Governor James A. Rhodes
James Allen Rhodes, the 61st and 63rd governor of Ohio (1963-71, 1975-83), was born in Coalton, Ohio, on September 13, 1909, the son of James and Susan Howe Rhodes. The father was a coal miner and led that day-to-day existence. Clothes came from relatives, food from a Coalton grocery, and inspiration from the mother. "Dad was in the pit from before dawn till night," Rhodes once stated.
When his father died of influenza in 1918, it first appeared that young Jim and his sisters Garnet and Della were destined for a children's home, but then their mother called them together and said, "Your father's gone. There's no one left. If we stay together, it will be a struggle. You'll never be like other children who run and play. All you will know is work." Said Rhodes, "The first Christmas after Dad died, all we got was an orange and a little bag of peanuts (from Joe Michael of Michael's Ice Cream). Mother used to read to us or take us to church and that's the only entertainment we knew." Thus began the story of the rise of a boy in the Horatio Alger tradition.Rhodes carried newspapers for Jess Cory of the Smoke House, a sundry store on Main Street (room on the west side of Terry's Pawn Shop) in Jackson. He attended elementary school at Mound Street and Portsmouth Street (Old Methodist Church) schools and junior high school at Broadway School (Old Central) on Broadway Street in Jackson.
He became the janitor of the two frame buildings used for home economics and manual arts (now industrial arts) that were located between Old Central and Kinnison School and received ten dollars per month. He was also known to play hookey to go fishing or swimming in Salt Lick Creek until Superintendent James Kinnison gave him five "good sound thrashings." Interested in sports, he played both football and baseball. His junior high football team once played and defeated the high school team 6-0 in a practice game. Among the team members were Wally Jenkins as fullback, Hugh Jenkins at left half, Eddie Barlow at right half, Rhodes at quarterback, Nug McCoy at end, Willie Castle and Mick Wykle at tackles, Charley Davis at center, Jiggs Crossin at guard, Maurice Coll, Casey Geiger and George Abraham. While Rhodes was in the eighth grade, the family moved to Springfield, Ohio. There he continued working as a newspaper boy, clerk, errand boy, and at other odd jobs. One Springfield acquaintance said, "That kid was running all the time." While attending Springfield South High School, he made the second all-state basketball and football teams and had a chance to play in organized professional baseball.
He hitchhiked to Columbus in 1930 to attend the school of journalism at The Ohio State University. He organized first the Governor's Club and then the Young Republican Club. He also opened a restaurant known as "Jim's" at 17th Avenue and High Street. His keen business sense soon made it one of the most prosperous in the university area. It was while operating his own business that he organized the Knot Hole Gang to help youngsters attend the Columbus Red Bird professional baseball games at little or no cost.Rhodes dropped out of college in 1932 to concentrate on earning money to send home.
In 1934, at the age of 23, he was elected a committeeman in the 16th Ward, the youngest committeeman ever elected in Franklin County. He next was elected journal clerk in the Ohio House of Representatives in 1935 and was re-elected to that position in 1936. In 1937, at the age of 27, he was elected to the Columbus board of education, the youngest person ever elected up to that time.
In 1939, he carried on a successful campaign for city auditor and was re-elected two years later by a 2-1 margin. This was followed by his election as mayor of Columbus in 1943, and at the age of 33, he was the youngest mayor in the nation. As mayor, he put Columbus "on a sound, pay-as-you-go basis." He expanded the Columbus police and fire departments and provided them with modern equipment. When juvenile delinquency became a civic problem during World War II, he organized the first national chapter of Junior Police and later the Columbus Boys' Club. He won re-election in 1947, the first two-term mayor in 20 years. In 1953, he began a ten-year stint as auditor of state and proved to be an able administrator of the state finances. In 1962, he was elected to the first of four terms as governor of Ohio. Rhodes sought to run for the governorship again in 1986, seeking a record-breaking fifth term, but soundly lost to the incumbent Dick Celeste, whom Rhodes had narrowly defeated in his last successful gubernatorial bid in 1978.
