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Published: Monday, 2/6/2006

Businessman never tires of giving back to community

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
James Cobham successfully runs two McDonald's restaurants in Toledo. He says he believes in giving teens and younger people a place to work, although he says the work ethic of today's youth isn't what it used to be when he was growing up. James Cobham successfully runs two McDonald's restaurants in Toledo. He says he believes in giving teens and younger people a place to work, although he says the work ethic of today's youth isn't what it used to be when he was growing up.
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James Cobham admits he's beginning to slow down a little and has even thought about retiring in about 10 years.

But Mr. Cobham, one of Toledo's best known African-American businessmen, said that doesn't mean his commitment to the community will diminish any.

Mr. Cobham, 62, continues to successfully run his McDonald's restaurants at two city locations: in the Swayne Field Shopping Center and at Dorr Street and Collingwood Boulevard.

He also continues to leave his imprint in the community by serving as an officer on boards including the Neighborhood Health Association and NorthRiver Community Development Corp.

He recently served as president of both boards. While on the NHA board, he watched the organization grow into one of the largest coalitions of neighborhood health clinics in the state. He said he was particularly proud of the opening of the free-standing Mayores Senior Center building, off South Avenue, and a recently developed partnership with Toledo Hospital to provide medical services in the new Libbey-area middle school.

With NorthRiver, which encompasses some of Toledo's oldest neighborhoods, the corporation developed housing with the help of tax credits. In some neighborhoods, the homes were the first built in several decades.

"I think we've been able to change the lives of some people who may not have had that opportunity," said Mr. Cobham. "I've enjoyed Toledo. I've been able to raise my family here, and things have been good. I've lived in Chicago, St. Louis, and in [Washington,] D.C. I knew Toledo would be my last stop."

Doni Miller, chief executive officer of the Neighborhood Health Association, said her organization benefited from Mr. Cobham's steady leadership.

"He is absolutely a national treasure," Ms. Miller said. "He worked hard on the board and never sought the spotlight. He was a no-nonsense board president and accepted no excuses for mediocrity. He held me to task and chastised me when I needed it. In the end, you knew he was doing what was best for me and the organization."

Kim Cutcher, executive director of NorthRiver, said Mr. Cobham also wanted to create leaders. "It was an honor to have a prominent businessman on our board who was so dedicated to the community," she said. "Personally, he advocates for young leaders and young leadership. He was a great mentor to me when I was coming up through NorthRiver and constantly called me to make sure things were going well."

Mr. Cobham grew up the son of a postal worker in Savannah, Ga., who began working for McDonald's part time in 1964 while attending college in Washington. He later became a manager and went to work for the corporation as a district supervisor before getting the opportunity to operate a McDonald's in Toledo.

Mr. Cobham said he believes in giving young people a foundation and a place to work and hires many teens and young adults. He said, though, he has been dismayed by the short-sighted attitude of many youths. Too many youths seem to be looking for shortcuts, he said.

"The biggest difference in the kids has been the work ethic," Mr. Cobham said. "It seems like a lot of them have lost a work ethic, the kind of work ethic I was brought up with."

Mr. Cobham said the economy seems to have brought some of his young employees back down to earth. He said he talks about stories in the media, such as the recent layoffs by Ford and other automotive cuts. He said many of the manufacturing jobs people used to reach the middle class are no longer available.

He said he hopes to continue giving young people a chance to develop into tomorrow's young leaders.

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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