Benjamin Arnold Tilford was a KH resident who built numerous houses not only in KH but in surrounding neighborhoods. He wanted the neighborhood to have a positive image. Many of the homes were built on Red Bank Rd. and Zinsle Ave. He helped people obtain mortgages for the homes he built. In fact, his grandson, Ronald Tilford, stated that if he didn’t know how to help someone he would find someone who could help. He had a strong belief in God which inspired him to show kindness to others. Many called him the “Mayor of Kennedy Heights”.
He was active in the Republican Party and held a seat on their central executive board. He was the first black on the Cincinnati Zoo board. He was well recognized in Cincinnati, a visionary. He traveled for his sporting interests; he would fish in Canada and Florida, hunt in South Dakota and was a member of an all-black trap shooting club in Blanchester. Mr. Tilford was born in Harrodsburg, KY and came to Cincinnati in the early 1900’s. He was a general contractor and created a highly successful cement business.
His son, Arnold Jr., Ronald’s dad, set up the forms for the cement and was the finisher. Later, he then added another job, the position of sidewalk supervisor for the Hamilton County Engineering Dept.
Ben Tilford was instrumental in helping obtain the land for the current First Baptist Church in KH. Several people created second mortgages on their homes so the land could be purchased. Ronald tells the story that his grandfather was told he should get a Cadillac. His response was “Why should I do that? My Buick runs fine. It gets me to where I need to go.”
Ronald remembers going to his grandmother and grandfather’s home for Thanksgiving. It was a special event with all the family, everyone was dressed to the nine’s and on their best behavior. The table was set with beautiful dishes and an amazing spread of food. He looks back on those times and believes the regular times together provided a sense of stability for him. His grandfather died February 21, 1973 at the age of 78. He was the father of four (4) children, Helen, Vallie, Arnold, Jr., and Zoa, three of whom were life-long Kennedy Heights residents.
Ronald was one of 6 children. He is married to Nikki; last year (2014) they celebrate their 50th anniversary. They have two daughters, Rhonda and Robin. He grew up in KH, on Dunloe, off of Red Bank; it felt like everyone was his friend. He carried newspapers throughout the community and worked at Jean’s, the grocery store on Zinsle Avenue which later became Foster’s. Because of these jobs Ronald knew and interacted with most people in Kennedy Heights as he was growing up.
He described the community as people having an ‘open door’ policy and everyone was friendly. That changed when there was a house destroyed in the ‘50’s, due to a mob connection. He said it happened on a Sunday morning on Standish Avenue. It affected the whole neighborhood.
He named two sports figures that lived in the neighborhood when he was growing up, Derrick Dickey, who played for the Golden State Warriors, the NBA team, and Skeeter Barnes, who played for the Cincinnati Reds and then managed the Toledo Mudhens, a Detroit Tigers minor league team.
In the summer there was always a carnival sponsored by the PTA. He remembers the bus turn-around on Montgomery, and stores close to the Kennedy/Montgomery intersection. There was a pharmacy, a shoe store, two grocery stores, a Dairy Queen, and a chicken restaurant.
Ronald attended Kennedy elementary school, 7th grade at Woodward, 8th grade at Lyons, and, as a 9th grader, attended the new Shroder school, graduating with the first class in 1958.
His hope for the community is that communication among residents will facilitate change. When thinking of a place to live, he considers the neighborhood to be a safe haven. He believes that one can listen to what a person says, but it’s what they do that is important. With time, everything changes!
Interviewed April 15, 2014
with Christine Schumacher, Ernie Barbeau, Charles (Fritz) Casey-Leininger & Anne Delano Steinert