The James A. Rhodes State Office Tower, which is the tallest building in Columbus and the former home of the Ohio Supreme Court, is named in his honor, as well as The University of Akron's basketball arena the JAR or James A. Rhodes arena.
He married Helen Rawlins of Jackson County in 1941, and they became the parents of three daughters, Susan (Mrs. Richard Moore), Saundra (Mrs. John Jacob), and Sharon (Mrs. William Markham). There are nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Helen Rawlins Rhodes passed away on December 9, 1987.Rhodes died in Columbus on March 4, 2001, and is interred at Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio.
Courtesy of the Jackson City School District
Isham Jones was born in Coalton, Ohio on January 31, 1894, but the family had originally resided in Arkansas. His father was a coal mine boss, and while "Ish" (pronounced with a long "I") was still in his youth, the family moved to Saginaw, Michigan where Ish worked in the mines, driving a mule and a string of coal cars until there was a collision with a shaft door. It was then that he decided that music was more appealing and assembled a band for a local church. A banker, who was a member of the congregation, listened to the music and urged him to "go out and blown his own horn."
From an early age, Jones had musical aspirations which were no doubt inspired by his father, who also had an interest in music. He studied piano and saxophone while in grade school and high school. At the age of 20 he formed his own orchestra and played for dances in Saginaw, Bay City and other nearby Michigan towns. A script was submitted to a Saginaw music publisher, and after several other scripts had succeeded, Jones departed for Chicago. After a year of advanced study and working as a saxophonist with several local dance bands, he was ready for the big time.
For the next decade, Jones provided his own musical background of violins, clarinets, saxophones and muted brass for his Tin Pan Alley success story. The songs he wrote and popularized were written specifically for the band he directed. In 1917, while in World War I, Jones, in collaboration with Tell Taylor and Ole Oleson, composed "You're in the Army Now."
In 1922, the Jones band recorded "Wabash Blues" which reportedly sold close to two million copies. In 1923, the American Brunswick Company announced that it had paid him over $500,000 in royalties. Also, during that year, "I'll See You in My Dreams" was his first hit, followed by a rapid succession of songs, including "The One I Love," "Swingin' Down the Lane," "My Best to You," "Wooden Soldier," "China Doll," "No Greater Love," "Indiana Moon," "Thanks for Everything" and "I Can't Believe It's True."
When his wife Marguerita presented him with a piano for his 30th birthday in 1924, he reportedly stayed up all night to complete "Spain," "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else," and "It Had to Be You" to insure that the instrument would pay its way. The latter number was later used in some 40 featured films. Also during that year, he took his band to London where he played at the Kit-Cat Club and he is said to have been one of the first to take jazz to Europe. Prior to that tour, he had played at the Lincoln, McAlpin and Commodore hotels in New York City.
Jones described jazz as "modern emotional music. It is expressive of the happy dance; it is rhythm that is simple and yet inspiring. It is music that is irresistible to the feet and at the same time appealing to the heart and head."
In 1927, at the age of 18, Benny Goodman joined the Jones band, then playing at the Million Dollar Rainbow Gardens in Chicago. Goodman reportedly received his highest salary up to that time -- $175 a week.
The recording of Hoagy Carmichael's "Star Dust" in 1931 pushed the band high in popularity and helped establish the song. Also, during that year, Jones composed "I Wouldn't Change You for the World" and "You're Just a Dream Come True," the latter becoming the theme song for the band. Gordon Jenkins, his chief arranger, referred to his songs and bands as "the greatest sweet ensemble of that time or any other time."
Jones wrote more than 200 songs, of which 40 or more became hits. His chief collaborator and lyricist was Gus Kahn who wrote the lyrics for "I'll See You in My Dreams," "No Greater Love" and "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else." Those persons who recall the early days of radio will remember Jones on The Big Show in early to mid 1934 and The Chevrolet Show in late 1934-1935.
