One look at Ron Budzik’s list of activities and volunteer work and the word “retired” does not come to mind.
Whether it’s through the Dayton Early College Academy, Sinclair Community College, the Minority Economic Development Council or a host of other local organizations and endeavors, Budzik, a retired Mead Corp. executive, has touched many in the Dayton area.
And he continues to do so, say those who know him.
That’s why the Centerville resident will receive the 63rd Citizen Legion of Honor Award next month at the Dayton Convention Center, formally placing him among noted local servant-leaders from the past six decades.
“There are few people who at the end of the day can say they have had the impact Ron has had,” said Mike Parks, president of the Dayton Foundation.
“The volunteerism body of work he has had over the past 20-some years has been outstanding and remarkable,” said Phil Parker, president and chief executive of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Receiving the Citizen Legion of Honor Award puts Budzik, 71, in good company. Past winners include last year’s recipient Marvin Olinsky, Benjamin and Marian Schuster, U.S. District Judge Walter Rice, Brother Raymond Fitz and Virginia Kettering.
The list reads like a “who’s who” of Dayton-area volunteerism, Parker said.
“It’s very humbling,” Budzik said of having his name placed with those and others. “I would be the last person in the world to think that I would be included with that category of people.”
Awarded every year since 1951 by the Presidents Club of Dayton, the accolade recognizes “unselfish volunteer service and leadership to our community and its people,” as the program for last year’s award luncheon put it.
Budzik will receive his honor Oct. 3 at the Dayton Convention Center.
And while he’s grateful for the honor, it won’t be an altogether comfortable moment for him. Budzik said he prefers to be away from the limelight.
”I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes guy,” he said. “I’m very uncomfortable with the public eye. I just am.”
After graduating from the University of Dayton, Budzik joined Mead in 1963 and eventually worked for and with four Mead CEOs at a time when Mead was an anchor in Dayton commerce and an international household name. For decades, the words “Mead, Dayton Ohio” were printed on millions of binders, notebooks and other school supply products worldwide.
Budzik rose through the ranks to become Mead’s vice president, government affairs, working with government at all levels. He also shepherded The Mead Corporation Foundation, overseeing contributions and work in all the communities in which Mead’s then-diverse interests — from paper production to mines — were found.
Mead merged with Westvaco Corp. in 2001, with the newly merged company’s corporate headquarters moving away from Dayton to Stamford, Conn., then Richmond, Va.
ACCO Brands acquired the Mead consumer and office products division from Westvaco in 2011, and the division is based in Kettering with about 250 workers. LexisNexis and NewPage — companies that also can trace their lineage to Mead — remain in the area. Today, there are no Fortune 500 companies based downtown.
After retirement, Budzik could have gone nearly anywhere, Parker noted. Instead, he stayed here. “He has made this his home.”
Ask him what he’s most proud of and Budzik might mention work on what became the Schuster Performing Arts Center downtown, replacing the historic but empty Rike-Lazarus building at Second and Main streets.
Early work on the Schuster was led by then-Mead CEO Steve Mason, his wife Lou, builder Tom Danis and Budzik. Together, they helped set the stage for a “world-class entertainment venue in the middle of the urban core that was available to everybody in the whole region and the tri-state region,” Budzik recalled. “That was the excitement of it.”
But if Budzik’s work has focused particularly on any one area, it’s education. He is part of a team that created and launched the Dayton Early College Academy, a charter high school that meets on the University of Dayton campus. He has also worked for the World of Wonder School, Miami Valley READS and Learn to Earn Dayton.
“He is passionate about a number of community issues, but particularly the disadvantaged and ensuring there is inclusion for all,” Parks said.
For Budzik, it comes down to being a servant leader — getting things done, getting others to join you and not taking a bow.
“You can call it ‘leading from the middle,’” he said. “That notion of leadership is not seeking power or financial gain, but sharing involvement with others so that more people are engaged, the focus always being on helping a broad section of the community, including those of the lowest class.”
Added Budzik, “I’ve kind of adopted it as the way I work.”