Dennis Janson: Honoring two west side business owners who were skilled nobility in their craft

CINCINNATI -- When a major business luminary is called to his or her eternal reward, our city traditionally offers glowing tributes to the deceased and civic condolences to their survivors. 

Owing to the fact that Dan Brogan and Buck Kathman were small businessmen, their passing probably won’t elicit much in the way of a headline, let alone ones commensurate with their standing as men, sons, fathers, husbands and citizens. Which I suspect would be OK by them. They were not grandiose men, prone to boastful actions or words. They probably wouldn’t consider themselves all that praiseworthy, other than reveling in a “Greatest Grand-Dad” T-shirt or other lighthearted adornment.

That is among the reasons I’m grateful for this forum to take note of those who otherwise might go far too gently into that good night.

Buck Kathman followed in the considerable steps of his late father and namesake Bernie Kathman. In my estimation, one measure of a man is the caliber of those who are willing to endorse his integrity. Bernie, who passed away in 2005, was a football official for more than 30 years. I have to think that it was during his career, 10 years of which he spent with the Big Ten Conference, that he acquired among other ardent supporters, Paul Brown. I can’t recall what spawned that conversation so long ago but the long and short of it was I had a hole in my shoe and Brown advised me:  "Go see Bernie Kathman. He’ll fix you up.”

Not unexpectedly he and his son “Buck” did just that. As did Bernie Sr.’s father before him.

I never saw one of them ask any of their loyal employees to do anything that they hadn’t themselves done in the course of repairing, dyeing or adjusting customer’s footwear. Bernie and Buck always offered a wry smile when someone offered the very unoriginal joke about shoe repairmen being in the business of "resurrecting lost soles."

There was a skilled nobility to their labor. And their business provided an important anchor to the west end of downtown until city fathers decided a second big box pharmacy at the intersection of Sixth and Race streets was in everyone’s best interest. They shuttered the business rather than face the rigors of relocating.  

As best I can recall, Dan Brogan was the first person who treated me like an adult in a business transaction. My first car, a 1963 Volkwagen, had a flat tire.

"What to do, where to go?" I asked the assistant pastor at Our Lady of Grace, The Rev. Ed Hussey. "Who was trustworthy?"

His recommendation: “Go to Brogan’s in Covedale. They’ll set you up.”

That was my introduction to the Brogan Tire empire. Or it seemed to me at the time. Racks of tires festooned the walls of the garage, which featured a vast array of equipment manned by quick stepping technicians, mindful Dan could see all from his adjacent office.

He surveyed my financial predicament: 17-year-old kid from Lower Price Hill, attending Elder High School, working as many jobs as possible to make some date money and bank a little more. 

I asked the cost of a new tire and he instinctively picked up on my price wince.

Then the escape hatch that only a guy from the west side could or would provide: “I think you’ve got a few more safe miles in this one. I’ll patch it for you and you’re back on the road.”

A wave of fiscal relief washed over me. I couldn't have been the only young driver who realized the generosity of spirit and action that Dan -- his legendary father, Mickey, and his phalanx of brothers, most notably Russ, -- exhibited during years of helping solve problems.

The Brogans made a stand with their business, fending off the advance of blight on their block at the intersection of Glenway Avenue and Ferguson Road.

They’ve also stood firm in the face of their own big box competitors and consumers are the better for it.

And I am the better for having known both.

Another link between Dan Brogan and Buck Kathman, was their shared loyalty to Xavier University. Musketeers to the end, they might be a bit flabbergasted I’ve chosen to share these recollections with the public.

I pray they indulge me.     

My personal condolences to the entire Brogan and Kathman families.

WCPO General Manager Jeff Brogan is part of the west side Brogan family.

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