One of the last bands led by Jones in 1936 was known as the Isham Jones Juniors. The group recorded for Decca and later became the first band led by Woody Herman. The coming of swing and stylized bands gradually discouraged Jones, and he decided to concentrate on writing songs; he was already independently well off from his royalties. He had varied interests in retirement including a general store in Shaffer's Crossing, Colorado. Ill with cancer, he moved from Los Angeles to Hollywood, Florida in 1955. He passed away on October 19, 1956 at the age of 62.
Paul Nero, a talented violinist of the 1940s and 1950s, said of him in a tribute that he set a standard for dance music that was superior to anything that played in dance halls and hotel rooms. If the sidemen and arrangers met his most exacting standards, they somehow managed to get with the band. The list reads like a "who's who" - Gordon Jenkins, Larry Clinton, Victor Young, George Bassman, Woody Herman and Saxie Dowell.
Five out of six musicians who worked for him stated how difficult it was to work for this driver, and six out of six musicians readily admitted that he was one of the finest natural musicians that they had ever known. He drove himself twice as hard as any of his band. His only message was that "it's either good or it stinks."
In his demands on himself and his musicians, he perhaps forgot that everyone did not feel as strongly about his standards as he did. He could be very severe with anyone who did not apply himself, but the very same individuals, whom he had reportedly physically tossed out of his band, were the very same persons who expressed delight about the first time they worked for him. Very few people would admit to having any feeling about him other than one of deep respect.
If Jones had known that someone had written a tribute to him, he would probably have thrown a stack of manuscripts at him. He never suffered from anything resembling the neurotic compulsion to be wanted or loved. What he did for so many people was not motivated by a search for admiration, respect or love. You took him the way he was, or just did not take him at all. If he knew that you were really trying to do your best, that was enough for him. He hated any form of hypocrisy, almost to the point of mania. He admired talent and ability almost to the point of hero worship.
His critics related how conservative he was and how he had the same currency that he first earned at the College Inn. At an ASCAP dinner, Nero mentioned to him his theory that if the dance bands ever came back, his specific style of playing could be the biggest thing that ever happened. He agreed, and three years later, he gave Nero his extensive music library. When Nero attempted to thank him, he screamed that he was an unprintable idiot if he thought he gave it to him because he liked him or wanted thanks. "If I didn't think you could handle this thing," he said, "I wouldn't LEND you one of these arrangements."
During drives with Nero along the Pacific Coast in 1955, he would point out a particularly nice piece of scenery or expound on some philosophy, and he would yell at the top of his lungs when he talked about idiot musicians, or "Don't hand me any of that crap about the band business being dead. Maybe it's sick, so don't stand around crying. Do something about it. Don't wait for anyone else to help you."
He was always up-to-date on the issues of the day; he knew about the commercial possibilities of television and knew the music business had changed.
Jones apparently appreciated strong personalities and would pressure individuals to their limits. When he got Nero angry by accusing him of being a "yellow-livered coward," Nero shouted back to him that he was a "dogmatic old man living in the past." Jones in turn broke into one of those big grins of his and poked Nero with one of his long arms and said, "Well, now, that's the way I like to hear you talk; I was beginning to think you were another one of those sissy fiddle players."
Nero concluded his tribute by saying, "I'm sure going to hate missing the first time you tell off one of those trumpet players up there. Don't be too hard on them. Remember, they didn't have a chance up to now to work with you."
Courtesy of historian Robert Ervin
Frank Crumit - Jackson County Native Gains National Renown as Singer, Songwriter
The late Frank Crumit was a national and world renowned singer and songwriter. A native of Jackson, Ohio, he was born September 26, 1889, the son of Frank and Mary Poore Crumit. Attending local schools, Crumit graduated from high school in 1907. After attending a military academy in Indiana briefly, he entered Ohio University and later Ohio State. His primary purpose for entering Ohio University was his desire to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dr. C. K. Crumit, who had been a medical doctor.
