The President and CEO of The Verdin Company—the 176-year-old, family-owned, Cincinnati, Ohio-based manufacturer of bell towers, clock towers and carillons—died August 8 after a short illness. A funeral service will be held Thursday, August 16, at the Cincinnati church where the company installed its first clock tower in 1842.
Life is in the stories, and Jim Verdin had a million of them. The President and CEO of The Verdin Company, an iconic Cincinnati family-owned business founded in 1842, passed away August 8 after a short illness.
But his story doesn’t end there. Jim Verdin’s influence will continue to be felt—in the many contributions he made to the Cincinnati community; in the company that bears his family name; through the countless bell towers, clock towers and carillons that The Verdin Company has installed throughout Greater Cincinnati and around the world; and in his legions of friends and family.
Neil Bortz, founder and chairman of Towne Properties, met Verdin in the mid-1980s when he hired The Verdin Company to create a bell tower for The Shops at Harper’s Point. That project marked one of the first times the company tackled shopping centers, an expansion from the churches that had been its historical focus.
“Jim had so much energy, so much creativity and a great sense of humor,” Bortz said. “He always had great stories—you never knew what he was going to say.”
Born in 1936 to Ralph G. and Leora Verdin (nee Dorr), James Ralph Verdin grew up in Mariemont, Ohio and graduated with Mariemont High School’s Class of 1955. Throughout his childhood and teen years, he spent countless hours working in the family business—sweeping floors, climbing towers to wind clocks and bells, and learning every facet of the company.
After graduation, Verdin served in the U.S. Army. Respect for the Armed Forces and the people who served was important to Verdin and embedded in the culture of The Verdin Company, which has created projects for many veterans organizations. In fact, Jim Verdin and the company were recently recognized by the state of Ohio for their work in honoring and hiring veterans.
Devotion to family was Verdin’s biggest driver. Working in The Verdin Company meant spending plenty of time with his grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and more throughout his life. Jim and his cousins, Bob, now deceased, and David are the fifth generation of Verdins to lead the company, and three members of the sixth generation are in key positions now.
Verdin’s love for family was evident, too, in his relationships with his wife, Carole (nee Conners), his daughter, Jill Crew, and his granddaughters Caroline and Samantha.
For the city of Cincinnati, Jim Verdin’s love of his community can be seen in his long list of civic and philanthropic accomplishments. Perhaps it is most evident in the revitalization of Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood, which Verdin has championed and supported for decades. With a vision to transform the Pendleton section of OTR, Verdin and his partners restored the old St. Paul’s Church, which was threatened with closing; the church now houses the Bell Event Centre and once housed The Verdin Company’s headquarters, still nearby in Pendleton.
Jim Verdin also has long championed Pendleton as an artists’ community and founded the Pendleton Art Center in 1991. It has since grown to house one of the world’s largest collection of artists under one roof. The Pendleton Art Center now anchors the Pendleton Art District, which also includes centers that serve as important arts communities in Middletown, Ohio, as well as Rising Sun, Ind.
Verdin’s other influences in the neighborhood include the Pendleton Square Complex and the development of the “old car barn,” now Nicola’s Ristorante.
Nicola Piotoso was inspired to create his Italian eatery Nicola’s in the abandoned car-barn facility based on the enthusiasm and vision of Verdin, who purchased it as part of his OTR revitalization efforts. Piotoso and his wife, Maureen, drove from St. Louis to tour the building with Verdin and were a bit surprised by what they saw.
“After it had been a car barn, it had been a horse barn, so there were dirt floors and columns that had been chewed on by the horses, plus lightning holes in the roof,” Piotoso said. “But after talking to him, we said, ‘That guy’s got some vision!’ “
The Piotosos were intrigued but had plenty of worries—about the condition of the building, the state of the struggling neighborhood and their own ability to finance the restaurant.
Verdin promised to help with all those areas and assured the couple, “We will make it happen.” He was determined to turn around Over-the-Rhine, Piotoso said.
“He was the guy who invented determination,” he said.
Marvin Butts has been inspired by his mentor’s trademark enthusiasm for 30 years. The owner of Air Marvin Limousine Service as well as Mr. Bubbles Car Detailing leased space in the East End, near The Verdin Company’s foundry, for a decade and moved his businesses to Pendleton 21 years ago at Verdin’s urging.
“He’s the one guy who always believed in me, was always the cheerleader for me,” said Butts. “He’s the reason I’ve been able to push and drive myself. He’s the reason I’ve been able to do so much fundraising and help people in the neighborhood.”
When times were rough, Verdin’s confidence would lift him up. He’d tell Butts, “Don’t worry, Marvin, if you don’t get those sales today, you’ll get them tomorrow!”
And when finances were rough, Verdin would throw a lifeline, saying, “If you can’t pay your rent this month, you just let me know. Things will turn around.”
Verdin’s belief in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood was as great as his belief in friends like Butts. Thinking big and thinking beyond today—to creating lasting impact—came naturally to him, both as a function of his oversize personality as well as the historic nature of the projects created by his family business.
Verdin projects can be seen on college campuses and town squares and gracing churches far and wide. The bells that signal the daily opening and closing of the New York Stock Exchange are Verdin’s. Ditto for the clocks seen on the PGA Tour and at high-end country clubs and golf clubs throughout the U.S and other countries. One of Jim Verdin’s proudest projects was creating a glockenspiel featured at Disney World.
Verdin bells and clocks are featured around Greater Cincinnati, as well. Perhaps the best known is the World Peace Bell in Newport, Ky., which when erected in 2000 was the largest swinging cast bell anywhere in the world. An innovative foot piano, which Jim Verdin called the biggest keyboard-playing instrument ever, entertains visitors to Smale Riverfront Park, featuring 32 keys and measuring a whopping 19 feet long by 6 feet deep.
Other local projects include the War Memorial to the Common Man, in Lawrenceburg, Ind., as well as bells and clocks in communities across greater Cincinnati.
And, of course, there is the project that started it all for The Verdin Company: Old St. Mary’s Church in Jim Verdin’s beloved Over-the-Rhine, where the company installed their first clock tower in 1842.
Verdin’s funeral service will take place in that very same church where it all began.
In addition to his wife, Carole, daughter Jill Crew and son-in-law Sam Crew, and two granddaughters, Jim Verdin is succeeded by his sisters Joan (the late Robert) Sheehan, Kay (James) Busemeyer and Ann Verdin (the late Victor Kolodny). He is remembered by his many close friends and the 100-plus team members of The Verdin Company, who were an extended family.
Visitation will be at 9 a.m. until time of Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at Old St. Mary’s Church, 123 E. 13th St., Cincinnati (Over-the-Rhine), with a reception to follow at The Bell Event Centre, 444 Reading Road. Memorials may be made to The Summit Country Day School, 2161 Grandin Road, Cincinnati, OH 45208 and Old St. Mary’s Church, 123 E 13th St., Cincinnati, OH 45202.