I turned right on Irving Avenue from Trinity, right again on Brown Street, and finally left on Stewart Street, crossing the Great Miami River and heading past the Arena to Interstate 75.
I glanced around, hoping these sites on the thoroughfares of my life would remain indelible in my memory. I had 500 miles of driving ahead of me, but I was in no hurry.
There was Milano’s, where I’d purchased hundreds of sandwiches, including many I’d taken to fellow UD alums waiting at the end of innumerable road trips. There was Timothy’s, where … well, I’d spent more time than necessary.
Flanagan’s, where I could still hear the sounds in my head of my roommate’s band playing from my student days. And the Arena, where I’d seen hundreds of games.
Earlier that Sunday in the Arena my son grasped the hand of UD President Eric F. Spina and was handed his diploma, becoming the third of my three children to graduate as a Flyer. He joined his siblings, his mother and me as UD alumni.
As I merged onto I-75, heading south to our home in Atlanta, I was overwhelmed by the impact of my nearly 37-year direct connection with the University and the city of Dayton. And tears welled in my eyes as I realized that relationship was over.
I’d taken the drive the other way up Stewart Street in August 1980 as my parents moved me into Stuart Hall. I’d visited campus just once and made an impulsive, poorly informed decision to attend UD. I expected to transfer after the first semester.
That was just the first of several times I’d nearly convinced myself that I’d be better off leaving Dayton, as university and city became inextricably linked for me.
But I ended up loving the place.
Upon graduation, I resisted the idea of staying even though I had a great job offer from the Dayton Daily News. After all, my friends were going off to places like San Diego. Later in life, I would wrestle several times with opportunities elsewhere.
But I stayed. And as I wrote when I finally did leave 31 years later in 2011:
“Now I realize that Dayton was the perfect place to build a life … along with my wife, whom I met here, and my three children, I leave behind the place that will always be home.”
But we really hadn’t left it behind.
After we moved to Atlanta in 2011, my eldest daughter was already at UD. Her younger sister and brother would follow.
They had opportunities elsewhere, and I sometimes wondered if I should push them to attend another university, perhaps one closer to us. But privately I was proud of their decisions, made with pressure to go elsewhere, because I knew they recognized a good place and would be happy.
Plus, they kept me linked to the place where I passed nearly every important milepost of my adult life.
As I navigated my career, marriage and raising a family in Dayton, I was always within a couple of miles of UD; it gave me confidence as the backdrop of my life. I would use the library, occasionally be asked to speak to a class and bump into an old professor.
We moved to a home within a few blocks of UD, where we’d live for 18 years. Our babysitters were UD students, including my sister (Mary Riley Casa ’90) and my wife’s sister (Brooke Meehan Ratterman ’94).
Having children at UD gave me the excuse I needed to visit — and a powerful reason to set off around the country for NCAA basketball tournament games.
I’ll have to be more creative now, inventing business reasons to visit town, and perhaps to catch a Flyers game and have a late dinner afterward at the Pine Club.
I just can’t leave the place behind.
Kevin Riley is the editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was previously the editor of the
Dayton Daily News. His wife, Tracy ’84, and his children, Anne ’12, Erin ’15 and Colin ’17, are all UD graduates. He can be reached at kriley@AJC.com.