James Combs Park honors local hero of March 1961 accident in the river

By Jim Blount


July 10, 1996

   A 65-acre Hamilton Municipal Park on the west side of the Great Miami River east of North B Street bears the name of the late James Combs, one of several heroes who responded to a river accident Wednesday afternoon, March 15, 1961.

   The drama began when a boat operated by Donald Cornette, 25, of Ridgelawn Avenue, and containing his three-year-old son, Gregory; and David Van Oflen, also 3 and of Ridgelawn Avenue, stalled above the dam north of the Black Street Bridge.

   The small craft drifted toward the dam. Cornette grabbed both boys as they were carried over the dam. The trio was momentarily caught in a whirlpool below the apron of the dam. With help, Cornette and his son quickly escaped from the swift, near-freezing water, but the Van Oflen boy was pulled downstream by the current.

   Cornette believed he had been assisted by Combs, 25, also a resident of Rid...

While rummaging through the files at the Butler County Historical Society, we ran across some old photos of Hamilton parks.

If you have any old family photos taken in our parks, please send a copy to We'd love to see and share them!

 "Helios Guardians" is the creation of sculptor Michael Bigger.

The nine-ton sculpture was originally commissioned by the Cincinnati Zoo in 1969, one of Cincinnati's first large-scale abstract public works of art, as a memorial to Michael Grzimek, noted conservationist son of Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, famed zoological authority and director of the Frankfort (Germany) Zoo (the family name is misspelled on the plaque at the base of the sculpture).

The younger Grzimek died in 1959 at the age of 24 when a plane he was piloting in Tanzania collided with a vulture and crashed. Because of his work in helping expand the Serengeti National Park, the Tanzanian government buried him and erected a pyramid monument on top of the Ngorongoro Crater. His father was also buried there in 1987.

According to a 1975 Cincinnati Magazine article, the title refers to the Roman sun god Helios, who rode a horse drawn chariot across the sky and watched over a herd of sacred cattle. The work represents the spi...

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