Leroy Ozanne - Guardian Award 2016

President, ret. - Ozanne Construction Co.

The Ozanne family traces its lineage from 13th century France down through 18th century New Orleans and an area known as French Louisiana to modern-day Cleveland. The family album is full of carpenters, plasterers, masons, and the like. It seems that entire history was distilled into the DNA of one Leroy Ozanne, who arrived on the shores of Lake Erie by way of Texas after his honorable discharge from the US Navy in 1946.

Naturally enough, it seems, Leroy became one of Cleveland’s first African American building inspectors. He developed relationships with builders, architects, engineers, and city officials. With an outsized personality, boundless energy, and a growing family, it wasn’t long before Leroy decided to expand his side work as a contractor into a fulltime business, and Ozanne Construction Company Inc. was born in 1956.

Leroy was a pioneer black contractor in an era and region that was often inhospitable — to say the least — to his aspirations. Fortunately his inbred sense of self-confidence was fortified with a heavy dose of stubbornness [a trait not unknown to successful contractors] that allowed him to plow through setbacks.

Many of his earliest jobs were residential, but Leroy intended from the beginning to succeed as a commercial general contractor capable of competing openly in both public and private markets throughout northeast Ohio.

His tenacity, skill at risk assessment, and ability to perform helped him to forge profitable relationships with companies like Ohio Bell, Cleveland Trust, and Gulf Oil. These successes led Turner Construction in 1967 to invite Ozanne to joint venture in the construction of a commercial plaza on Cleveland’s east side, the first such relationship between an African American construction firm and an international construction manager in American history.

Ozanne’s desire to compete openly with the best naturally led him to CEA, then known as the Building Trades Employers Association. Ozanne Construction joined in 1968, becoming its first black contractor. The company has been an active CEA member ever since, a tradition of service now embodied in Dominic Ozanne, Leroy’s son and successor, even as Ozanne Construction, a Cleveland original, has expanded to Georgia, Louisiana, and elsewhere.