Kevin Rose finds his passion, builds his career in Springfield

When Kevin Rose entered a college writing competition with a narrative piece about the “life” of a building on Wittenberg University’s campus that he had loved, he never imagined that would be the beginning of lifelong roots he would plant in Springfield.

But it was.

And 18 years later, Rose is in the same job the essay led to – working as The Turner Foundation’s resident historian.

“As a kid, who’s this ‘farm kid’ who went to Wittenberg for basketball, and ended up winning this writing award, you start thinking, ‘I can be smart,’” Rose says. “I was always someone who loved learning, but I just didn’t realize I could be a historian because of it.”

Rose’s path was a little uncertain at first. He did choose Wittenberg not out of his love of learning but to play basketball. But, a knee injury his freshman year ended those plans.

“So, I dove headfirst into academics … and I fell in love with learning,” he says.
During that same time is when Rose’s love of architecture took flight, and so did he – literally.

Through Rose’s new-found love of history and architecture, he found that his family was from a region of England that he felt drawn to visit. So, he took a sabbatical from his academic career and flew to Europe to learn firsthand his family’s history.

“I absorbed the culture and the sites and the architecture,” he says. “I spent as much time as I could traveling and seeing places.”

He learned about how other cultures value buildings differently than in the U.S.

“When I got back, for the first time I found myself as more of a preservationist,” Rose says. “It’s not about just saving a building or saving a town. It’s about, ‘What is that thing that separates Springfield from Piqua or Springfield from Lima?’ that when you’re there, there’s ‘place.’

“There’s meaning that you can feel in your bones and soul that’s hard to define, but you know you’re there because the buildings look different and the streetscapes look different, and it creates this feeling of ‘place.’”

That importance of “place” continues to drive much of Rose’s work at The Turner Foundation still today.

At the time Rose joined the foundation, he says it felt in many ways that Springfield had given up as a city and that the foundation was a beacon of hope.

“A lot of what I do involves understanding the role history has in a community’s rebirth and understanding how the past can reform the future,” Rose says. “It’s about investing in the parts of a place that makes it different.”

From Hartman Rock Garden to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House, Rose saw the potential in growing cultural tourism in Springfield.

“People are coming from around the world to see them. We’re using our history to bring people here to our city,” he says. “Once we get them here, they see a great downtown park and the art museum, and now decide to stay in a hotel room. They’re now investing and spending more money and more time in our community, and now they’re going to come back.”

Rose’s work is also what connected him with his wife, Marta Wojcik, who came to Springfield to fill her role as the executive director of the Westcott House.

“Having a collaborator like my wife, having someone that you’re in a way always working and dreaming with, is pretty amazing,” Rose says. “I know I would not have the success in my life that I have if I had not met her.”

Also through his role at The Turner Foundation, Rose has served on a variety of local boards and is involved with a number of non-profits. He’s also had the opportunity to be involved with statewide organizations.

Most recently, Rose was appointed Board Chair of the Ohio Humanities council, which is an independent state-level non-profit that receives most of its support from federal funding.

“It is a huge honor to be able to be a board leader of a statewide organization, especially so because of all the change it’s going through,” Rose says. “It’s even more rewarding when an organization is going through that kind of evolution – ‘Here’s where we are, and here’s where we want to go, and who can lead us there?’”

Springfield, he says, hasn’t done a good enough job over the years making an effort to get humanities funding for program. And, being on the board the past few years has opened his eyes to areas where Springfield could apply for the funding.

Humanities is the study of the understanding of what makes us human, Rose says, explaining that it includes art history, our history, philosophy, architecture and more.

“One big role of Ohio Humanities now is recovery, especially recovery in the museum sector,” says Rose, who called museums not only hubs for art but also economic drivers for jobs, tourism and communities’ overall success.

He says for Ohio Humanities, most of their role is figuring out how to move a flow of financial resources to cultural institutions in Ohio to make sure they get the support they need to succeed.

For Springfield, Rose says that his focus is less about saving a house or a building because it is “historical” and more about saving a house or building because of the role it plays in the community and the region as a whole.

“We need to understand we’re not just saving bricks, but we’re saving neighborhoods and communities. That’s what preservations is, that larger context around why we’re saving parts of our history,” Rose says.

As Rose gets settled into his new role with Ohio Humanities, he will also continue his life’s work with The Turner Foundation and is excited for the continued revitalization of Springfield as a community.

“At The Turner Foundation, we see success as vibrant neighborhoods around a vibrant urban core,” Rose says. “Where you can walk from home to your office and feel safe and connected and feel joy in life through your daily surroundings – that this is a place you’re so excited to be in.”
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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.