After repeatedly turning down offers to be an honoree at the annual African American Awareness Research Council Black History program, when Arlene Cole finally accepted the honor Saturday with her late husband, Jon “Joe” Cole, her thoughts were on him more than herself.
“I’ve done this several years for others, but when it came down to me I always said, ‘No, no, no, no, I haven’t done enough,’” Arlene said during the ceremony held at the Hillsboro Church of the Nazarene. “But I finally said OK.”
Involved in a multitude of community activities including many to better the Black community, Arlene said that what has kept her going over the years is the many people she has worked alongside.
“It was a good path to be on … to maybe encourage them to go on,” she said.
She had praise for her sons, Jon and Maurice, graduates of the University of Toledo and Lee University, respectively, then turned her thoughts toward her husband with little mention of herself.
Arlene said Joe did the best he could at all times, and as a youth coach treated other kids like they were his own because he wanted them to understand the fundamentals and achieve to their highest level. She said she spends a lot of time these days watching movies, and one that particularly reminds her of her husband is “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
“I had an officer, a gentlemen, a wonderful friend, a great husband and great father,” she said.
Jennifer West, the AAARC secretary, said Joe was once invited to the Cincinnati Gardens to try out for a professional football team. “But he turned it down because he just got married and did not want to disrupt his family life,” West said. “He always urged kids to chase their dreams.”
Three years younger than her husband, Arlene said she initiated the relationship with the man who became her husband. She said she had a cheerleader friend she passed a note to because she knew the friend could get closer to the team. The cheerleader gave the note to Boyd Nelson, one of Joe’s teammate, and Nelson passed it to Joe.
“That’s how we got started,” she said.
Following the ceremony, Jon Cole said he was thinking about what it would have meant for this father to be at the ceremony. Maurice Cole said he was thinking about what Hillsboro meant to his father and what his father meant to Hillsboro. He talked about his father’s meager beginnings, growing up for a time at a children’s home in Hillsboro and rising above that.
“For him to be part of that history and be someone so well regarded in the community is just awesome,” Maurice said.
Joe Cole was born to Charles F. and Georgeanna West Cole. Arlene was born to James and Edith Handcock Rockhold. They attended the former Lincoln School before moving on to Hillsboro High School where Joe excelled at track, basketball and football. He is a member of the Hillsboro High School Athletic Hall of Fame, an honor shared with his oldest son, Jon.
Joe graduated from HHS in 1955 and joined the U.S. Navy, serving four years.
Arlene graduated from HHS in 1958. They married on Jan. 22, 1961, and had three sons — Jon William, an infant son they lost, and Maurice.
If Joe were still alive, he and Arlene would have celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this year.
Joe worked at Rotary Forms for 14 years and joined the Hillsboro Police Department for several years as an auxiliary officer. He later worked in construction for Laborers #83 in Portsmouth where he was a union steward.
Arlene worked at Robertshaw Controls for 18 years where she served as a union steward until its closing. She worked at General Electric in Cincinnati for about a year before a car accident compromised her physically.
Service has been a critical part of Joe and Arlene’s contribution to the Hillsboro community. Over the years they served in a number of groups including a housing board, Hillsboro Police Auxiliary, Laborers Local #83, United Auto Workers Local #192, HHS Athletic Boosters, HHS Music Boosters, Highland County Children Services Board, NAACP, Highland County Democratic Party, Magnolia Twig, Wayman Chapel AME, and the AAARC.
Their love of cooking and community led them to assist with the HHS preseason football fish fry for more than 30 years.
Joe passed away on June 5, 2017. Arlene continues to serve where she’s needed. She has six grandchildren and three stepgrandchildren.
Another part of the program saw the AAARC award three $500 scholarships to residents of Highland, Clinton and Fayette counties. The Highland County recipient was Quintin Captain, the son of Rodney and Jaymara Captain, and Arlene and Joe Cole’s great-grandson. He said he plans to attend the University of Kentucky to study exercise science and possibly play baseball.
“I want to thank my family and my friends. I wouldn’t be here without you,” he said, adding that he wanted to especially thank his mother. “You taught me so many lessons in life and I really thank you for that.”
The other two recipients were Jada Holley and Megan Manns.
The program was held in memory of Elsie Young, one of Hillsboro’s renowned Marching Mothers who took their battle to have the Hillsboro schools desegregated to the Supreme Court, and won. She passed away June 2, 2021, at the age of 105.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.