turn, we ask the bank for what their commitment would be. And they agreed that we would not need to guarantee the full amount of the loan because they did not expect that they would all go down at one time. And so they said, "we'll take 60% of the risk. You guarantee 40%." And they leveraged our funds two and a half times. So we initially raised $10,000 to start the program and that we could then loan two and a half times that. The first loan we learned a lot from and we lost it and it was before we'd actually signed papers with Cleveland Trust Company. And we felt to fulfill our commitment to them that we should buy it out. So we did. And so then we started small: two loans the next year, all done by volunteers. And I did all of the counseling. And, you know, that sort of fulfilled my wish to be a part of an integrated community, because most of our clients were African-American people who didn't have-- had only financed with household financing and a conventional bank. For heaven's sakes, that's not conventional credit. So even if they had paid household finance, well, it wasn't sufficient credit to get financing to make home repairs. So the program grew over the years and it's done millions of dollars of home repairs enabled by guaranteed bank loans. And at our tenth anniversary of the housing corporation, Dell Duncan, from then, I think it was Ameritrust at that point. It may not have been. May still have been Cleveland Trust Company. He stood in front of that beautiful fireplace and he said, "I want you people to know that the track record on these high-risk loans, loans we wouldn't take without the guarantee, is better than our banks' track record on conventional loans." And so it was really proving to us that our contention, that if you give people an opportunity and provide them with education and choices and skills and, you know, all that sort of stuff, that the people want to be successful homeowners and given the opportunity, they can be. And so it grew over the years. I developed. I think some really good personal counseling skills and the ability to give people hope. And we would say at the end of, you know, going forward with the loan, you know, "this is an opportunity." And people were faithful and really struggled to pay back. We had, I think by the time I retired, five of the loans that went under and there were very few that went under, came back and repaid the organization in full. They had that commitment to the program. So The Challenge Fund, in my estimation, was the most significant thing I was part of doing with the housing corporation. We also developed other programs, and when the city got block grant funds, we were able to add some wonderful benefits that effectively made the interest rates 0% on loans to make it more affordable. And we had some special programs for elderly. And then we started a program called Project Repair that taught hands-on skills and still does today. It was done by staff in the old days, but finances have gotten so tight that now it's being taught by volunteer contractors and stuff. We started a program specially for single women with low-moderate income heads of house called Home How to For Women to teach them skills. And I'll tell you that the group would do things like rebuild a falling in back stairs to the basement, reroof a garage. They learn to do some rather significant repairs and felt so empowered to be able to fix something and not to have to rely on contractors or the men in their lives or that sort of thing. So the organization over the years has grown. I think it's-- it stayed really relevant. We've tried not to be-- we've tried to be really flexible and not to get that bureaucratic mid-age that a lot of nonprofits do. And my successor has continued and has been really instrumental in the foreclosure crisis. I started preaching from our experience at Home Repair Resource Center in 1995. That there were improper crappy mortgages out there. And if back then and in the year 2000, 2002, I was involved with a group through an organization called Noah. Of experts in various religious congregations that had experience with predatory lending. And we really tried to get banks to listen to us and regulators to listen to us. And that was way before the crunch in 2007, 2008. If people had listened way back then, we would have a very different world today. So, you know, we did try, but I guess that's sort of a stopping point to that point. I'll let you ask me another question. Yeah. You had said maybe it would be interesting to go back a little bit with the church. I mentioned the classes and I --that we-- the educational opportunities that we had. We must have done 10 or 15 different seminars, and the church also produced social teachings. And in 1968, Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, with our governing body this session, put out a statement regarding open housing and that we felt it was the right of all individuals to be recognized and protected and that housing opportunities should not be denied on basis of race. And that we were hoping that our community would be an open and integrated community. We did another statement that was about our responsibility to be a part of our local community and mission in action. And that, of course, was the one that kind of led to the housing corporation. So Forest Hill Church-- back then, the response came from the religious community and the non-profits that sprung up. Some, like ours, had the roots out of religious community, Forest Hill Church. The Heights Area Project was actually the first nonprofit into the scene and that was funded by the Jewish Federation. And it provided down payment assistance to young Jewish families to remain in the community, to buy a home in the community. And that's been always an important part of the diversity of Cleveland Heights. In previous times, when Jewish families moved out, as African-Americans moved in, the twain did not meet. But here we have neighborhoods in Cleveland Heights that have Jewish families and African-American families. And it's a beautiful thing. And that's what has sort of centered my life. I was involved way back when. This is taking a little different jag back to Bernice Lott. When she was president of the school board, I was invited to be on a committee. It was called the Integrative Education Committee. And our challenge was to propose what we thought would make a difference in keeping our schools as racially balanced as possible for the long term. And we came out with two substantial recommendations way ahead of their time. One was for magnet schools and that that was the other group. And my group came up with paring our schools so that we had a broader area to draw from. So, for example, we would have paired Oxford and Noble together and had a bigger area to draw. One would have been kindergarten, first and second, and the other would have been third through fifth or sixth. I can't remember which it was. So we had the pairing approach. I do think, had the board paid any attention to us, that that might have been a really out-of-the-box kind of approach to maintaining racial balance. Unfortunately, the board put us out in front of the community. They never priced out the options. And four of us were on the panel that got to go talk to the community about it -- Would you like to have me close these windows?