His desire for the medical profession soon fizzled, and still undecided about a career in life, he went to Ohio State with the intent of becoming an electrical engineer. This field was also short-lived. Crumit's love for music and the theater, which dated back to his early years in the Methodist Church choir, led him toward the decision of pursuing a musical career. He studied voice in Cincinnati and then tried out unsuccessfully for opera in New York City. Frank then turned to vaudeville and was very successful in New York and other parts of the country. As part of a vaudeville team (trio), Crumit appeared at an engagement in London, England in 1913. And in 1914, he left the vaudeville life and struck out on his own. With his famous ukulele, he was referred to as "the one-man glee club" in New York City's night spots. He became such a hit that he landed roles in many musicals.
Frank Crumit became a musical team with Julia Sanderson in 1921. Together, they became a sensation to their stage and radio audiences. Frank and Julia were married in 1927, and made their home in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1929, Frank and Julia were entertaining millions of fans via the means of radio. They became known as "The Singing Sweethearts." Maintaining their home in Massachusetts, Frank and Julia drove to New York City twice a week for many years to do their radio show. It was a four-hour trip, but they enjoyed it. Their nationally-produced radio broadcast was aired over WLW in Cincinnati.
Frank is credited with composing at least 50 songs in his career, maybe more. In regard to Ohioans, Frank is best remembered for his Buckeye Battle Cry, which he wrote in 1919. He wrote and published his beloved Hills of Ohio in 1941. Frank Crumit died in 1943 in New York City at 53 years of age.
Courtesy of historian Robert Ervin
John Wesley Powell
Writer John Upton Terrell portrayed John Wesley Powell as "The man who rediscovered America." John's father, Joseph Powell, was born in the ancient town of Shrewsburg in 1800. He was of both English and Welsh ancestry. A tailor by trade, he went to London to seek employment. It was here that he became a licensed minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Joseph was married to Mary Dean in 1828. Both Joseph and Mary had dedicated themselves to Methodism, then came to America to build a home and carry the gospel to the inhabitants of the land. The Powells sailed the Atlantic Ocean to New York in 1830. At this time they only had two children, Martha, two years, and Mary, three months. Their worldly goods consisted of a few chests of personal belongings and domestic linens, two dozen books and a small sum of money. When they arrived in New York, they found the city full of epidemic fever, therefore they moved on to Albany. From Albany by means of the Erie Canal they moved to Utica, where other families from England and Wales had settled; then from Utica, to Palmyra, where a son, Fletcher, was born in 1832. He died in infancy. Shortly thereafter, the Powells moved to Mount Morris, N.Y. where Joseph preached, did some tailoring and a little farming. On March 24, 1834, a second son was born and his parents named him John Wesley, hoping he would follow them in the ministry. In 1836, another son, William, was born.
Joseph Powell moved his family across New York via the Erie Canal and then on to Ohio. He decided on Jackson County, Ohio because of the Welsh communities there. In the late spring of 1838, the Powells went to Buffalo and from there by steamship to Cleveland; then by means of canal boat down to Chillicothe. Here Joseph purchased a wagon and two horses. The Powell family approached the farms around Jackson by sundown. They slept in the wagon that night and the next day entered the village. Preacher Powell drove his team of horses up the steep hill to the center of town. It was said that Welsh faces and Welsh accents greeted the newest arrivals in Jackson. The family got off the wagon to stretch their limbs. Joseph Powell, holding young John Wesley by the hand, went to the Courthouse to inquire about a local land office. They met a kindly man named George Crookham there who invited the family to his home. Because they did not wish to impose on Mr. Crookham's hospitality, the family slept in their wagon on his farm, refusing the invitation to sleep in his house. Joseph Powell purchased a lot on Main Street for $200. Kindly neighbors helped him raise a temporary log cabin and a frame house was built before winter set in.
