Off the Record May 4, 1948

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The recent death of the late Judge David Ladd Rockwell brought back vividly to my mind the struggle whereby the present school for the feeble minded was secured for Apple Creek around 22 or 23 years ago this summer. Judge Rockwell was buried at his hold house in Portage County after a long and colorful career. Most anyone down in Apple Creek, especially Charley Stucker and a number of leading citizens, will remember when Sam Bell went through that vicinity and secured options on a number of farms most of which, with some additions, were included when the present site was purchased by the state. There were sites near several cities offered in Northern Ohio, but they finally narrowed down to sites near New London to Ravenna and to the Apple Creek site. The Ravenna site was owned by Bill Pew, having slightly over reacted and he needed a lot of money. There were no available purchasers for this farm of several hundred acres, so Mr. Pew made some arrangements with Judge Rockwell to sell the farm to the state for the feeble minded institution. The late Wesley M Zaugg, a Wooster banker, was president of the Wooster Board of Trade while I was chairman of the New Industries committee. One day Wesley called me in that rather dark room of his where the president of the bank conferred with folks, before the Commercial Banking & Trust Company, The was rebuilt and told me of the desirability of having that institution for Wayne County and ending with the request to go get it. Well, that was a fairly large order. Sam Bell had done the preliminary spade work and he had a sort of working arrangement with a New London young man who was a state employee, claiming to have a pull and who had written pull. One day, Eli Brenner got a hold of the letter and in minutes, Sam Dawson, photographer, had a photo static copy of it. Down at Columbus, auditor Lawrey and attorney general Crabbe had heard of the letter and had promised Eli Brenner and myself to be for Wooster if we got a copy of it. Mr. Crabbe had also promised not to use it but when he got the New London man on the stand, he could get nothing from him. In fact, the latter was playing rings around the attorney general and Mr. Crabbe finally sprang the copy of the letter to Sam Bell to save his face. Anyway, this letter did not get us anywhere in particular, for we had only two votes on the state finance committee of five, namely Tracey and Crabbe, and sometimes they showed indications that they might not stay any too well put. Former Mayor M.R. Limb, was working for the support of the governor. The governor, Vic Donahey was ex officio chairman of the committee. However, he was seldom on the job at the meetings and finance Baker was empowered to act in his place.

The lines were sharply drawn on Friday of the last week in August when the state fair was in progress. The battle had surged back and forth all spring and summer and had narrowed strictly to Bill Pew’s place as represented by Judge Rockwell and the Apple Creek site as represented by all of us. Eli Brenner and I had been in Columbus several days trying to line up the proposition. Dr. Limb had arrived that day and the three of us visited Gov. Donahey, who promised to be at the meeting and himself see the thing come to Wayne County. But when the meeting was called, Gov. Donahey was at the fair and all efforts to get him away were unavailing. He would rather watch the races then get into a tight political tangle. In the morning, Harry Carpenter, a member of the finance committee, whom Eli and I had been waiting to see, strolled briskly into the Neil House, and Judge Rockwell appeared from just nowhere and asked him if he had breakfast. He marched him off at once. They already had a second member and they were depending upon Gov. Donahey for the third the same as we were. And the governor was at the fair. The old speeches which had been made many times before, were made at the meeting. The room was crowded. A large delegation was down from Wooster and Apple Creek. There were speeches in favor of the Apple Creek site by John McSweeney. Dr. Limb and a lot of citizens were present. Judge Rockwell, speaking for Ravenna, admitted Wooster was a good town but he added its just a good town to drive through. After the meeting had been all tied up by attorney general Crabbe on the question of what to be done with some oil leases if Apple Creek was chosen, it looked as if there was to be another adjournment. I happened to get in conservation with Gov. Donahey’s confidential secretary, his son-in-law James E Huffman, recently United States senator. Jim Huffman told of many of his experiences in Wooster, notably as a former Chautauqua program where he was platform manager. I mulled the thing over for a minute or so and then said, “Mr. Huffman, Gov. Donahey promised to be at the meeting this afternoon and settle this thing. He has had us running around in circles all spring and summer. You know he has promised us he would be for us and he has probably not turned down the other side either. Now you will have to light somewhere and why not just take that yellow piece of paper over there, write a note to Mr. Baker and tell him to vote for the Apple Creek site and all will be over?” “Oh, but Judge Rockwell would be furious if I would do that.” said Mr. Huffman. Well, we told him he will have to light somewhere sometime and to see that great big crowd in there from Wooster, including Dr. Limb and John McSweeney. They would be furious if you light on the other side. I gave the good Jim Huffman everything I had and a bit more. Finally he picked up the yellow paper and wrote a note to Mr. Baker, “Suggest you end this thing by voting for the Apple Creek site.” They were not the very words but that was the gist of the message. Sooner than it takes to tell it, I had that note in the next room and had it neatly folded and passed it to Mr. Baker. The latter, took it, sensed it was something important, got it clear down under his desk and surrounded by his hands and read it. The conversation had apparently went on and it looked as if it would continue. “Seems we have discussed this question long enough. Those oil leases should not stand in our way. I move we adjourn for a few minutes, while Mrs. Clarke draws up an agreement to purchase the Apple Creek site,” stated Mr. Baker. That was it. And all there was to it. I had time to telephone Pat Hauenstine and get it in the paper that same day. And after it was all decided, Gov. Donahey approved almost miraculously and Robert F Woods introduced a number of stanch Republicans to him as his Democratic supporters from Wayne County. And Judge Rockwell, who asked “How did you do it?” afterwards gave me a good business tip that has worked wonderfully for the success in our enterprise at Ravenna and Kent. And Bill Few, who shed a big tear and thought all was lost, afterward sold his big farm to Congressman Bohan of Cleveland, who developed it into a wonderful Guernsey cattle farm which was later taken over by the government and is now a part of the famous Ravenna Arsenal.