Timothy Klypchak [00:33:53] Uh, yes, please.
Diane Woodbridge [00:33:56] And there were four of us on this panel that went out in front of the community. And the only one I recall was the presentation at one of our middle schools where there was a lot of what you would have to say were questions with racism at the back end of them. And it was so distressing that we were put out there, the school board, even the school board did not ever price it out. And so nothing happened. And that actually was a big turnoff for my involvement in anything with the schools for a very long time. But I am a really strong supporter of the schools. I always wished that they had upheld that. Yes, you should have excellent education regardless of what race your students are, but that they had had as part of their mission statement, and they did not back then, that integrated public education was an enhancement to education, some additional benefit to our children. My kids went all the way through the system. It was, since I'm older, it was not a real integrated system for much of their time, although there was much more diversity than in any other areas surrounding in the school district. And I think it's has stemmed them in really good stead over the years. I know there have been times when my son played hockey and we traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania. Oh my! And one of the kids called a name to an African American kid on our kids' teams and our players just came off the ice. They weren't going to be out there and listen to that sort of thing. And so the ref, I think, gave the guy a penalty and the guy went after the ref. And I mean, it was just awful. And so the game ended up getting canceled. And I'll tell you, we were afraid leaving. So we had that experience and I was proud. My son was the first one out there to say, you know, "come on back in and we aren't going to be part of this." And my other son worked for a corporation downtown and they were entertaining some African American kids from one of the Cleveland schools. And he thought it was strange. He was up on a floor and he was supposed to be expecting them and they weren't coming up. And so he went down. Well, the person at the reception desk wasn't quite sure who these kids were and wasn't, you know, being exactly open to them coming into this corporation. And, you know, he brought them right upstairs. So I think it stood my kids in good stead for going off to college. They're much more independent. They're much more respectful of people's rights and understanding the need to be that way. It's refreshing.
Timothy Klypchak [00:36:54] College definitely opens your mind a little bit.
Diane Woodbridge [00:36:58] Hopefully.
Timothy Klypchak [00:37:00] Some of the little questions I had, they're short responses. When Forest Hill Church got so involved in the community and integration, did it lose membership?
Diane Woodbridge [00:37:13] Yes. It also lost membership because the national church back at that time supported Angela Davis and that was about the same time. And gave her a grant for something. Well that was really controversial. So it's hard to say which. And besides that, the church built this big, huge education wing at the height of the time, people in the early '60s, when everybody was going to church. So we had a pretty big building and a pretty big population in the '60s. And yes, it's way down from that, although our church is still gaining membership today. And I think it's because we're relevant and we care about being a welcoming and inclusive congregation. And-- but anyway, back then, we did lose members because of race. We also lost them because of support over the years for gay and lesbian, you know, participation as people. And so there have been a number of factors. I would say our church is progressive. And so-- but yes. We did lose, and particularly some of the people from the Forest Hill neighborhood.
Timothy Klypchak [00:38:25] The repair center. That just for clarification, that was available to Cleveland Heights residents, correct?.
[00:38:34] Right. It is---
[00:38:34] Not just members of the congregation?
