West Akron resident honored for longtime block watch work
|Bill Aylward, at left, is shown with former Ward 8 Akron City Councilman Bob Keith when it was proclaimed Bill Aylward Day Sept. 19 at the Northwest Akron Block Watch meeting.|
|Photo courtesy of John Jesenko|
Aylward, who turned 91 Sept. 29, was honored at the Block Watch’s Sept. 19 meeting with proclamations from Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Akron City Council. The Block Watch also presented him with a plaque in honor of his work with the group, which he founded with Bob Keith, a former Ward 8 Akron City Councilman and current Council clerk, in 1996.
Aylward was humbled by the honors.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said, noting that the honors were done as a surprise. “I don’t know why they did it. We all work together. We’re cooperative.”
He’s been a regular presence at meetings with the group over the years, although he recently missed some meetings because of health issues.
The Karg Drive resident said he and Keith started the Northwest Akron Block Watch in 1996 after seeing a proliferation of Section 8 housing in the neighborhood.
“This always had been an integrated neighborhood,” he said. “Suddenly, we were hit with crime and drug activity. We just stood up to it.”
He and his wife, Dorothy, have lived in their home since 1963 and raised six children there. They love the community, Aylward said.
“You just can’t beat it,” he said of the neighborhood, with its close proximity to public and private schools, as well as shopping and Sand Run Metro Park.
When he and Keith organized the first meeting for the Block Watch at Woodland United Methodist Church, Aylward was amazed at how many people turned out.
“We had 300 people there saying, ‘What’s going on,’” he said.
More than 15 years later, he admits it wasn’t always easy, but the organization has managed to create change through working with the Akron Police Department and Akron City Council, he said.
“We did wake people up to the realization that if we’re all going to live together, let’s live in harmony and get along and respect our properties,” he said. “I think we accomplished that.”
Aylward said getting involved in his community has been a way of life for him. Over the years, he also helped out on projects with the United Way, Catholic Charities, Archbishop Hoban High School and the Catholic Youth Organization. In the late 1960s, he said he worked with a group that helped ex-convicts.
“I really tried to do what the good Lord wants you to do, which is get out and help people,” he said.
Aylward was born in Pittsburgh and moved to Akron when he was 6. He graduated from Buchtel High School in 1940 and had aspirations of playing professional baseball.
“I really thought I had a good shot,” he said, noting he had a minor league contract but injured his finger at Buchtel.
He started working at the Akron Beacon Journal in 1941 as a clerk and then spent four years serving in World War II in North Africa and East Bengal.
After the war, he returned to work at the newspaper, where he eventually became assistant circulation manager, and met Dorothy. They were married in 1951.
Aylward was touched by his recent honor, and the fact that four of his six children were able to attend made it even more special, he said.
“Over 15 years ago, Bill Aylward’s voice was heard throughout the neighborhood echoing the concerns of all,” said Marilyn Keith, current Ward 8 Akron City Councilwoman and an organizer of the Block Watch with her husband, Bob Keith. “His character would not allow him to sit back and watch the place that he loved and called home to be destroyed by elements that did not share his view. He gathered a small band of concerned residents and started the Northwest Akron Block Watch. This group united in an effort to protect their neighborhood and began to push back. Bill has shown that one man can make a difference and that a group of dedicated citizens can constructively bring about positive change.”
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