A picture is worth a thousand words. Here at WCPO Insider, we profile some prominent local residents and moments in their past for our "Throwback Thursday" series by telling the story behind memorable photographs.
CINCINNATI -- Phil Nuxhall is known to many as the oldest son of the late Cincinnati Reds pitcher and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall. But his two books filled with colorful stories about the monuments and permanent residents of Spring Grove Cemetery – “Beauty in the Grove” and “Phil Nuxhall’s Stories from the Grove” – have elevated his status to accomplished author and helped earn him a Cincinnati Gentleman of Style and Substance Award from the Cincinnati Parks Association.
Nuxhall is a graduate of Fairfield High School and Ohio University. He began volunteering at Spring Grove after retiring from a 30-year career as a speech pathologist with the Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services Board. The cemetery hired him to be its part-time historian and tour coordinator in 2006. In 10 years, Nuxhall has documented more than 3,000 monuments and the histories of those interred in them.
Recently, Nuxhall stepped down from his tour coordinator position to spend more time pursuing other passions such as his work as a trustee with the Cincinnati Preservation Association and as a volunteer with Visionary + Voices, a nonprofit art studio in Northside for mentally and physically challenged adults.
Knowing he would have a treasure trove of old family photos, we asked the Monfort Heights resident to share one of his favorites and the story behind it.
Nuxhall: This is one of the most meaningful and emotional photos from my childhood. It was taken at Crosley Field (in 1955) when I was 4 years old and Dad was honored at Hamilton Night. Mom (Donzetta), Kim (his brother) and I were chauffeured in a car that led hundreds of friends and fans in a caravan of more than 40 city buses from Hamilton all the way down Pleasant/Hamilton Avenue to Crosley Field. Buses and cars were lined up all the way around Crosley Field.
I was terrified, not understanding what all the pageantry was about. It probably was the first time I realized that Dad had become “famous.”
That night, he received the key to the city, a new car, an oven and more. I had never seen so many people giving him so much adoration, and it was perplexing to me. I only knew him as Dad, and then in one evening, I realized how much he meant to so many people. But it wasn’t so much his abilities as a Cincinnati Reds pitcher as it was his love of his friends and fans. It was that night I realized the power of good character, such as respect, honor and, most importantly, kindness.
Did you and Kim play organized sports (baseball maybe) as boys and if so, what was your experience?
Nuxhall: Kim and I both played sports as boys, but my experiences were completely different from his. Kim is a natural athlete, so he excelled in football, basketball and baseball. I, on the other hand, only had interest in tennis and track. At one time or another, I was on the track team, baseball team, tennis team and basketball team. I felt the need to impress my family by playing sports but was never, ever coerced into it; it’s a blessing I treasure to this day. Had I been forced into sports, it would have been disastrous. In junior high, I was being courted to be the next Nuxhall prodigy. I had absolutely no skills for basketball, so the coaches decided to bring someone to Fairfield from Miami University to coach me after practices. I thought it was kind of odd that I was the only one on the team who was being coached.
So when I realized what was happening, I basically said, “If you can’t get extra coaching for the rest of the team, then I quit!” I hated the preferential treatment and think Dad would have as well. And then when I was on the tennis team in high school, the coach wanted me to hold my racket a certain way. I refused to ... and I quit. Dad always laughed about my “short stints” on sports teams, and I’m so grateful that he found the humor. And then when I finally found my niche in music and theater, he and Mom supported me 100 percent. I truly believe that changed my life. I don’t think I would have thrived without that support.
What have the experiences you’ve had at Spring Grove Cemetery meant to you?
Nuxhall: My experiences at Spring Grove have taught me the importance of history, genealogy and preservation. As an avid preservationist, my role here was a perfect fit. Many times, my work at Spring Grove inspired me to explore cemeteries in Europe and other states in America. I was astounded to see the efforts many European cities go to save their treasures. I came back with an even greater urgency to try and save our historical buildings, etc. in the Cincinnati area. Physical history cannot be replicated once it’s gone.