Diane Woodbridge [00:38:36] Right. Forest Hill Church Housing Corporation, from the get-go, was open to Cleveland Heights. And its purpose was to maintain the housing of Cleveland Heights as a means to support an open and integrated community. That sort of came. I had a neighbor who, on Cambridge, who built his house, he and his wife, and he was in his 80s. And he said, "I know that Black people are beginning to move in, but I don't care as long as the neighborhood is maintained. I'm here to stay. I love my house. And, you know, that just sort of came to make the most sense to us. That we could combat that myth that when Black people move in-- oh, that's something I forgot to tell you! When black people move in, the community goes to hell in a handbasket and housing values go down when it's really the fact that too many people sell too fast. White flight causes it. The first Challenge Fund guaranteed bank loan we did. We went in the house and saw that the white flight homeowner had painted the pipes so that they looked shiny and brand new copper. They-- and are galvanized. And they had put wallpaper over huge holes in the wall. And, you know, the wiring was not up to date and that family just departed and left somebody who looked at the price of the house and said, "I can afford this," but had no experience with plumbing that was painted or holes in the wall, to have any idea what the bad wiring would cost to get fixed. And it was just too much.
Timothy Klypchak [00:40:13] Were there other-- what were some of the other nonprofits that you guys worked in collaboration with when you were doing all this stuff?
Diane Woodbridge [00:40:20] Well, certainly we considered the Heights Community Congress. The-- we were the right hand of housing maintenance, and they were the left hand of making sure that people had fair opportunity and the work they did in suing a real estate company. That was a scary time for the people on the board of the Heights Community Congress to sue real estate company for improper real estate activities and win. And so the Heights Community Congress and then Heights Area Project kind of lost its important role. And it still had a Hebrew free loan program that did assist in with some repairs. But mostly it was the participation with the Congress and then... We were Forest Hill Church, the people, our pastor, then Reverend Ned Edwards, who incidentally was part of-- when the school was going to be built in the Collinwood area, that where the pastor, Bruce Klunder, was run over by the tractor. Ned was there. So he was a little earlier into some of the integration issues. He got in trouble with the church for being there. I think he was supposed to speak to the Women's Association that day and he didn't. And so he has a real history. And of course, that was another key component. It was carrying congregation members who wanted the church to be involved. And when Ned was called a senior pastor, which was a controversial vote, in fact, the presbytery didn't think we should call him because there was so much negative vote. And that would be where what you were asking about, "did it affect the congregation?" Well, that split vote did. It wasn't 50/50, but it was significant. Whether it was 20 or 25 percent, people said no. So the presbytery stepped in. We said, "no, we want to go forward with this." I was on the pulpit nominating committee and we said, "no, we want to go forward." And so we had to do this big, long survey and the presbytery stepped in and did it of the congregation to find out. And finally, they let us go ahead and call Ned. And by that time, he had moved out of town, but he and his wife came back. And so we had incredibly supportive leadership for the church, taking the kind of stand. And Ned was the second president of the Heights Community Congress Board of Trustees. And he and several of us on the Board of Church and Society were really instrumental in starting the Heights Interfaith Council, which way back when, had a huge role in keeping the clergy talking with each other and talking with their congregations. Dick Obermann was then a member of Fairmount Presbyterian, and he was very active in the initial days of the Heights Community... I mean of the Heights Interfaith Council. And he's now a member of Forest Hill Church. And anyway, Dick and I had a project. We were trying to talk to other congregations outside of Cleveland Heights about integration and about fair housing and open housing and encouraging congregations to give leadership in their communities, because we all knew that if all the pressure stayed on Cleveland Heights, it would be hard to maintain. It would be much easier if we had-- it would be easier on everything. Our schools could learn how to handle diversity. And I think that was a real learning curve for Cleveland Heights schools when the population got to be fairly substantial African American. I don't think teachers were ready for it. I don't think they knew how to maybe expect in the same way they expected White kids to learn. You know, I think there was a big learning curve and we're feeling the results of that some today. And I think there's now expectations, but it is a little shorter into the-- anyway, we concocted, the Heights Interfaith Council, an open housing statement, and our goal was to get a whole bunch of congregations. And we bought a full-page ad in The Plain Dealer. And Dick and I did a lot of the going around and talking-to sessions of Presbyterian churches. Other people adopted other churches. We had some-- a couple of positive experiences and a couple of really negative experiences with churches just not willing to talk about signing and taking that kind of leadership. So, you know, I knew back then that I was part of a very special community that really got it. And but we did the ad and we did have five or six congregations outside of Cleveland Heights sign on to it. And that was exciting.