The years in Jackson were said to be stormy ones for the Powells. Anti-slavery sympathizers struggled with the pro-slavery elements and Joseph Powell had taken his stand among the abolitionists. Bitterness increased to the extent among neighbors that it was no longer safe to send John to the public school. In the spring of 1843, a group of adults stood and watched some boys torment John Wesley Powell on Main Street in Jackson. Both John and his brother William were stoned by the other children, and some of the adults cheered it on, while others protested.
George Crookham supervised John Wesley Powell's schooling for the rest of the time spent in Jackson. Mr. Crookham was a self-educated man. He had acquired a notable library and had become an accomplished naturalist. He tutored without charge, any young man who wished to improve himself. For four years John and Mr. Crookham were seldom separated. The schoolmaster was delighted with the boy's eagerness to learn, to absorb, to understand. Crookham was especially elated when he discovered that natural history and scientific studies held the greatest interest and appeal to John.
At the height of the anti-slavery agitation, a mob burned Crookham's school and laboratory, destroying his collections, books and manuscripts including a history of Jackson County from his early salt boiling days. It has been said the influence of George Crookham on John Wesley Powell's life cannot be over estimated. In 1846, the Powells sold their properties and moved to Wisconsin. It was especially painful to Mary Powell to leave behind the small piano, bought the previous year. Many evenings after the day's labors and lessons were completed, she accompanied her children in singing of country ballads and hymns she had taught them. Priority over the piano was given to sacks of seed grain, tables, chairs, beds and farm implements.
The townspeople soon forgot the Powell family. Not until John Wesley Powell, a one-armed geologist, electrified the world with his daring exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, did people of Jackson recall their former fellow citizens. John Wesley returned to Chillicothe and Cincinnati in later years to lecture, but it is said that he never visited in Jackson.
Courtesy of historian Jack Rhea
Ben Ames Williams - one of the distinguished individuals to be inducted into the Jackson City Schools' Hall of Honor
Author, Ben Ames Williams, was born in Macon, Mississippi on March 7, 1889, the son of Daniel and Sarah Ames Williams. In July, 1889, the family returned to Jackson, Ohio where his father was owner and editor of The Jackson Standard Journal for the next 34 years. Ben attended Central School on Broadway Street in Jackson. In 1905, when Ben was 15 years old, the family moved to Wales when his father was appointed the American Consul to Cardiff by President Theodore Roosevelt.
After returning from Wales, Ben attended Allen Preparatory School in Massachusetts and from there entered Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. While at Allen School, he met Florence Talpey. Following her graduation from Wellesley College in 1912, she and Ben were married on Sept. 4, 1912. They had three children, Roger Chilton (deceased), Ben Ames, Jr., who now resides in Massachusetts, and Penelope Ann Williams Wardwell, who lives in Maine.
Early in his career, Mr. Williams briefly managed The Jackson Standard Journal before accepting a position as a reporter for The Boston American. However, his real interest was in the writing of short stories. His first published short story, "The Wings of Lias," appeared in the July 1915 issue of Smith's Magazine. Over the next two years more of his stories began appearing in magazines such as Smith's, All-Story Weekly and American Boy. A turning point in his career came when his story, "The Mate of Susie Oaks," was accepted for publication in The Saturday Evening Post and he was able to become a full-time professional writer.
By the year 1919, he had achieved the degree of success that he had sought for eight years. Four of his stories and an eight-part serial appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. The transition from short stories to novels also occurred with the publication of All the Brothers Were Valiant. Williams lived during the winter months at Chestnut Hill near Boston and from May to December at his farm in Maine. He was always up before dawn and would work from seven to eight hours before noon seven days a week. He did not use a typewriter; he used his fountain pen. He sat at his desk or in his wide-arm chair in the barn during the warm weather and before the fireplace in the living room in the cold weather, carefully researching the subject of his next book.
