The Business Money Behind the Freedom Center

The Freedom Center wasn't constructed totally using tax money, a la its neighbors on the riverfront (Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium).

In fact, the Cincinnati business community funded a full 60 percent of the $110 million project. Those who have given $1 million-plus include: Cincinnati Bell Foundation/ Convergys Corp.; Cinergy Foundation; Deloitte and Touche LLP; Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio; Federated Department Stores Foundation; Fifth Third Bank and the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trust; Firstar Corp.; General Electric; Knowledge Works Foun-dation; John Pepper; The Procter & Gamble Co.; Harold C. Schott Foundation; Boeing Company Charitable Trust; The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation; Toyota Manufacturing North America Inc.

A glance at the CEOs and top business executives on the center's board also gives you a clear indication of the other major corporate supporters:

J. Joseph Hale, Cinergy
James F. Orr, Convergys
Thomas Cruz, Convergys
William P. Butler, Corporex

Myron L. Dale, Frost Brown Todd
Mildred A. Curtis, Lenscrafter
Paul W. Hemmer, Paul Hemmer Cos.

John E. Pepper, James J. Johnson, Kenneth B. Robinson, Damon D. Jones, P&G
Daniel J. Hoffheimer,

Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP
Clarence Warren, 32 Ford
Nathaniel R. Jones, Blank Rome LLP

Dennis C. Cuneo, Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc.

Ed Rigaud didn't come to Cincinnati with any intent of changing the way the riverfront will look. Or to become a part of the dialogue to heal the wounds of slavery in America.

Far from it. When Edwin Joseph Rigaud Jr. — the president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center — first arrived here in 1965, he barely could scrape up enough money to pay his basic expenses before interviewing with the Procter & Gamble Co. In fact, he didn't even have enough cash to eat dinner the night before the interview. He just went to a restaurant and ordered a Coke.

But the next day, a surprised Rigaud was offered a position in research and development with P&G. It was his first job offer after graduation from Xavier University of Louisiana, where he earned a degree in chemistry. "I was on cloud nine all the way home," he says. He was getting married that summer and brought his new wife to Cincinnati on his wedding day.

Now that same man has become "the moral force and intellectual driver for the creation of the Freedom Center," according to his longtime boss at P&G, retired CEO John Pepper. "He so believes in it and conveys his knowledge and conviction and deep understanding [to others]."

After 31 years at P&G, most recently as vice president for governmental relations, Rigaud was asked to lead the drive for bringing the Freedom Center to Cincinnati. (The city and region played a key role in the days of the Underground Railroad, as slaves escaping the South crossed the Ohio River into this free state.)

The company loaned him out to the effort, but he never went back, retiring from P&G in 2001.

"I just think it was to be," Rigaud says. "I didn't have a lot of choice. My whole life has been this way. I always have been with things I started — all the way to completion."

Rigaud has convinced some well-known local and national business leaders and companies to donate. In fact, business and executive contributions account for 60 percent of the building's cost (the rest coming from the city, state and federal government).

A longtime friend is Chip Harrod, who recruited Rigaud to lead the development of the Freedom Center. Rigaud already was on the board of directors at the National Conference for Community and Justice (then known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews). Harrod asked Procter & Gamble for a loan of an executive, someone "just like Ed Rigaud."

It became apparent later that NCCJ could get Rigaud himself, and they never looked back. "Ed Rigaud is an individual more responsible for the Freedom Center than anyone else," Harrod says. "[He] is the most gifted people person I've ever known."

The $110 million Freedom Center, which opens this summer, is designed to educate the public about the historic struggle to abolish human enslavement. The facility will include a 158,000-square-foot learning center, and state-of-the-art interactive multi-media exhibits. It's located between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark on the riverfront downtown.

"Our mission is to create a safe place for a dialogue and discussion that will inform modern-day freedom conductors," Rigaud says about the center. "To eradicate the negative legacy of slavery. If we don't engage in dialogue, there won't be healing. Until we confront it, we're not going to make much progress in a positive, productive way. We will emphasize the triumphs, not the agony."