Timothy Klypchak [00:45:14] What areas did those-- were those congregations in?
Diane Woodbridge [00:45:18] We went east: South Euclid, Lyndhurst, over toward Shaker and that sort of thing.
Timothy Klypchak [00:45:23] So you guys didn't get anything from Cleveland?
Diane Woodbridge [00:45:27] We didn't go that direction. Cleveland was integrated. We were talking to the White people in the outer suburbs about open housing and the benefits of that. Something I was just thinking of something else I wanted to say, and I forgot it now. Sorry, go ahead.
Timothy Klypchak [00:45:50] Earlier, you mentioned the nine-point plan. What was that?
Diane Woodbridge [00:45:56] Well, that was a city program passed by city council and they would be much better to speak to it. It was their fair housing statement. It-- the Heights Community Congress had started an organization called the Heights Housing Service. And the idea was volunteers would show people that were interested in buying in Cleveland Heights, the community, and it was a very effective program. Well, one of the nine points, I think, was bringing the housing service in-house to Cleveland Heights. I always thought that it might have been more believable leaving it outside in the community. Community folks who love their community saying, "hey, come be a part of us. We're really a neat place to live. And we value people of all races being here." But I think that was part of it. But I'll leave the rest of-- I think it had some stuff to do with code enforcement and, you know, things that would preserve the housing stock and make Cleveland Heights a desirable place.
Timothy Klypchak [00:46:56] Did that impact what you were doing at Forest Hill? The nine-point plan?
[00:47:00] Well, it was really important for our community to get on board for council. And also in that regard, if we were going to succeed as a community, sure. I think that undergirded in and brought together the efforts of the non-profits. It would have been pretty hard to be hanging out there all by ourselves. And then when the city got block grant funds, which were purposed to help maintenance of housing and communities for affordable housing and for low and moderate-income families. The city was-- they did some programs of their own, but they also supported very strongly the work of the housing corporation. That enabled us to get a permanent office space. We were-- first we had free office-- first, we operated out of my house. Then we got free office space in a room with the Heights Community Congress. And then from there, we had one of our board members and Forest Hill Church member, Betsy Andrews, was a realtor and the real estate company was moving out of the Heights Rockefeller Building. So we moved into a very small office space there. And then we moved around the side in the Rockefeller building to bigger space when programs grew and we added the Project Repair Program. And we were teaching the classes down in the basement. And then it was clear that that was not a good teaching space. I mean, there was all kinds of wiring that needed to be taken care of and things of that sort. So we started looking for a permanent facility. And the city helped us enable the purchase of that building with some additional block grant funding. And so we now have a paid-for place for the organization to exist, which has kept it, I think, able to maintain strong programing in tighter financial times. It's been a real important move. Plus, we're an institution on the side-- Caledonia end of Cleveland Heights, Oxford, down Noble Road. And I think that's been a real important institutional force.
Timothy Klypchak [00:49:07] Can you tell me a little bit about Operation Open Mind?
Diane Woodbridge [00:49:10] That was one of the first educational programs that we did. And I don't remember without looking at-- it was called Operation Open Mind: A Festival of Change. We did it in 1968. We had Frances Bolton, who was a Republican congressman, and we had Charles Vanik, a Democratic candidate for Congress from the 22nd District. And we asked them to focus on issues surrounding the urban crisis and invited the public. And that was one of the-- and then there were a whole bunch of other components to it, between preaching adult education classes and music. But again, it was part of the approach of education and opening people's minds.
Timothy Klypchak [00:50:00] You've mentioned adult education a lot? When you first got involved in that, what drove you to get involved with it?
Diane Woodbridge [00:50:14] You know, I'm not really good at remembering which came first: the chicken or the egg. I had all those life experiences that I sort of described to you. And I think I was first invited to be on the Adult Education Committee. So it was a matter of being invited to be on. And so we felt-- those of us on the committee, adopted the idea that the that we would do some spiritual growth, which was appropriate for adult education, and we would do some personal growth stuff. But we would also do social justice issues, with a third of the time for adult education. And I think I was part with other people on the committee of shaping that commitment. And so I did that for several years. And then I was on session in the Board of Church and Society. And that's when the housing corporation sprung out of those discussions.
Timothy Klypchak [00:51:08] How many of these nonprofit projects still exist?