His writings ranged over a wide variety of fields: adventure (The Silver Forest), psychological studies (Leave Her to Heaven), historical novels (House Divided), and regional studies (Owen Glen, which was set in Jackson County). Two of his novels, The Strange Woman and Leave Her to Heaven, became successful motion pictures. Producer Samuel Goldwyn adapted two other stories by Williams into motion pictures as well. They were featured at the Victory Theatre on Main Street in Jackson in 1920. "Jubilio" was an action film starring Will Rogers and "The Great Accident" was a story set in Jackson and Jackson County. Williams' last literary work was The Unconquered, a sequel to House Divided. It was completed in January of 1953. The next month, on Feb. 3, 1953, Ben Ames Williams died at the age of 62. Florence Talpey Williams survived her husband by 17 years. During that time she authored the book, All About Da, a book describing Ben Ames Williams for the family.
Courtesy of Jackson City Schools
Some men define greatness solely through their actions, words never needed to substantiate their deeds. Regardless of their stature, just their presence made them stand taller than most. Almost every one of these elite and treasured individuals, though, has never walked above another or felt superior to someone else, but they have always reached out their hands in friendship and assistance, displaying a mannerism and a treasured integrity which is today almost extinct. Such a giant was Leon Merrill Evans, a treasure which Jackson County may never see the likes of again. A man revered beyond description, yet he never met a stranger. A most devoted family man, the world was a part of his home.
A banker, a teacher, a story teller, a man who loved sports. A father, a husband, a trusted friend, someone who would always be there no matter how dark the hour. A Sunday school teacher, a world traveler, a man who felt at home with foreign dignitaries as much as he did in Rocky Hill with the struggling farmer fighting to make it. Community leader, a governmental advisor, he once said half-jokingly he had been president of everything except the Mothers' Club, and no statement could have been truer. And the man very possibly most responsible for our privilege of enjoying the annual Jackson County Apple Festival in Jackson each year.
Leon was every one of these things, and oh, so very much more. A living legend then, he remains a legend today to everyone whose life he ever touched.
Leon Evans left us on September 25, 1966, the day after the completion of the 26th annual Jackson County Apple Festival. His death left a void which will never be filled, but a thousand memories which will never be replaced. He was truly a one-of-a-kind gentleman, most certainly a man for all seasons. All young men at some time in their life dream of being respected by all, giving all which is possible, and like Leon, being loved and cherished by those whom he cared about most. But Leon Evans lived that dream, and left an example which most can only dream of ever following.
Although he never farmed full-time, there was no way of separating Evans, the land and the agricultural community. A great deal of Jackson County's agricultural success today can in many ways be traced back to one thing or another Evans did during his lifetime. When he died at the age of 73, The Standard Journal depicted him as "almost certainly the best known private citizen in Jackson County and perhaps he was the best-loved and most respected." His path to those accolades was simple; he loved people. He was always trying to find something to do to help someone else. The world was his family and the world loved him for it.
One of those men fortunate enough to work with Evans was Dan Washam, retired president of the BancOhio / First National Bank (now NationalCity Bank) in Jackson. Another man who held a long-time association with him was D. Merrill Davis, who worked closely with Evans on many projects. The comments of these two current-day leading men of Jackson mirrored each other in their praise of the gentleman who was the leading man of Jackson in his day. "He liked people and he liked to associate with them," said Washam. "He had a knack about him that brought the best out of people." 'His integrity was what I remember best," commented. Davis. "You could count on him, you could trust him as an agriculturist, a school man, a banker."
It was Evans who served as the first president of the Jackson County Apple Festival way back in 1937. At the age of 45, though, he had already established a reputation of a great leader around the state and was distinguished with a feature on him in The Columbus Dispatch when the festival got under way. Now Evans did not see the festival solely as a good time for the youngsters, but a very viable way of promoting the Jackson County apple crop, which that year was predicted to be the biggest of any county in the state.
"He was an integral part of the formation of the Apple Festival," remembered Washam. "He did it to promote the business of selling apples. Little promotion had been done up to that time." Davis also remembers the early Apple Festivals. From its second year in 1938 until the 1980s, Davis was on hand to provide much of the public address announcing and saw it grow from a financially risky venture to one of Ohio's greatest festivals. "Leon was the driving force," Davis recalled. "They borrowed money for the first festival and it was rained out. Then they borrowed money the next year and made a go of it."
