ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Ohio University Eastern Campus has chosen Rodney D. Hanson and Deborah Hanson Shutler as the 2018 Austin C. Furbee Award honorees, in recognition of their dedication and contribution to Ohio University and the community. An award dinner will be held in their honor on Thursday, May 24 at 7 p.m. at Belmont Hills Country Club in St. Clairsville. A reception will precede the award dinner at 6:30 p.m.
A Minnesota native, Rodney was not raised with a golden spoon. His father, Harry, died in a car accident when he was just four years old. Shortly after his father’s death, he and his mother, Doris, lost everything they had in a flood. The townspeople of Granite Falls all went together and built a small home for them, where Rodney would be raised by his single mother. He would always recall how difficult it had to be for his mother financially, but that he never knew they were poor as she saw to it that he had everything he needed.
Rodney helped his mother as much as he could. He began delivering newspapers at a young age and pumped gas in between band practice and football practice at Granite Falls High School. He was well-liked by all, evidenced by the fact he was voted president of his class every year.
After graduating from high school, he earned a scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in education from Hamline University in St. Paul, and then earned a master’s degree in English from Ohio University. He returned to Minnesota and taught high school English, coached the wrestling team, and moderated the drama club. After a frustrating day of teaching, he decided to apply to law school. He received a scholarship to attend The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and graduated in 1973.
Rodney was classmates with now long-time St. Clairsville attorney and retired judge Harry White at law school. Harry told him about a job opening at the Lancione Law Firm in Bellaire. As fate would have it, Rodney ended up in Belmont County, where he would soon meet the love of his life, Deborah Riesbeck.
At the time, Deborah was working as a deputy in the recorder’s office at the Belmont County Courthouse. They met in 1974 and Deborah was immediately drawn to his sense of humor. "When he asked me out the first time, he did it by putting a hand written note on top of a pile of documents that were to be recorded," she said. "The note was in the form of a multiple choice question: When will you go out with me? ___ soon, ___someday, ___never. My answer was soon!"
Rodney and Deborah were engaged in April of 1975, married in August of the same year, and were blessed with three now adult children, Matthew, Zachary and Emily. In 1981, Rodney decided to go with the law firm of Thomas, Fregiato and Myser in Bridgeport, where he became partner and remained the rest of his career. As a young attorney, he practiced criminal law and also did a good bit of divorce work. Over time, he specialized in school law and corporate law, and enjoyed being an educator as well as practicing the art of negotiation.
Rodney was very active in the community and always believed in giving back. He was a member of the Belmont County Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, and also served on the School Law Committee of the Ohio State Bar Association. He was a member of the St. Clairsville Sunrise Rotary, where he was gifted with a Paul Harris Fellowship. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Council #4243 and St. Mary’s Church in St. Clairsville.
Rodney became a successful lawyer and family man who overcame many obstacles to achieve his dreams. In November of 1999, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Just four months later, the father of three passed away at the much too young age of 54. Before his passing, Rodney, who was always supportive of the Eastern Campus, made the decision to start a scholarship to benefit education majors at the school.
Two years later, Deborah spearheaded a golf scramble in Rodney’s name to endow his initial gift. "I was approached by Harry White and Dave Liberati with the idea of raising more money in Rodney’s name for a scholarship fund that would be named after him," she said. "Soon after, the golf scramble came into focus with the goal of raising enough money for an endowed scholarship. With major support from the St. Clairsville Sunrise Rotary and a number of great sponsors, the first Rodney D. Hanson Memorial Scholarship Golf Tournament took place in May 2002 at Belmont Hills Country Club."
Through their collective efforts and the support of an active committee, Rodney’s scramble ran for ten consecutive years and generated a $100,000 endowment, which has provided deserving students with a scholarship in Rodney’s name ever since. "Rodney touched many lives. His clients held him in high esteem. His peers respected him. His friends loved him and his family adored him," said Deborah. "He also believed wholeheartedly in education, and this scholarship has enabled him to keep making a difference in our community eighteen years after his passing. I know he would be most pleased."
Deborah has also remained active in the local community. She is currently chairwoman of Bereavement Ministries at St. Mary’s, a member of the Fundraising Committee for Valley Hospice, a member of the St. Clairsville Gardeners Forum, and a member of the Wheeling Hospital Auxiliary. She was also a long-time member of the OUE Regional Coordinating Council, past president of the Red Devil Athletic Moms, past member of the Board of Directors at Riesbeck’s Food Markets, past president of the St. Clairsville Vocal Music Boosters, and past member of the OVMC auxiliary. Deborah was also a stay at home mom for 30 years.
According to Eastern Campus Dean Paul Abraham, the Rodney D. Hanson Endowment is making a big difference in the lives of promising students. "The Hanson Scholarship has helped two students to attend the Eastern Campus every year since its inception. Before long, these students will become teachers, and begin giving back to the community in a way that makes us all proud. In addition, the Hanson Scholarship will continue to benefit deserving students for many years to come. Needless to say, the selection of Rodney D. Hanson and Deborah Hanson Shutler for the Austin C. Furbee Award is a well-deserved recognition of their significant contributions to Ohio University, the community, and region."
Deborah and her husband Kevin reside in St. Clairsville. She has three adult children: Matthew Hanson (Nicole); Zachary Hanson (Janna); and Emily Hanson. She also has three adult step children: Chris Shutler (Anne); Andrea Shutler Schafer (Jeremy); David Shutler (Elisa). Deborah also enjoys five grand-children and six step grand-children.
Austin C. Furbee, for whom the award is named, played a key role in the formation of the Ohio University Eastern Campus. While serving as a Belmont County Commissioner, Furbee realized that there were limited opportunities for higher education in the Ohio Valley. As a result, he became instrumental in the commission’s acquisition of the former Belmont County Experimental Station farmland, which was to become a regional campus of Ohio University.
Furbee’s involvement with Ohio University grew throughout the years. He was a long-time member of the Ohio University Eastern Regional Coordinating Council, and also presided as chairman of the council when Shannon Hall, the first building on the St. Clairsville campus, was dedicated in 1967. As a result of Furbee’s efforts, the Eastern Campus has continued to grow, and serve the needs of the community. Ohio University’s Eastern Campus stands as a tribute to his vision, determination and hard work.
The Austin C. Furbee award was first given in 1981 after Furbee’s wife, Gladys, established an endowed fund in memory of her husband. The award is given annually to recognize an individual who has shown dedication, commitment and service to Ohio University and to the community.
Previous Austin C. Furbee Award Recipients
Mary J. Poston
Dr. Robert J. Parrish
Carole A. Mitchell
Thomas W. Dunlap
Roger W. Stewart
Robert W. Ney
Dr. E.R. Bovenizer
William L. Toothman
Harry W. White
George A. Carroll, Jr.
James W. Newton, Jr.
Daniel L. Frizzi, Jr.
Terry A. Lee
Keith A. Sommer
Richard W. Greenlee
Dr. John S. Mattox
Denise M. Penz
Alumni and friends are invited to attend the Austin C. Furbee Award Dinner in Rodney D. Hanson and Deborah Hanson Shutler’s honor on Thursday, May 24 at 7 p.m. at Belmont Hills Country Club. A reception will precede the award dinner at 6:30 p.m. The cost to attend is $40 per person.