Diane Woodbridge [00:51:12] Of the nonprofit organizations I mentioned? The Heights Interfaith Council is now sort of more an email occasional. The pastors that remembered when it was effective and were responsible for some of its leadership, Doug King of the Hope Lutheran Church down the way, is one. They will do some emailing, but effectively it's lost its power and it's whatever. I think, you know, sometimes we got stuff going because there were some crisis. I mean, people were worried about what was going to happen. And it is easier to generate leadership and action when that occurs. It's a little more challenging now when Cleveland Heights is sort of at its midlife. You know, we have council people that have been on council a really long time. And I'm of the mind that it was a good thing that I retired when I did because, you know, you can't keep the same level of energy and your ideas aren't as fresh. And, you know, bringing in new leadership is a really good idea. One thing that I would love to see happen is some leadership training today for younger people in the community. It's something that Susie Kaeser and Louisa Oliver and I are kind of trying to see if we can figure out a way to get going. And we know the world's different. There aren't any, you know, crises knocking us in the face like there were. And people are busier. Most couples-- the wife is not like me. I had the luxury of being at home and time to do stuff. And that was a luxury. Most people are working. So it's-- it is a challenging time. But we so strongly believe and our community is strong because of the citizen participation and feeding into government that-- we'd like to see that encouraged.
Timothy Klypchak [00:53:15] What's the IFC? It says pastor's involvement in IFC.
Diane Woodbridge [00:53:19] Oh, that? Interfaith Council.
Timothy Klypchak [00:53:25] Okay.
Diane Woodbridge [00:53:25] Yeah, I think I covered pretty much all of that. And... The Hunger Center was something that again, involved Forest Hill Church leadership. It's now at the Euclid Avenue Christian Church, which is now the Disciples of Christ. That was a project of the Heights Interfaith Council. We got it first set up and it serves emergency food needs. And way back, I mean, I won't remember the date, but it goes way back to where, you know, I was seeing clients in my office who were hungry and they needed to fix their house. And that was important, too. So that was just something that kind of grew out of the Heights. And a Forest Hill Church member, then, Betty Stauffer, was-- took the leadership and ran it as a volunteer for years. It has now a new volunteer leadership and that is ongoing and has managed to stay healthy over the years. The Congress, I think, has had some bumps in the road, but they've certainly made a huge difference in the community over the years. And their big event, the Heights Heritage Tour, that showcases the houses of Cleveland Heights, is really a special feel-good about your community. Plus, it generated, for years, funding for the organization. And there it had a one-year layoff, but it's back for this year. And hopefully the Congress will kind of redefine its mission and refocus and find a role today. The role of fair housing, because racism and real estate practices kind of went underground a little bit. They got much more subtle, a little harder to detect. So it's not quite so blatant as what I described to you when the Congress first came into being and that was the result of an audit done by the Catholic Church, St. Ann Catholic Church. They did an audit of real estate practices and discovered all kinds of bad things happening. And that was the genesis behind the founding of the Congress and the focus on the mission of fair housing. I don't see anything else necessarily that you would be missing in my story unless you can think of anything. Um. You know, I'm really proud of the housing corporation. It has stayed vital and viable, and we've got some new nonprofits: Reaching Heights, that you'll hear from Susie Kaeser, sprung into being out of some work-- schools consensus project that the Board of Education sponsored. Oh, I know. One other thing. I remember way back, talking about the schools, way back when there was an incident in Cleveland Heights and Heights United, which is now the Heights Youth Club, Boys and Girls Club, right across from Heights High, was a Presbyterian Church and it had a wonderful pastor, David Bowie. And he was called to a different congregation. And the old associate pastor at Forest Hill Church took over as interim there for a brief period of time when this incident occurred. And so we put some music on boomboxes and put them on our shoulders. And our congregation walked in and their congregation walked, and we met at Cain Park to have a celebration of integration and the goal of a diverse community. And we asked the school board to talk. And one thing struck me there. There was nothing. She-- Claudette Woodard was the board president at that point. And she read the mission statement of the church and there was nothing in it about the benefits of being an integrated community. It was all about the education of the student in front of you, which, as I said earlier, I thought was something missing.
Timothy Klypchak [00:57:41] What are-- are you familiar with Civility through Forest Hill?