Evans was born in the Rocky Hill area of Bloomfield Township on November 5, 1892. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1912 as the president of his class, and in 1916, became a graduate of the Ohio State University, graduating from the College of Agriculture. It was while in college he met future Ohio Governor and U.S. Senator John Bricker and developed a life-long friendship. From his friendship with Bricker and other state-wide luminaries, he had the honor of being placed in charge of the horse barn at the Ohio State Fair for many years. His agricultural resume' read like a "Who's Who" long before the Apple Festival began. He was an instructor in 1916 and 1917 in the County Extension Schools and from 1917 through 1923, he served as the first-ever county agent for Ross County. After his death, Evans was honored by being one of the first inductees into the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame for his contributions to agriculture.
One of the personal traits that people most remember about Evans was his memory; there did not seem to be anything which he ever forgot. Ed Clark, retired local newspaper editor, remembers Evans in part as a journalist from the many years he wrote the popular "Lest We Forget" column in the then Jackson Standard Journal and The Jackson Herald
He reminisced in his columns about early Jackson County and his memories of it. The column reflected its writer but with Clark, it was the memory of Evans he recalls most.
"Leon was active in the Rotary and each year we had a Rural-Urban Day where each member had to bring a farmer as his guest to Rotary," remembered Clark. "No one knew who anyone was bringing until they arrived that day. Well, Leon would sit at the head table and when the meeting started, he would get up and introduce each Rotarian and name the farmer he had with him," Clark continued. "He knew every one of them and I always thought that was pretty remarkable." Washam recalled taking trips to Columbus and other places with Evans and said you were there before you knew it because the stories Evans told on the way would keep you spellbound and your attention span was fully occupied.
"He was a good storyteller," Davis said of Evans. "He had a good sense of humor and a tremendous memory. He kept things in detail in his mind." Washam feels Evans acquired his memory traits as a young man working for his father, Gomer Evans. The elder Evans at one time was the state representative in the state legislature for Jackson County, back when each county had a representative in the state legislature. Washam said that Leon was brought on board as page while his father was in the legislature, and had to remember names and faces as a page to make sure the proper documents and messages got delivered to the proper people.
Of course, many remember Evans for his most-noted profession, that of a banker and financial advisor. In January, 1963, Evans retired from the First National Bank of Jackson as its vice president, after having served 27 years with the institution. Washam noted Evans was brought into the bank to help with agricultural loans and other farm-related banking business. His father, Gomer Evans, had also served as a vice president of the bank. He was also president of Jackson Production Credit Association from 1933 to 1935 and then served as its secretary from that point through 1950. It was also through his banking career that he became highly regarded as a teacher. "People came from all over the world to Jackson to learn about agriculture and banking from him," stressed Washam. Evans helped to create the Ohio University Banking School in 1954. Washam said he was highly respected for his outstanding organization of his class-time and that former students would call on him in future years, continuing to ask him for his advice. In December, 1965, when Evans announced he was giving up his position as a member of the faculty at the Ohio School of Banking, the Ohio Banking Association paid tribute to the man they so highly respected.
"To those hundreds of bankers who have attended the school in the past, this announcement will bring back many memories and somewhat of a feeling of disbelief that the school can get along without the one and only Leon Evans," the tribute said. "Hundreds of others who will not have the benefit of his teaching will have to take our word for it - Leon earned his place on the banking school faculty from its beginning in 1954 through 1965 even after his retirement as an active vice-president of the First National Bank in Jackson," it continued.
He was a pioneer in agricultural foreign relations, according to the tribute, and many delegations of bankers from other nations conferred with him in the bank in Jackson.
In 1958, he spent three months in Tunisia as a member of the special committee making a study of agricultural needs and of the farmers of that country. This led to the formation of the Agricultural Credit Bank of Tunisia the following year. Evans was also the group leader of Ohio Bankers which toured Europe and Russia in the summer of 1965.
