Springfield, Ohio — Family is important to Warren Copeland, starting with his wife, children and grandchildren, but his sense of family reaches much more broadly to include loved ones in his church, Wittenberg and particularly the Springfield community. His dedication to so many throughout his career led the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) of Greater Dayton to honor Copeland at its annual Friendship Dinner in October.
Copeland was one of five Dayton-area community leaders and activists honored with humanitarian awards at the organization’s annual fundraiser dinner on Oct. 26. The awards recognize people who reflect NCCJ’s mission of fighting bigotry and racism while promoting respect and understanding.
Past recipients Fred Leventhal, who supports the Witt Series each year through the Fred R. Leventhal Family Endowed Lecture, and Richard Kuss, class of 1945 and also a generous donor to the university, nominated Copeland for the humanitarian award. In his acceptance speech, Copeland expressed gratitude to the distinguished men who nominated him while sounding a familiar theme in his professional and political career – the importance of community and urban renewal.
“I believe with every fiber of my being that the survival of our urban cores as communities of human meaning and purpose is one of the central ethical challenges facing America today,” said Copeland, who serves Wittenberg as a professor of religion, director of urban studies and faculty director of the Center for Civic & Urban Engagement. “I have committed myself to rising to that challenge and plan to do so for as long as I am able. Thank you for recognizing that commitment. Feel free to join us in it.”
Copeland doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walks when it comes to leading his community and its hometown university into a new era. He has studied cities for years, and he even authored a groundbreaking book in 2009, Doing Justice In Our Cities, described by one reviewer as “a lively and authoritative look at how one public servant honored his commitment to serve the 65,000 citizens of Springfield, Ohio, without compromising his commitment to serve God.”
In addition to his various professional commitments at Wittenberg, Copeland is the first person elected mayor directly by the voters of Springfield in more than 90 years. He has served the city as a commissioner since 1988, including 15 years as mayor.
In his career, he has studied urban policies and analyzed pressing city issues while also dealing with the realities of everyday life as a politician, all of which provides him with a unique perspective. As far as Copeland knows, he is the only person in America who teaches ethics and is mayor of a city of more than 60,000 people.
Released July 20, Doing Justice In Our Cities is Copeland’s fourth book. Economic Justice and Issues Of Justice (co-editor) were both published in 1988, while And The Poor Get Welfare was published in 1994. All three books have examined religious social ethics.
“Thirty-two years ago we came to Springfield so I could teach and practice social ethics,” Copeland said while accepting the award. “The faculty, staff and students have made Wittenberg a very good place to do that.”
Written by: Ryan Maurer