Diane Woodbridge [00:57:48] John Lentz was-- our pastor was a part of that group with Nancy Dietrich from council. And I forget who else all. And yes, I'm familiar. We had a couple of events around it. I wasn't particularly involved in that phase.
Timothy Klypchak [00:58:02] What were some of the events? I sat down with John Lentz a couple of weeks ago, but he didn't-- he told me a little bit about the project, but--
Diane Woodbridge [00:58:13] All I -- there was circle discussions of tables and we had things that we felt were the kinds of values that led to civility in a community, and there was a move to have T-shirts and bumper stickers and all that sort of stuff. I think it generated, and I'm not positive about that, a club that Heights-- that has been instrumental in kids being more civil with each other. And I think that that was one of the things it was targeted for. But I was more fringe to that.
Timothy Klypchak [00:58:53] What are some of the other things that Forest Hill Church is doing now?
Diane Woodbridge [00:58:58] Oh, my God.
Timothy Klypchak [00:58:59] It doesn't have to just be for integration. Just-- any projects?
Diane Woodbridge [00:59:03] Well, there's a real-- we're doing a lot with homelessness and hunger. We have the Abundance Gardens, which is that huge, beautiful garden. And we-- the produce goes to the hunger centers. And I forget exactly how much food is produced, but it's phenomenal. The amount that goes. We're growing everything. We're composting for it. I dutifully lug my kitty litter thing of compost over once every few weeks when I get enough. And so we're doing that. We have a community breakfast. We also have in the office some food supplies when people stop into our church because they do. And so once a month, there's a community breakfast where the guests that come in to get food at the end of the month are invited. And we have a group that makes soup. And so when they go home, they after breakfast, they go home with some soup and some other canned goods. And so we're trying to build that. We have a group called the Bray that goes down to East Cleveland and meets with a Salvation Army truck that comes to provide dinner. And we bring what we can gather in clothing and blankets and all the things that people-- they're not all homeless, but they live on the edge. And so blankets are something that everybody needs in their homes. So we're doing that. We're also talking about how we take what we're learning from that, which is the thing that's dear to my heart and do something to change the forces that make those things happen and allow them to happen in communities because I believe that we need to be about institutional change as well as. So I'm really tickled to see that the conversation is about that. We're at the stage of thinking about joining Greater Cleveland congregations as a way to be part of social justice initiatives to change systems. It's involved right now, JCC, in hoping to encourage the Medicaid expansion, which is sort of at a standstill. But there are some hopes that maybe it will yet happen. And they worked hard on passing the Cleveland school issue and built the ideas to build relationships with the power brokers of the community so that you can be at the table and influence decisions. And I think if our predatory lending committee, back then, had had some of those relationships, we might have been able to institute some social change. We were on our way-- Charter One Bank-- we were meeting. They were local and we knew the two owners of the bank, the principles of the bank. And we were meeting with them to put together a statement that the bank could support about how to deal fairly with mortgages and what things not to do and the words about what they want. And then they-- we were, I would say, 90 percent done and then we didn't hear anything from them. And three weeks later, the bank was sold. So they were in process of negotiation. It was too bad. That would have been a model document that we could have taken to other banks and said, please join charter one. And that's unfortunate. We also tried to meet with Dave Daberko of National City Bank. And John, did John describe that? That was fascinating. He and an NPR reporter were going up in the elevator to try to schedule a meeting with Daberko because we were aware, on the Predatory Lending Committee, that National City was dealing with 5,000 mortgage brokers on the outside and taking deals in a package that they weren't reviewing. And they should have been. They should have had some criteria for any deal that they would accept from these mortgage brokers because they were the guys charging all these points and points back and absconding with a lot of money. But there was huge profit for National City Bank, and anyway, we wanted to talk to Daberko. And John and the NPR reporter got in the elevator. They shut the elevator down. They dived off, got on another elevator, got up to Daberko's floor, only to find it cordoned off and they couldn't get even to his secretary. Eventually, we got an appointment, but it didn't go anywhere. And I'm sure that today, certainly the city of Cleveland is sadder that we don't have National City Bank. And I'm sure Dave Daberko wishes that maybe he might have listened a little bit. At least he kept his stock in National City. And so he suffered loss along with other people. But the profit from that kind of predatory stuff was just phenomenal. And they never saw we held a big meeting at Trinity Cathedral. And I brought a client from-- that I met for our challenge fund who had been talked into refinancing her house. And it was the kind-- nobody looked at could she afford it? Nobody. She couldn't afford it. She was on her way to foreclosure. There was just no way out for it. And that was criminal in my mind. People who bought-- and she'd been here for a long, long, long, long time. She bought here this was her house, her community, and it just got swiped out from under her time and time again. That happened.