"The Ohio Banker and the Ohio Bankers Association are proud to add their tribute to many previously given to a great gentleman - Leon M. Evans," the tribute concluded.
But how could anyone talk about Leon Evans as a teacher without mentioning he was one of the most highly regarded Sunday school teachers to ever live in Jackson County.
Washam said Evans was asked to take over a class of young adults at the Christ United Methodist Church in the early 1930s until they could find a regular teacher. That regular teacher never came.
Evans' class grew and grew and grew until it had to meet in the church's sanctuary to handle the size. The class today still bears his name. "He was quite a Sunday school teacher," remembered Washam. "He was very knowledgeable about the Bible."
When The Jackson Sun Journal reported his passing in its Monday, September 26, 1966 edition, it tried to summarize what he had meant to Jackson County. "He was a generous, kind and open man, who gave freely of his talents to his community and his fellow man," it said. "His wit and wisdom and wide experience led his fellow townsmen to seek his counsel on almost any affair of community importance and in private concerns as well. Truly, he was a man for all seasons - for all walks of life - all kinds of people," it noted. Washam said he could not name a worthwhile function in Jackson County that Evans was not associated with. He said Evans also had a little date book that went "in and out of his pocket 50 times a day," which helped him to keep track of his busy schedule.
Evans was not only a great teacher in many fields, but a great speaker who could captivate any audience. Evans would speak all over the state to large groups as well as to local women's groups about banking and what they might have to do if their spouse should die. Davis said Evans knew about everybody and was one of the most active men he ever met. "He would do anything for the betterment of the city, community or area," Davis continued. "Leon always enjoyed what he did and would look for things to do, anything for the betterment of the community," he said, adding that Evans was also a good family man.
He was the father of four children, and Washam feels he might have been most proud of the fact that each of his four children graduated from The Ohio State University.
Two of his four children survive. Mrs. Roy (Helen) Berry of near Logan taught school for many years in Hocking County. The other is his son, Dr. Merrill Evans, who like his father was successful in many endeavors. Both Davis and Washam felt Merrill Evans was one of the finer athletes to ever graduate from Jackson High School and both acknowledged that father Leon was quite sports-minded, and rarely missed a ball game. Merrill, who earned his doctorate from Ohio State University, followed in his father's footsteps in being involved in the agricultural industry and retired in 1988 as the executive vice president and general manager of the Farm Bureau Family of Financial Planning Services in West Des Moines, Iowa and still resides in that mid-western state.
Washam remembered that Leon Evans loved to talk at schools, and if he didn't know the child, he probably knew the parents. He also pointed out Evans' dedication to his family, "not only to his but to everyone's family." He said Evans often talked about his involvement with the old Farmers' Institutes which used to be held. Washam said many of the good farms today were a result of the work by the farmers who attended those institutes. "He was a great judge of people's character and saw things in people they didn't even see in themselves," continued Washam. "He helped to keep a lot of people out of trouble. "He lived his religion and shared his wisdom, time and resources with people, and he could have cared less about what social class they might have belonged to," he noted. "He was a fair judge and always had time for everyone. He was a good man and the community was very fortunate to have him. "Leon was one of the finest men I ever met. He rubbed off on a lot of people and positively influenced them," he stated. "It made you feel proud if Leon was proud of you." Washam said Evans could make anyone he talked with feel important and he was also a great counselor and friend to many. "People greatly respected his moral judgment," he said.
Any community or county which has ever enjoyed any degree of success can usually owe that success to a handful of men, individuals like Leon Evans who gave of themselves and their own personal interests to always serve the interest of others. But while there have been other men like Leon Evans, other men who truly tried to match the accomplishments of this man, others who said, "This is the way I want to live" - only a very few have ever reached those goals. To be truthful, there will only ever be one Leon Evans - and we were the chosen people he blessed.
Courtesy of Randy Heath