This distinct Modern home cuts a dramatic figure on Hedge Ave., a quiet side street in Kennedy Heights. It was designed in 1959 by Harvey Wilbekin for his family.
Harvey Earl Wilbekin was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, in 1927. He studied architectural engineering at Hampton University, and began his engineering career as a draftsman with the Virgin Islands government, and then became a civil engineer with the City of New York sewer division. He met and married Cleota in NYC, while she was a graduate student at Columbia.
Harvey started working for the City of Cincinnati's structures division in 1954, and became one of the engineers who designed the Mill Creek Expressway and Fort Washington Way. He then transferred to the building department, later becoming Director of Buildings and Inspections, until his retirement in 1992. He had pursued graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati and studied law, receiving his law degree from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 1970. Harvey practiced law part-time while working for the City, and full-time once he retired.
Dr. Cleota (née Proctor) Wilbekin was born in Des Moines, IA in 1930. She integrated her high school's tennis team before graduating at 16, and went on to receive her bachelor's and master's degrees in music (from Drake University and the University of Iowa, respectively). Cleota became a social worker and later returned to school to study law at the University of Cincinnati Law School (while pregnant with Erik, her and Harvey’s first child, before the couple adopted Emil). She became a judge for the State of Ohio Department of Human Services. As a barred attorney, she also received her PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University.
To call the couple active in their community might be an understatement. They were involved in their church, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Avondale, where Harvey worked with the choir, social service committee and as president of the church's Brothers Keeper Credit Union, while Cleota was its Minister of Music for 50 years.
Harvey was a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and worked with the Hampton University Alumni Association, Cinco Federal Credit Union, Retirees of the City of Cincinnati, and the Hedge Avenue Black Club. His professional affiliations included the Building Officials of America, Southwestern Ohio Building Officials Association, National Bar Association, Cincinnati Bar Association, Ohio State Bar Association, Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, Interprofessional Association of Cincinnati, and the National Association of Bench and Bar Spouses.
Cleota was a member of numerous civic and social organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, NAACP, Links Inc., National Bar Association, National Association of Bench and Bar Spouses (where she served as National President in 1988), National Council of Negro Women, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Friends of Amistad. He work and service were recognized by the YWCA, National Bar Association, Top Ladies of Cincinnati, Urban League of Cincinnati, NAACP, Jack And Jill, Iowa National Bar, and Outstanding Black Women, among other organizations.
Music and quilting were two enduring loves for Cleota. As a member of the Women of Color Quilters Network, her work was shown all over the world, accepted into the permanent collection at the Anacostia Museum of the Smithsonian Institute, and also part of “Quilts for Obama: An Exhibition Celebrating the Inauguration of our 44th President” sponsored by the Historical Society of Washington, DC.
In 1966, writer Patricia Mertz described the family's home in the Cincinnati Enquirer as "a reflection of the Wilbekins' nature: Warm open, friendly, spirited." She praised the simplicity of the structure and the self-expression of its furnishings, and explained that Harvey, with his wife's input, had designed the home around the family's specific needs, with an open plan for easy entertaining, a living room with a cathedral ceiling to house Cleota's baby grand piano, and an indoor pool for access to swimming year round.
The couple's sons followed in their father's footsteps by attending Hampton University. Erik is now an attorney based in Covington, KY, and Emil went into journalism, working with media entities including Vibe, Essence and Giant. Emil, who is gay and HIV+, resides in NYC, where he is now Chief Creative Officer at World Of Wilbekin, and founder of Native Son, a global platform to harness the collective power of Black gay men.
Harvey passed away in 1997, and Cleota in 2017. They are both buried in Walnut Hills Cemetery.
Every year, the Ohio Building Officials Association (OBOA) honors the Ohio Building Official of the Year with the Harvey E. Wilbekin Award, which recognizes leadership, professionalism and dedication to public service in activities related to promotion of reasonable construction standards, protection of the general public, and advancement of economic development opportunities.