NORTH CANTON Listen, learn and lead was the message Congressman James Renacci delivered to Walsh University students and the community during the grand opening ceremony of the James B. Renacci Forum and Center for Civic Engagement. The Center is located on the ground floor of Walsh University’s Marlene and Joe Toot Global Learning Center, the university’s newest building that opened in January.
The James B. Renacci Forum and Center for Civic Engagement serves as a central gathering area for students to come together for significant, action-oriented dialogue on issues facing local, state and global communities. The center will be used by students from varying majors and community members to meet for open discussions about issues facing the world and the area today.
The room is designed in a circular fashion and is adorned with couches and chairs with bright colored cushions. The room is brightly lit and has one wall made of glass where occupants can look out into the atrium furthering creating a sense of openness.
The Renacci Center is led by Dr. Matt Akers and the hope for the center is that it will provide an area to cultivate educated and engaged citizens to improve American democracy. Renacci also established the James B. Renacci Government Scholars program in 2013 at Walsh. The program is meant to provide Walsh students enhanced experiences when pursuing a career in government or community service.
Renacci, a Republican congressman, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 serving Ohio’s 16th District. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee.
After a meet and greet reception, Renacci sat down with U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Ohio Sara Lioi to answer questions in front of an audience of community leaders, students, Walsh administrators and business professionals and others to answer questions.
After the welcoming of guests, the invocation and the singing of the national anthem, Walsh President Richard Jusseaume introduced Lioi and Renacci.
"The topic tonight is public service and we’ll be talking about open dialogue and an environment for fellowship as being paramount," Jusseaume said. "For Congressman Renacci, an important part of this is preparing leaders in service to others and that’s an integral part of the mission of Walsh. Service can take many forms, service to family, to church, to a club, to the community, to a corporation or to a partner. It can be local and beyond."
He went on to thank everyone for being there and honoring the congressman and his family for making the center possible. Lioi started her portion of the program by thanking Renacci for his investment in the community and students. She also helped introduce Renacci’s wife and daughter who were in the audience.
She asked Renacci a number of questions about his background including his public service experiences, his business background, mentors and role models, his political career, his unlikely friendship with Jon Bon Jovi and the role his Catholic faith plays in his life.
Renacci said he has owned and operated multiple businesses throughout his career including a Chevrolet dealership that he was forced to close in 2010 during GM’s financial troubles. He said that closing led him to running for public office.
"At one time, I was running 60 different businesses out of Wadsworth, everything from a CPA firm, nursing homes, a golf course to car dealerships and minor league baseball and football teams," Renacci said. "It was having the car dealership taken away when I said enough is enough and decided to run for U.S. Congress."
Renacci said many people serving in Washington don’t understand what’s needed done because they don’t have to live under their rules. He added that too many times people there are making decisions who "never, ever live in your shoes."
He talked about his work on the recent tax cut bill. He said he was able to identify parts of the bill that "just wouldn’t work" because of his intensive business background. One of the practices he employs for his own career that he mentioned several times throughout the event was that it is important for leaders to listen and learn so that they can lead.
When talking about his Catholic faith, Renacci said that Catholic principles have always guided him and believes in the value and importance of Catholic education.
"Nancy Pelosi likes to say she is a devout Catholic and Joe Biden says he’s a practicing Catholic, I like to say I’m a faithful Catholic," Renacci said. "I think that is much more important than being devout or practicing. When you are a faithful Catholic, you follow Catholic principles, believe in Catholic principles and you do what you can to always follow the principles of the Catholic faith."
Renacci hopes that the center will serve to help engage people to come together to solve the problems facing communities today. He stated that the country needs to fix civil discourse. And, that talking and working on things together can be done without always agreeing with each other.
Renacci said that to work together in Washington or in politics, "the first thing you need to do is make sure everyone likes you, respects you and then they will be willing to work with you."
In his closing remarks, Renacci offered advice to Walsh students, "If you listen, you learn. If you learn, then you can lead."
He also said he enjoys coming back to Ohio. He thanked everyone for coming and said, "I’ve come from a poor start in life to living the American Dream."