The death of Miami University architecture professor Tom Dutton has left a gaping hole in the communities where he lived and worked.

“We’re never going to replace Tom,” said Mary Rogero, interim chair of Miami’s Department of Architecture and

Interior Design. “I don’t know that we can.”

Dutton was the founder and director for the Center for Community Engagement in Over-The-Rhine (OTR), located just north of downtown Cincinnati.

Dutton, 65, died on June 13 of this year. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October. He was active in issues related to affordable housing, poverty and racial equity. His areas of study were history theory, social responsibility and social justice.

Too soon to know what’s next

“Losing [Tom] really shook up the community,” Rogero said. “I don’t like seeing that office door closed.”

Rogero said that the faculty has not talked about how to fill Dutton’s vacant teaching position or his position in the OTR program — and won’t for quite some time.

“This is still fresh. I just don’t know the answer to that yet,” Rogero said. “We haven’t had a discussion about it as faculty yet.”

The department will fill Dutton’s teaching position, but it is still unclear whether that position will be tied to the OTR program as well.

For now, architecture instructor John Blake is serving as interim director for the Center for Community Engagement. Blake has been with the program for a number of years.

“[Blake] was the likely successor to keep Tom’s work and the momentum going,” Rogero said. “He is doing a terrific job as interim director right now.”

The OTR program started in 1996 as a capstone for architecture students. Over the years, Dutton became intertwined with the OTR community.

Two communities

“He had such respect and so many relationships in both the OTR and Miami communities,” said interior design associate professor May Ben Bonham.

Senior Maggie Woolf, who took Dutton’s American Studies course, recalled his gentle demeanor at the front of the classroom.

“He’s always pushing for more, more, more, but not in a hard way,” Woolf said. “He has this softness about going around and challenging you and pushing you to your best but not making you feel so overwhelmed that you’re gonna crack… He helps you through the steps of growing up and dealing with all these things that overwhelm us at times.”

Building on those relationships, students and faculty in the architecture department participate in designing and building projects in collaboration with the OTR Housing Network. The program is designed to give students a “service learning” experience that cannot be reproduced on Miami’s main campus.

Because of Dutton’s passion for the program, it is comprised mostly of architecture students. Those students design and build spaces for low- and moderate-income residents.

Education students also participate in the program, student-teaching full time at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, a K-12 Cincinnati public school in OTR.

However, the program is open to all majors and got its first journalism student in 2016.

“Students have the best things to say about him,” Bonham said.

Senior Emily Waldinger, who studied under Dutton in OTR, admired his compassion and the way he listened to every person equally.

“Every single word that you had to say — whether it was a student, or a scholar, or another professor, or a homeless person, or someone dealing with an addiction, or just anybody — he valued every word they had to say,” Waldinger said.

Outside of the new restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and other destination spots, OTR is known for crime and drugs. Dutton worked to get outsiders to see that this community was more than that.

“He worked really hard to get students to understand and think about their position of privilege, the burden of having that position,” Rogero said. “He wanted students to see and understand the struggles of other people. He focused on empowering the voices of the underserved.”

Magda Orlander, one of Dutton’s students in OTR, interned with the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, and after graduation, returned to the area to continue working for the organization. Orlander admired Dutton’s ability to recognize and utilize his position of privilege.

“He’s a white, educated person in this neighborhood and this community of largely people who don’t look like him, and he never made a point of hiding that,” Orlander said. “He was just so capable of standing up for people without taking away their voice, without speaking instead of them.”

Dutton’s legacy

Dutton’s wife, Janis, worked with Miami to set up the Thomas A. Dutton Memorial Fund. Money raised will go toward keeping his work in OTR going.

Proceeds from a T-shirt, designed by architecture students, will go to the fund.

There will be a campus memorial service for Dutton from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 7 in the Dolibois Room in the Shriver Center. The formal program will start at 2 p.m.

On Oct. 6, the day before the memorial, at 1 p.m. there will be a group photo in front of Alumni Hall.

Devon Shuman contributed to reporting for this story.

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