Friends and family remember their 'great American' hero, Reese Neader

“Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

The famous quote, first coined by George Bernard Shaw and later paraphrased by Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy to conclude his eulogy at Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's funeral, was also a fitting choice for the eulogy honoring Columbus resident Reese Neader. After undergoing several diabetes-related surgeries, the civic activist died of septic shock on Dec. 14, 2016. He was 34.

“He was an old-school American,” said Jack Storey, Neader's friend and co-organizer of “Reese-A-Palooza,” a celebration of Neader's life and legacy, which will take place Saturday, Feb. 11 at the Big Room Bar. “He was Jeffersonian.”

But before Neader made his mark on the Columbus community, he was Jim Neader's inquisitive son, who loved peanut butter and playing dress up as a Civil War soldier when he was a kid. Though he had other interests as a teen — he formed a band called the Wash and was co-captain of his football team — he never lost his love for learning.

“Other than reading a lot of history books … he listened to BBC radio at night in high school and that's where he got a lot of his information about the world and current events,” Jim said.

Neader went on to study political science at Denison University. He interned for Sen. Richard Lugar, worked as the national policy director for the Roosevelt Institute and even assisted community organizers in Egypt. He also volunteered with President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Passionate about Ohio, he settled back in Columbus and built a network of friends and professional partners interested in economic development.

“Reese was pretty much the first person to make Columbus feel like my home,” said Storey, who moved to the city about three years ago.

“It was like I knew him my whole life from the time I met him,” said Andrew Dodson. “He wasn't just a natural leader in that people would follow him, but he would inspire them to be better just by being who he was.”

Neader utilized those leadership skills to form Forge Columbus, which “strengthens community business in Columbus by investing in entrepreneurs who give back to their community,” according to its website. While Storey is currently working to gain 501(c)(3) status for Forge, it began as a loose concept executed by one person — Neader.

“It's literally just his ideology and the way that he wanted to deliver it to people,” said Dodson, who went on to describe Neader's networking parties in “Fort Reese,” his apartment above Upper Cup Coffee in Olde Towne East.

“We'd be in [the apartment] with rappers and council people and everybody in between … and they would have conversations about things like politics and civics and what's going on in our city in a very informal way,” he said.

One conversation between Neader and Dodson sprouted the idea to get Columbus designated as a KIVA City, which provides crowdfunded microloans to small business owners. Neader, a KIVA fellow, achieved the goal through a partnership with Mayor Andrew Ginther and myriad other stakeholders in July 2016.

But Neader had even bigger dreams.

“There was no doubt that Reese Neader was gonna be the president of the United States,” Dodson said. “He goes, ‘If I can go to the grassroots and I can get people to engage in civics in their city; if I can get people to actually act like citizens, get engaged with each other, get to know their neighbors, support each other [and] get involved in issues, then I can build a community that can be a constituency.' … Then he could ‘forge' for Columbus [and eventually] ‘forge' for America.”

Although Neader was unable to realize that vision, his friends are confident his influence will live on through his massive network, which includes people everywhere from his hometown in Lancaster to Washington, D.C. Many are coming to honor their friend at “Reese-A-Palooza.”

“These Fort Reese parties were so unique and special and we're hoping that we can … try to recreate that same kind of feeling,” Dodson said of the event, which will include local food vendors, live music by Parker Louis and others and a DJ set by Jim (aka DJ Jazzy Jim). Admission is free, but a $10 donation to the Reese Neader Memorial Fund is suggested.

“It's really hard to be sad because I keep feeling so proud,” Dodson said. “I'm just so super proud of who he was, what he did and what he's gonna continue to do.”

Thinking once more about his son, Jim said, “The way you need to end your story about Reese is … he was a great American.”