The Story Behind the Name: Boles Natatorium and Boles Hall2019-08-19T16:22:31-04:00
  • Boles Hall and the Three Graces Fountain

The Story Behind the Name: Boles Natatorium and Boles Hall

Two buildings, three professorships, and several student scholarships carry the name of former Centre board chair Ewing T. Boles (1916). Ewing T. Boles devoted much of his long life to his alma mater and to the fraternity he helped establish on Centre’s campus. “Centre College and Phi Kappa Tau were two things that were just part of me,” he once told Thomas A. Spragens, Centre president during Boles’ tenure as board chair (1964-69). “I believed in them.”

Boles was a successful investment banker in Columbus, Ohio, and, as his son, Tom, once noted, a man of “invariable optimism” with “a marvelous sense of humor”.

Born May 8, 1895, Boles grew up as the youngest of three children on a farm near Williamstown, Ky. His high school principal suggested Centre, where he majored in economics and English and graduated in three years. After 18 months in the Navy during World War I, he married Katherine Dwyer. They were married for 54 years and had three children.

In 1929, he joined BancOhio Securities (later called The Ohio Company) as a sales manager. Over a 36-year career with the brokerage and investment banking firm, he went on to become president, CEO, and board chair. He was on the boards of some 15 other companies, including Western Reserve Telephone and Federated Publications, and he served a term as president of the Investment Bankers Association of America.

His relationship with Phi Kappa Tau began in 1914 as a charter member of the Centre chapter of the fraternity then called Phrenocon. He was national president when the fraternity adopted the name Phi Kappa Tau in December 1916, and he was behind the founding of the Phi Kappa Tau Foundation in 1945. Throughout his life, he was involved with the national organization and took a keen interest in the success of the Centre chapter, especially in his later decades. In recognition of his significance to the organization, Phi Kappa Tau national named him an “honorary founding father.” He received the National Interfraternity Council’s Gold Medal, its highest honor, in 1985.

Boles as a Centre student

He was equally devoted to Centre. “His leadership of the board during the mid 1960s and early 70s was absolutely magnificent, and without him I’m not certain the College could have achieved anywhere near the great results which have been redounding to it in the recent past,” said James H. Evans ’43, a fellow trustee and later board chair. Boles was on the board for 16 years, the last five as chair, then elected a Life Trustee. His Centre awards include an honorary degree, the Isaac Shelby Medallion for outstanding service to the College, induction as an alumnus into Phi Beta Kappa, and, posthumously, Associate of the Year.

During his lifetime, his gifts reflected his breadth of interests: scholarships, athletics, a professorship in economics, Greek housing (including a Phi Kappa Tau house on Maple Avenue completed in 1950), and the endowment. He and his wife contributed half the cost of the $400,000 Boles Natatorium, which opened in 1968 and won a design award for the architects. After he died, in 1992 at the age of 97, his $7.4 million estate gift (almost $13 million today) funded three professorships (in economics, history, and currently biochemistry and molecular biology), scholarships, and Boles Hall, a building that was first imagined in 1940 as a mirror to Wiseman Hall, but not completed until 1997. It now houses admission offices.

It’s fitting that not one but two buildings should honor him. As the citation when he was named Associate of the Year noted: Ewing T. Boles “served Centre with unflagging energy, unlimited devotion, and unparalleled vision.”

by Diane Johnson

Article featured in the spring 2018 edition of Centrepiece magazine.