BEAVERCREEK — Since 1957, one citizen has shown compassion and taught life lessons to not only children, but adults, and built lifelong friendships for life.
Very few individuals can say that they have become close friends with an adult when they were as young as 8 years old. But, that’s what hundreds of former students, Boy Scout troop members and parents have been able to say about Ben O’Diam. But, who is he and what made him so special?
“I don’t know where I’d be today without the influence he had on my life,” former student Jerry Mantle said. “I never wanted to let him down.”
Last year, previous Parkwood Elementary students, scout members, friends, family and community members presented O’Diam with Lifetime Achievement Award celebrating his journey through people’s lives and appreciation for him just being him. During his Lifetime Achievement celebration, the group presented him with a leather-bound book with a compilation of more than 100 memories and stories of how O’Diam touched their lives and what he meant to them.
“We are pleased to shout-out examples of your lifetime achievements,” current Vice Mayor Julie Vann said.
This year, on Sept. 17, a group of more than 30 friends gathered at Marion’s Pizza in Beavercreek to celebrated him again, just months after his wife passed away unexpectedly and after O’Diam has been battling a heart condition.
Ben O’Diam’s journey with Beavercreek began in 1957 when he was hired as a fifth and sixth grade teacher at Beavercreek Valley Elementary. Shortly after, in September 1965, he was promoted to principal at West Elementary- now known as Parkwood Elementary. He helped open this brand new school and ran it the way he felt right. It’s been said by many previous students of Parkwood Elementary, that during these formative years of this school, the neighborhood children that attended this school, were of the poorer side of Beavercreek. Because of that, O’Diam paid special attention to each and every one of his students. He knew each and every one of their names. He treated them like an equal. He was big and tough looking, but had a gentle heart. That’s what was said to make him great.
“There was not a day that he wasn’t out in front of the school greeting the students. He always had a smile and waited for the last student to arrive before going into the school building himself,” Mantle said.
But, being a great principal was not all that Ben O’Diam set out to do. He also wanted to be apart of the community and help shape the City of Beavercreek to what it is today. He joined City Council and also become the Mayor, all the while, still being the principal of Parkwood. He
also became a Boy Scout Leader and touched many lives through this organization. He became a staple of integrity for the community and an example for others to follow.
In the leather book that was presented to O’Diam, heartfelt memories were passed onto him as a show of thanks.
“I was a new art teacher at Parkwood and was having some girl problems. Ben came up to me and said, “Jim, if you miss the bus, another one comes along.” And that’s exactly how it happened,” Jim Chapman said. He ended up marrying the next “bus.”
“I was always amazed at how well you could run a school without ever really raising your voice,” prior parent Barb Ryan said. “You treated all who knew you with compassion and love.”
“You gave me an assistant custodian job was I was in the 6th grade and you trusted me with the gym keys during the summer months and allowed me and the kids to play inside when it was too hot outside,” Dennis Sparks said. “I don’t remember if I was paid, but I was allowed to take home the leftover soft pretzels at the end of the week.”
Jerry Mantle was a troubled student that started Parkwood when he was 12 years old in 1973. He was a transfer from St. Helen’s and was beginning in the middle of the year. One day, he decided to not to go school. His mom called the school and before he knew it, Ben O’Diam was standing in his bedroom telling him to get up and get ready for school. He was a nervous wreck and was so scared of getting a paddling at school. But, O’Diam, instead of going directly to school, took him to a donut shop and they ate a donut and drank hot chocolate. Ben asked him, “We’re not all so bad, are we?” He meant adults. After that, Mantle had a different attitude towards adults.
“You didn’t just teach the students, you taught all of us [parents],” said previous parent, Norma Voris.
Pulling into the parking lot one day, O’Diam accident ran over a kid’s beat up old Huffy bike that had been thrown on the ground in a careless manner. After finding the owner, he called the kid’s father and learned that the student had gotten into trouble. “I guess he felt bad for me, because he bought me a brand new, top of the line Schwinn Varsity ten speed,” former student Paul Tock said. “I had the best bike in the neighborhood.”
Between 1960-1982, O’Diam became one of the founding members to establish the City of Beavercreek. He held all these many positions in the community all the while being a father, husband and friend to many people.
During his years of being principal, he began many programs and traditions that still live on today. He started a reading incentive program in 1979 called BAOTAP (books are our thing at Parkwood), which is still implemented today. He held an annual Pumpkin Festival for the students, took children out to lunches, special field trips, offered scholarships, helped create
gardens, plant trees, but most importantly, he showed compassion to the students and inspired the staff to be their best.
O’Diam retired after 29 years in 1987. Beavercreek City Council proclaimed Sept. 17 Ben O’Diam Day.
Danielle Coots is a freelance writer for Greene County News.