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THE DREAM IS ALIVE

by Janet Nesler

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As the oldest active educator in the State of Ohio, Leo Blackburn, of Portsmouth, Ohio has been associated with education for 65 years. On the first of August Blackburn will turn 85.
Everyday He comes into his office at Southeastern Business College, in New Boston, Ohio where his title is Chairman Emeritus. He was former owner of the Business College which is
now owned by Blackburn's son Sam Blackburn, with Colleges in the other Ohio cities of Chillicothe, Lancaster, Lorain and Sandusky. A substitute teacher when needed, Blackburn is always there for students who need to talk about future job planning or whatever else is on their mind.

A Portsmouth business man, Community Leader and Humanitarian, Blackburn, with many dreams realized has yet to see his biggest dream become reality. His idea of an Aerial Tramway
connecting Ohio and Kentucky across the Ohio River at the Portsmouth location of the flood wall Murals. The project will be called the OK Skyway.

"As a world traveler," said Blackburn, "I have seen and ridden tramways in Europe; South Africa; South America; Palm Springs, CA; Albuquerque, N.M.; West Virginia and other places. I began to realize that we had a good site for one here."

Part of the project is to develop the hilltop on the Kentucky side and make a convention center; shopping center and petting zoo for the kids.

"The dream is alive," said Blackburn, Historian for the Portsmouth Flood wall Murals, " And as soon as the Murals are finished we hope to get started on the OK Skyway which should be
in 1997. We have notified people in both Kentucky and Ohio. We will be calling a meeting in the near future at South Shore, Kentucky with both Kentucky and Ohio people together to discuss it further."

The project has already been cleared by the Army Engineers and the Coast Guard. They both have something to say about the river development. They see no problem and it could be a
remarkable thing for tourism for this area, both for Kentucky and Ohio. Blackburn said, "The magic word in tourism is 'only' and this will be the only Tramway in the State of Ohio to connect two States."

"The OK Skyway was on the middle burner when Vern Riffe was still Speaker of The House and he allocated $50,000 for the Ohio share of the feasibility study, but Kentucky has not been able to raise their share yet. We are hoping to find private people to do it. Sort of like Disney World, the states would work together."

One past dream was realized when Blackburn was asked in 1964 by the then Portsmouth Mayor George Wear to head a Committee to investigate the feasibility and desirability of a Sister City for Portsmouth. After several meetings and secret voting it was decided that Sister Cities International would be contacted. A letter was received from Orizaba, Mexico and Blackburn, with Spanish©speaking Howard Laymon, went to Orizaba and made the initial contact. Orizaba became Portsmouth's first Sister City in 1964. In 1991, Portsmouth affiliated with Zittau, Germany as a Sister City and in 1995 Affiliated with Corby, England.

Blackburn served as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy (Gunnery Officer) during World War II (1943-1946). After getting out of the Navy in 1946 he bought Portsmouth Interstate Business College. While still president of the College, he ran for political office.

"In 1950 three Republicans walked into my office and asked me to run for Ohio State Senator," said Blackburn.

Eight people ran and Blackburn and Oakley Collins won the election and they were Ohio Senators for 1951©52. Blackburn then ran two times for Congress and lost both times. He then quit politics.

Blackburn was Postmaster in Portsmouth from 1958 to 1961 also Director of United Business Schools Association from 1968 to 1971. In 1975 he bought Southeastern Business College.

At present, Blackburn is writing a book about his life entitled "Man From Mountjoy". He was born the fourth child into a family of five boys and one girl and lived in Mountjoy until he
was 12 years old. At that time his father passed away and the family moved to Rarden, Ohio. He attended a little country school.

"I can sit down and answer a letter really quick, but writing a book is hard for me," said Blackburn, "I wanted to have it done by my 85th birthday but don't think I will make that
deadline. I knew Jesse Stuart and he was always wanting to sit and write, but I would rather be doing other things."

Blackburn gives his wife Julia credit for a lot of help with the school development. They are the parents of two sons Sam of Portsmouth and David, a Hospital Administrator in Little Rock,
AR. They have three grandchildren and one great grandchild, all boys.

"There are so many things to see and do and learn about," said Blackburn with enthusiasm, "I'm interested in everything. My favorite subject is Geography and one of my goals was to travel
around the world. I finally did. I went to see my son Sam in Vietnam and just kept on going and went all the way around the world. I enjoyed every moment of it. One of the biggest enjoyments is the memories of it. You read about something in a paper and you can say, I know about that, I was there."

Blackburns hobbies are Tennis, studying History and Government, Sister City Activity and traveling in United States and Foreign Countries, writing articles on Shawnee Indians, Travel and Local Historical events.

Among the many awards and recognitions Blackburn has received are three Special Recognition Awards from the Ohio House of Representatives for Outstanding Contributions in the area of Education, and Civic and Humanitarian Service and a similar Ohio Senate Resolution; Kiwanis Ambassador of Good Will Award for advancing the cause of International Peace and Understanding; In 1986 an Entrepreneurship Fund was established in name of Leo and Julia Blackburn with Scioto Area Growth Foundation; Rotary Harris Award in 1994; Kiwanis Lifetime Honorary Membership Award in 1996.

Leo Blackburn is living proof that no one should give up their dream at any age. At the age of 85 he still has a dream that will soon become reality. The uniting of two states by the OK Skyway.

 

 

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