For 110 years, Community Solutions has welcomed hundreds of men and women as employees and volunteers. Notably, of the 16 executive directors, only two have been women: Leona Bevis in the 1970s and Nancy Travers, 1996-1997. Let’s meet Leona Bevis and appreciate the pivotal role she played in Community Solutions’ history.
Going ‘beyond social work’
Leona Bevis’ legacy of commitment and community service still impacts thousands of people in Ohio every day. During her career, she helped design and advocate on behalf of improved policies and services on state and local levels, led fund drives to provide help to Clevelanders in need, and helped develop the professionalism of the social work field.
During her career, she helped design and advocate on behalf of improved policies and services on state and local levels, led fund drives to provide help to Clevelanders in need, and helped develop the professionalism of the social work field.
Bevis was born on a farm in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1915, graduated high school in 1932, and worked her way through college. After college, she went to work in what was a relatively new field—Aid to Dependent Children (ADC)—in Butler County. The general population had grown tremendously in response to labor need at the steel mills. Laborers typically brought with them many unskilled, often illiterate, family members. There were few formal policies or procedures for ADC at that time, so Leona visited families in their homes to determine if they needed financial aid to maintain a basic standard of living.
She recognized the need for them to learn to read and understand the basics of math to survive and have any chance at upward social mobility. But when she began teaching them, she was told to stop because it was considered beyond the role of a social worker.
Serving Northeast Ohio and The Center for Community Solutions
Bevis brought her passion to help people with her to Cleveland, and, in 1945, she graduated from Western Reserve University. Her Northeast Ohio career led her to a social work job in the Akron area to the state welfare department, to the Welfare Federation (our name at that time), to United Torch Services, and, in 1972, back to serve as our executive director.
As Executive Director, she said, “Our society is undergoing a major transition into what has been termed a post-industrial period, due, in part, to technological and scientific developments that have changed the distribution of the labor force in the industrial and service fields. Sad to say, our social institutions and public policy are responding too slowly to this transformation of American life. There is drastic need for profound and fundamental reform if we are to improve the quality of life.”
As the organization’s first female executive, she sat in rooms and at tables that traditionally only welcomed middle-aged white males.
As the organization’s first female executive, she sat in rooms and at tables that traditionally only welcomed middle-aged white males. She was assertive, yet easy to approach. She treated everyone—from the governor to the most junior staff member—with dignity and respect.
During her tenure, the organization, renamed the Federation for Community Planning, developed a revised mission with a focus on community planning and research.
Industry, patience, and commitment
According to the late Steven Minter, “she was a bridging figure who helped steer a citizen-led community planning agency through the turbulent social reform of the War on Poverty, The Great Society, maximum feasible participation of the poor, and Nixon welfare reform. She helped set the stage for many of our activities today…she taught me and many others about the value and effectiveness of public/private partnerships…[she] led drives [then] known as The Plain Dealer’s Holiday Spirit, helped create services for senior citizens, and influenced the transfer of Metropolitan General Hospital and city welfare services to county administration. She was a pivotal figure in facilitating the merger of 5 social service agencies in 1970 to what is today the [Centers] for Families and Children. Leona Bevis was a remarkable steward for the delivery of human services in Greater Cleveland.”
The late Judge Frederick Coleman, board chair 1972-1975, shared that, “Miss Bevis has inspired me. I have observed other volunteers and staff, and I know she has inspired them. She influences others by setting an example. Her industry, her patience, her commitment, her determination, her unobtrusive yet decisive application of her own store of knowledge and wisdom, her willingness to be open to new ideas and approaches, her ability to change her mind, are observable traits that inculcate themselves into the lives of others.”
She influences others by setting an example.
Bevis retired as executive director in 1979 but continued as consultant to our 75th anniversary endowment campaign in 1988. Even outside her prior Director role, when she made observations or gave advice, people usually acted on her ideas. She treated everyone with the utmost respect, and she was successful in fundraising because of her way of making people feel good about themselves and about giving.
Leona Bevis passed away in 2009. Those of us who knew her were honored to be in the company of one of the great women of this community’s human services history—one of the Women of Community Solutions.