corwin m. nixon
Corwin M. Nixon was not an individual driven by power or personal profit. He was an uncomplicated, unpretentious man whose thoughts and actions would impact lives within the state of Ohio and the Standardbred industry for over fifty years. Nixon's success as both politician and horseman is attributed to his ability to negotiate. "The name of the game is compromise; you don't get anywhere by being mean and nasty. Life's too short," he would say. Nixon was to hone his legendary diplomatic skills at an early age. When he was ten years old Nixon voluntarily moved to his grandparents' nearby farm because he preferred not to live under the same roof as his 3rd-grade teacher, who was a boarder in his parents' home. It is his grandfather, Edmund Stewart, then president of the Warren County (Ohio) Fair Board, who is credited with introducing Nixon to county fair operations. This led to his enduring involvement in the sport of harness racing.
Born on March 5, 1913, Corwin Nixon was the third of seven children born to Morris and Blanche Nixon in Red Lion, Ohio. He graduated from high school in 1931 during the height of the Great Depression. One year later he was fortunate to obtain employment at a local Kroger grocery store managed by his uncle Atlee C. Nixon. When Atlee passed away Corwin became the store manager, a position he held until the late 1950s. During his tenure with the Kroger organization Nixon demonstrated his ability to initiate progress while cultivating outstanding managerial skills. Times were hard and, in an effort to supplement his income, Nixon would sell race programs and leather armbands, worn by drivers to indicate their post positions, at local, state and county fairs.
In 1940 Nixon was drafted for military service in World War II; however, a stomach ulcer prevented him from serving. In 1946 Gardner Townsley, publisher of The Western Star, asked Nixon to serve as Warren County Fair Secretary, a position left vacant due to the wartime draft. Two years later Townsley persuaded Nixon to enter the local political scene by running for Warren County Commissioner. Thirty-five-year-old Nixon won the election. Corwin Nixon served three terms as Warren County Commissioner. In 1962 he began a thirty-year run as a state representative in the Ohio General Assembly, the last fourteen of which he served as the House Minority Leader. Because he was involved in the horse industry and to prevent a conflict of interest, Nixon made it a point to never vote for a bill that was equine-related. It should be noted that he avoided racing at any racetracks where he served in a professional capacity. He was, however, an avid supporter of legislation that established the Ohio Thoroughbred Fund, the Ohio Standardbred Development Fund and the Ohio Sires Stakes program. He was also active in community affairs, serving on various local boards and committees. His constituents showed their respect and appreciation by naming him Lebanon's 1986 Citizen of the Year, by re-electing him to various positions, and by bestowing upon him many awards and honors, including an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Ohio University in 1986.
As Nixon's political career began, so too did his long and diverse career in the harness racing industry. In 1950 New York attorney John Carlo asked Nixon to manage racing operations at the fledgling Lebanon Raceway, located within the Warren County Fairgrounds. Nixon worked without pay for the first three years and would serve as Lebanon's executive manager until 1992. In addition to his responsibilities at Lebanon, Nixon also managed the harness meet at Kentucky's Latonia Raceway (Turfway Park) for twenty years. He also served as president and general manager of the Miami Valley Trotting Association as well as secretary/treasurer and general manager of the Ohio Valley Trotting Association.
Five years after he assumed managerial control of the pari-mutuel meet at Lebanon, Corwin Nixon was elected a United States Trotting Association track representative. He served the USTA in various capacities for forty-seven years. In 1956 he became a member of the Board of Directors. He served on the Finance Committee for more than twenty-five years and in 1960 was elected vice chairman. Five years later he was elected to be board chairman. In 1987 he was elected president, a post he held until his retirement in 2003. It was said that Nixon had a "God-given talent" for being able to bring warring factions together.
Nixon served as director of Harness Tracks of America and was also a trustee and chairman of the American Horse Council and president of the International Trotting Association (sponsor of the World Trotting Conference). He served as a trustee of the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame until his passing in 2003.
Nixon was inducted into the Ohio Agriculture Hall of Fame and the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Ohio Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1989 Nixon was the recipient of the Harness Horsemen International's Appreciation Award. In 1993 he was awarded the sport's highest accolade, induction into the Harness Racing Living Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York. He became a Little Brown Jug Wall of Fame honoree the following year and in 1995 was awarded the Harness Tracks of America's highest honor, the Messenger Award, in recognition of his long and distinguished service to the sport.
In addition to his life as a politician and horseman, Nixon was also a farmer. He bred Standardbreds as well as other livestock at his 257-acre "Can't Well Farm" near Lebanon, Ohio. He purchased his first Standardbreds, Cedar Azoff and South Broadway, with his brother Mike in the late 1940s. From that point on, Nixon developed and drove his own horses. His horse-caring methodology was simple: "Give 'em good feed, good care, and they'll perform." Some of the horses he enjoyed driving were Lass Hanover, Yankee Belle and Gale Ann. His most successful horse was Smolder 4,2:03.3f ($34,617), whom he drove to a 4:19.3 world two-mile record on a five-eighths mile track in 1969 at Scioto Downs. This record stood for nearly twenty-five years.
After a one-month illness Corwin M. Nixon passed away on November 6, 2003 at Grandview Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He was ninety years old.
Published in the Harness Racing Museum's 2006 book, The 2003-2005 Immortals