By Denise Dick
Those who knew and worked with the late John Weed Powers on his many community and service endeavors describe him as a courageous man and a great wit who always gave back to the community.
Powers, 93, died last Friday at Park Vista Retirement Community.
Atty. James Callen served on the Citizens League of Greater Youngstown with Powers. It was a group established in 1982 to try to address the problems of political corruption and organized crime in the Mahoning Valley.
“John was our first president, and I was the vice president,” Callen said. “He had the name recognition in the community. He was a prominent attorney.”
Callen arranged for himself, Powers and then Mayor-elect Pat Ungaro to testify in January 1984 before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that was conducting hearings on organized crime in the Great Lakes region.
“I think he was a courageous guy,” Callen said. “He saw what needed to be done even if others didn’t, and he was true to that.”
Powers was part of the establishment and was one of the leadership class in the community.
“That group at that time had closed its eyes to the area’s problems that existed,” Callen said.
There was a lot of denial going on. Leadership in the community didn’t want to confront the problem. The three men’s testimony proved to be unpopular with many in the community, he said.
“They didn’t give us a ticker-tape parade when we came back, believe me,” Callen said.
Shortly after they returned from Washington, Powers resigned as president.
“He wasn’t able to continue in the same role with the league,” Callen said.
Powers left his law firm shortly after that.
Callen has a lot of respect and admiration for Powers.
“He did what he thought was the right thing to do,” he said. “The end result shows that he was correct.”
Public opinion and sentiment began to shift in the mid-1990s with the federal investigations that led to indictments of officials and organized-crime figures.
Powers was involved in many other community organizations besides the citizens league.
He was the founder of the Youngstown Area Arts Council and was active in the Youngstown Revitalization Foundation, Rotary Club, Ballet Western Reserve, Youngstown Symphony Society, American Red Cross, Poland Presbyterian Church and Blackburn Home for the Aged. Early in his career, he served two terms as Poland Village mayor.
H. William Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, got to know Powers while Powers’ wife, Emily, served on the society’s board.
“He was a great wit,” he said.
He was a student of people, and while he enjoyed a dry sense of humor, it wasn’t so dry that it went over your head, Lawson said.
“He and Emily were such a great match,” he said. “She always said he was incorrigible.”
Powers was a nephew of Edward W. Powers, for whom the auditorium is named.
It’s a legacy that Powers took to heart, Lawson said.
“He loved such institutions, and he did everything he could to help build them up,” he said.
Powers believed it was important to give back to the community, Lawson said.
Atty. Stephen Bolton of Manchester, Bennett, Powers and Ullman, where Powers served as associate, partner, president and managing partner during his 54 years with the firm, said Powers had a wonderful sense of humor.
Bolton was a 26-year-old attorney when he joined the firm where Powers specialized in labor law. Powers acted as a mentor for younger lawyers in that field, Bolton said.
Powers was a graduate of Poland Seminary High School and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. After serving in the Army during World War II, he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School.
Powers, who was born in Poland, was community-minded.
“I think he felt it was his obligation,” Bolton said.
Louis Zona, director of The Butler Institute of American Art, knew Powers for about 30 years, initially through Powers’ founding of the Youngstown Area Arts Council.
Zona called him an inspiring person.
The two worked together in the late 1970s to bring a sculpture by noted American sculptor George Segal to the city. The piece sits in front of the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor on West Wood Street.
But he also enjoyed light-hearted moments, and the two men shared many laughs.
“He lit up a room,” Zona said. “He was a special person.”
Besides his wife, he leaves four children, David (Beverly) of Petaluma, Calif., Catherine of Youngstown, Jay (Kiernan) of Eugene, Ore., and Douglas (Abigail) of Fort Wayne, Ind.; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will take place at a later date. Powers’ family requests contributions to the Youngstown Symphony Society, 260 West Federal St., Youngstown, OH 44503 or Poland Presbyterian Church, 2 Poland Manor, Poland, OH 44514.
Arrangements are being handled by Cunningham-Becker Funeral Home in Poland.