Before we began contemplating a woman for president, Dayton had its very own female political force to be reckoned with in the 1920s. She had the ear of governors, senators, presidents and kings.

Some say this powerful woman was so influential in local, regional and national politics, she had an interstate highway moved so as to not affect her property and estate—yep, the wonderful Malfunction Junction at Interstate 75 and Route 4. Now, that was strictly rumor, but after researching Katharine Kennedy Brown, not too hard to believe.

Curt Dalton—local historian/author, the guy with a vast wealth of information and the one who makes me look like a genius by imparting his knowledge—provides some background.

“Born on July 16, 1891, to an influential Dayton family, Katharine socialized with the most powerful families in this community, traveled extensively in Europe and received her initial education from German and French governesses. She eventually attended Dayton public schools, and then enrolled in Wellesley College. In 1921, Katharine married Kleo Thaw Brown,” says Dalton.

Upon women gaining the right to vote in 1920, Brown immediately pursued a political career and was a devoted supporter of the Republican Party. She sought a seat on the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee.

The male members denied her that seat, but Brown eventually persevered. She continued to advance through the Republican Party organization, becoming a member of the Republican State Committee in 1928, a position she retained for 40 years.

From 1932 to 1968, Brown served on the Republican National Committee and held innumerable other positions within the party, including one as Ohio’s delegate to nine separate Republican National Conventions.

And check this out: Brown emerged as an important advisor to numerous state and national political leaders during her tenure, serving as advisor to James Rhodes, Robert Taft and Richard Nixon. She also served as the only female member of Bricker and Taft’s National Strategy Committees on their presidential campaigns.

Brown died in November 1986, but during her lifetime women gained tremendous opportunities within the political arena. We may not have had a woman running for president today if not for Mrs. Kennedy Brown.

Her incredible home is almost as famous as she is. The family’s mansion—bordered by Keowee, Webster, and Leonhard Streets—was called Duncarrick, which is Gaelic for “home of the Kennedys.”

It was originally erected as a farmhouse sometime before 1850. Katharine’s father, Grafton C. Kennedy, was a prominent Dayton lawyer who bought the property in 1887.

“The architectural firm of Peters, Burns and Pretzinger was hired to build the mansion around the original structure. Albert Pretzinger was considered by many to be the top architect of Dayton at the time. The mansion was placed on the National Register in 1983,” Dalton says.

After Brown’s death the home was neglected and scheduled, I’m told, to meet the fate of the wrecking ball. Enter the Salvation Army and Ray and Joan Kroc of McDonald’s hamburger fame. The Krocs were so impressed with the Salvation Army’s mission they bequeathed $1.5 billion to the organization, and Dayton and the Katharine Kennedy Brown estate was chosen to house one of eight Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers.

“What do you do with a 150-year-old mansion that’s been abandoned for a quarter century? The neighborhood was so concerned about maintaining this historic piece of property, making it tie into the daily purpose and mission was a challenge,” says Major Tom Duperree, Kroc Center Administrator/Area Commander for the Salvation Army.

The result is astounding.

“I think the architect did a great job of incorporating the feel of something old and historic with a modern expression of architecture. There are so many variations on the theme of pairing the old Duncarrick house, which sits at the north end of the property, with the beacon, which greets you upon entering the Kroc Center on the south end,” Duperree says.

By the way, no other Salvation Army facility has a 155-year-old historic mansion on its property—another Dayton first. Having served the needs of Dayton since 1888, the Salvation Army, like Kennedy’s historic home isn’t going anywhere.

I encourage you to visit this wonderful amenity with walking trails, a workout area, meeting rooms, theater and regular church services.

Plus, you can even schedule a tour of Duncarrick, which is also a museum, Mondays only, by calling 937-528-5200.

“We get to share the marvelous heritage of Katharine Louise Kennedy Brown with each visitor. There is often wide-eyed wonder at the stories which have been passed down to us about the contributions she made to the city of Dayton,” says Duperree.

Yes, Katharine Louise Kennedy Brown’s memory continues to live through the services and programs offered at The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Dayton.

And that’s a big Amen!

Buch