LIMA - William W. Grimes arrived in Lima to something less than a cordial welcome — at least from real estate agents — in 1959. He left to a standing ovation in 1985.
In between, Grimes, who eventually rose to manage Lima’s Standard Oil Refinery, was involved — in the community, in improving race relations, in economic development, in seemingly anything to make Lima better.
“I am quite concerned with community problems and tend to feel that participation in these activities provides a means toward their solution,” Grimes told The Lima News in an October 1964 interview. Grimes tended to participate.
Born Feb. 7, 1927, in Alabama, he was the son of George and Zadie Grimes. By 1930 the family had moved to Cleveland where George Grimes worked as a painter for an oil company. The younger Grimes was graduated from East Tech High School in 1944 where he was a half-miler on the state championship track team. Grimes attended the Ohio State University and in 1950 received his degree in chemical engineering. His college career was interrupted for two years, from 1946 to 1948, by a stint in the U.S. Army Tank Corps. In July 1950, Grimes married Bettie J. Howell, whose family was rooted in Logan County.
Grimes joined Standard Oil out of college as a junior engineer in Cleveland. He progressed through various positions before arriving at the Lima Refinery in 1959 as a process engineer. He quickly became a participant in the community.
Among the many posts Grimes held during his time in Lima were president of the Bradfield Center board, chairman of the board of the Lima Area Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Lima Area Economic Task Force. He was also on the boards of St. Rita’s Medical Center, the Lima Fair Housing Center, the American Red Cross and the Lima Public Library. In 1963, he became a charter member and first president of the Frontiers International service club.
In May 1962, Grimes offered testimony on racial discrimination to a special panel of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission studying the problem statewide. According to a May 25, 1962, article in The Lima News, Grimes “testified he found it difficult to find housing even though he was seeking something in the $15,000 to $20,000 class. He told the committee of one incident where he was assured by a Realtor trying to sell him a home that Negroes could not purchase a home in one well-known development. It was after the statement was made that Grimes revealed he himself was Negro.”
In November 1965, as a member of the Community Welfare Council, Grimes helped push a minimum housing standards ordinance for the city.
On another occasion during the relatively tranquil early 1960s in Lima, Grimes cautioned against complacency about race relations. “Day-to-day race relations in Lima remain amicable,” Grimes told the Lima Sertoma Club in July 1964. But, he said, “A real danger lies in how much the dissatisfaction in other communities arouses local dormant dissatisfaction.
“My impressions are no more expert than yours, although my perspective might be different,” Grimes said in the story reported in The Lima News. “Perhaps it is valuable to compare my impressions with your own. Absence of race disturbance here is no reason to believe we never will have any. Problems here and elsewhere won’t be solved until the social and cultural barriers between the two races are dissolved.”
The racial turmoil in Lima during the late 1960s and early 1970s proved Grimes correct.
In mid-December 1966, Lima Refinery plant Manager K.A. McDaniel, announced Grimes, by now group engineer in the Process Engineering Department, would be transferred to Cleveland as a senior technical specialist. Over the next decade and a half, Grimes would be promoted into engineering management. He served as senior project manager at the Marcus Hook Refinery near Philadelphia while that plant was under construction. After its completion, he stayed on as operations manager and, eventually, was promoted to plant manager in 1978.
Grimes, who spoke to service clubs and other organizations during visits to Lima in the 1970s, returned to the city in 1981 to manage the Lima Refinery of Standard Oil and again dove into civic causes. Grimes would chair the Chamber of Commerce, return to the Bradfield board as well as those of other organizations, including the United Way Campaign. Grimes, who had been honored for his service to the then-United Fund during his first stint in Lima, was chairman of the 1984 campaign.
“I have a reputation for being busy and I like to support things that I think are worthwhile,” Grimes said in a September 1985 article in The Lima News. “The one thing that has the greatest benefit to people in need is the United Way.”
On Oct. 1, 1985, Grimes left Lima to become head of a new engineering division at Standard Oil’s Cleveland headquarters. Before he left, though, Grimes received a hand from the community. According to a Sept. 20, 1985, article in The Lima News, Grimes, who was leading the pacesetter division of the 1985 United Way campaign, was to give an update. “When Grimes was introduced, the entire crowd rose and applauded.”
Now 86 and living in California, Grimes is the namesake of the William W. Grimes Award for Excellence in Chemical Engineering, which recognizes a chemical engineer’s outstanding achievements as a distinguished role model for minorities. Grimes was the first African-American fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering. He’s also listed in “Who’s Who Among Black Americans.”
Grimes is a man worthy of a standing ovation.