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Daytonian of the Week: Vivienne Himmel

Vivienne Himmel never expected to live in Dayton nearly 50 years after she and her college sweetheart — a guy who walked her home the day they met — rolled into town. 

“I didn’t totally unpack for three years. I figured I was going back to Connecticut,” the Pennsylvania native said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel like home.” 

But here is the thing Vivienne didn’t know in 1968 when she moved her from Connecticut: Dayton has a way of becoming home. It works its way into your blood. 

“People thought I would move away once our children were grown, but the truth is that I am very proud (to live here),” Vivienne said. “I have no plans to move anywhere, including a nursing home.”

And why should she leave? 

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Vivienne has become a fixture at Dayton League of Women Voters events and in downtown Dayton, where she’s lived for about a dozen years.

THE DOWNTOWNER

It is an understatement to say that the retired social worker for Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services’ Southview School and her husband, Roger, get around. 

The pair are part of the city’s art scene.

They go to performances at the Schuster Performing Arts Center. 

They love the Dayton Opera and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. 

They can’t get enough of the Loft and the Theatre Guild, and Vivienne volunteers for the Vanguard Legacy Concerts at the University of Dayton. 

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“We love downtown,” Vivienne said. “I wish I had a nickel for everybody who still says ‘you like downtown.’ Now I say, ‘I love downtown.’”

The family’s musical genes were passed on to each of the Himmels’ three daughters. 

Their eldest, Michelle Francine Gwynne, a Miami Valley School graduate, was a harpist and music educator before her recent death. 

To Vivienne, art is a necessary part of life.

“I think the arts are critical to humanity. You learn a lot through theater. It is part of our history. It is part of what makes us human,” Vivienne said. “We are part of the arts.”

THE POLITICAL JUNKIE

The Himmels met as students at the University of Pennsylvania. Vivienne was working part-time at a drugstore with a soda fountain. 

“Then I found out this young man played the piano,” Vivienne said. “He walked me home that night.” 

Married in 1952, the couple moved to Oakwood in 1968 after Roger landed a job with NCR. Before that they lived in Connecticut. 

Vivienne initially stayed at home with her children, but eventually went back to college to pursue a career. She graduated from Wright State University with a masters degree in counseling in 1977. 

The board member of the Resident Home Association is passionate about America’s political system. 

“I must have always been a political junkie,” she said. “I grew up in Philadelphia. That was a very corrupt city.” 

Vivienne has been active in the Dayton League of Women Voters nearly since the day she moved to town. 

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She first joined the organization in Connecticut.

“In those days, we drove around and picked (people) up to vote,” Vivienne said. “People had time off from work to vote.” 

A babysitter tended to the children while their moms got down to business.

Among other things, Vivienne now helps with the local voters guide and often keeps time at local political debates. 

She said people generally seem to respect what the league does even if they don’t understand it completely.

>> MORE: 5 things to know about Dayton's League of Women Voters

Daytonian of the Week Vivienne Himmel. (Amelia Robinson)

“We are well-known for our voter guides and registering voters and positions on issues,” she said. “(People) don’t realize we are part of a national organization.” 

Vivienne said the League is trying to do more to spread the word about its missions and the importance of voting.

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“One the the biggest gaps we have is that we don’t have civil education anymore,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of young people know we have three branches of government.”

Nearly five decades after coming to Dayton, Vivienne said she still has high hopes for her adopted city.  

“I want to see Dayton thrive the way it used to. I want to see it back on the map,” she said. 

“I want to see the people of Dayton be very proud of it.”

NCR and the other Fortune 500 companies have jumped ship, but Vivienne says there is still a bright future in Dayton. 

“We are thriving on small business and high tech,” she said. “We should embrace that.” 

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