Timothy Klypchak [01:04:51] I want to take a little detour because earlier you were telling me about places like Rockefeller Mansion that don't exist anymore and things like that. What are some of the hidden gems of Cleveland Heights?
Diane Woodbridge [01:05:05] That still are here?
Timothy Klypchak [01:05:06] That still are here? That were here? Anything?
Diane Woodbridge [01:05:08] Well, we do have the fountain from Rockefeller-- from Severances' Estate at Severance. That whole area was John Severance's Estate. The fountain was saved by the Cleveland Heights Historical Society. Unfortunately, they couldn't afford to make it work. Would be beautiful if it had. The wall along. Mayfield was part of the Glen Allen estate, which was John-- Severance's sister and Frances Flori Prentiss. So Elizabeth Severance, Alan Prentiss and Frances Fleury Prentiss owned the Glen Allen estate. And it went way back toward Glen Allen and apparently had beautiful wildflower gardens and all that sort of stuff. Frances Flory Prentiss was the one who started with Jacob Cox, Cleveland Twist Drill. And there's a book of the history of Cleveland Twist Drill that where I lived, secondly, after our kids were grown and gone, we moved on Oak Ridge Drive and one, 255 Oak Ridge, which had originally been owned by the sister of-- sister-in-law of Jacob Cox, who started the-- he was on the board of directors for Cleveland Trust and who started Cleveland Twist Drill with Francis Fleury Prentiss. So it was-- It's a real historical area, and that house still exists. It was built in 1925, and it's just it's a beautiful property. But the Glen Allen estate was torn down. The walls still exists. The fire station is on the corner and I think that was the Milliken estate. Julia Milliken for whom Milliken School is named. And that was a cousin I think of the Severances. So those were some very special things. I just, you know, wouldn't it have been beautiful if we kept that mansion and made it into a library way back when? We still have the, um, the church that's now a part of-- right at Mayfield and Lee, there's the historic Heights Rockefeller Building. That was where Cleveland Trust was. Across the street was originally a Jewish temple. And then it sold to-- and it was more of a community center called the Civic. And now it's a religious congregation. But that's one of the original gems of Cleveland Heights. Lots of architecture and housing. If you're-- the Cleveland Heights Historical Society has documented a whole lot of the housing. And the Heights Heritage tour of the Congress also went into a number of the homes. And those books are the pamphlets that people got for going on the tours are all a part of the historical record of Cleveland Heights. And I think on that site you were talking about, or at least through Cleveland State in some way. Um, of course, we have St. Ann Church and St. Paul's, those are historic and have stories about their history.
Timothy Klypchak [01:08:21] One last question. When you were-- well you're still involved with Forest Hill Church. When the onset of everything was the community center and all of these nonprofits popping up, was there a lot of opposition from the community or?
Diane Woodbridge [01:08:35] No. No, no, no, no, no. Welcoming I would say. I don't-- no, no opposition.
Timothy Klypchak [01:08:43] Is there any other stories that you can think of that come to mind?
Diane Woodbridge [01:08:49] I'm feeling pretty storied out, of course, I'll think about it in the middle of the night, as I always do, but I think I'm feeling pretty storied out for now.
Timothy Klypchak [01:08:57] All right. Well, thank you for sitting down with me. I really appreciate it. It was very informative. And is there anybody else besides Doris Allen and Chip Bromley that you can think of that might be good to talk to?
Diane Woodbridge [01:09:13] Well, if you wanted to do a Facetime, you could talk with Ned Edwards. He's retired. He's in Michigan. But you could do it by email or Facetime if you wanted to. I mean, he does go back to the-- how it sort of came from the city. Some of the concern about, you know like, the building of the school and selecting a place for the school that would have made it all White as opposed to an integrated school. There was a much better place for that school to have been built than where they were building it. So he goes back further than I do, and that might be kind of fun.
Timothy Klypchak [01:09:54] Okay. Thank you so much.
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"Diana Woodbridge interview, 15 July 2013" (2015). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 990042.