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Published: Friday, 1/9/2009

Veteran Lima school leader 'lived diversity'

LIMA, Ohio - Earl A. McGovern, 80, the longest-serving superintendent in the Lima City Schools who carried out a desegregation settlement with the federal government, died Monday in Lima Convalescent Center from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

At his retirement in 1985, after 20 years, Mr. McGovern was made superintendent emeritus. He was called back to active service 15 years later, serving most of 2000 as the interim superintendent until the board of education could hire a new leader of the district.

In February, 2003, the Lima Board of Education named the administration building the Dr. Earl A. McGovern Educational Center.

"He came here, and he loved this community," his wife, Lila, said. "The reason he did was that he felt this community valued education. A lot of people gave up a lot to pass levies - not every time, but they were hard-working people and knew education was important and were nice people.

"He was a very, very honest person," his wife said. "He didn't hedge, and he would speak his mind. He was a very dedicated person."

Mr. McGovern, hired as superintendent in 1965, was a supporter of equal opportunity and diversity long before he came to Lima, his wife said. He'd already been a consultant for the U.S. District Court on the integration of the Oklahoma City school district.

In early 1984, an out-of-court settlement between the Lima school district and the Justice Department ended a desegregation lawsuit the federal government filed several years earlier. One part of the agreement called for the district to create magnet schools to attract an integrated enrollment.

For years before, he actively recruited black teachers to the Lima schools, even sending recruitment teams to the South. He made sure there was equal representation on student committees.

"We knew that he cared, black and white students and black and white teachers," said Karan Longbrake, a retired theater teacher at Lima Senior High School. "He lived diversity."

Mr. McGovern was known for his detailed remarks at the opening day ceremony each school year for faculty and staff, during which he reported on all the changes over the summer, from new roofs to new books.

He introduced new teachers, saying something personal about each.

He ended with, "Go forth and teach. Go forth and gladly teach," Miss Longbrake said, adding that "after the second or third year, we would say it with him."

He also was known for his personal touch. He visited each school regularly, attended athletic events, and plays.

A theater buff, "he loved coming to my plays and wrote me notes after each one - the first time he saw it on Broadway," Miss Longbrake said. "It was personal and involved.

"He thought of his teachers with personal relationship. He really felt we deserved this attention, so I'm not the only one," she said. "If someone took a group of kids on a field trip, he wrote a personal note that said, 'I hope you had a great time, and I hope you represented the school well.'•

"Not only did he handle [the district's] finances better than anyone before or after, but he also had the personal involvement. He was a gem."

After retiring as superintendent, he taught at the University of Dayton and was a consultant for the Ohio Department of Education. He was an executive vice president for Tilton Corp. in Lima.

In 1992, he was president and chief executive officer of the Lima Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. McGovern was a past president of the Mid-American Association of School Superintendents. He was a past executive committee member of the Buckeye Association of School Administration.

He took part in many business and civic organizations as well.

He was a past president of the Lima Public Library and of the Lima Memorial Hospital board.

Mr. McGovern was on the boards of the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima and of Fifth Third Bank of Western Ohio. He was a past president of the Lima Rotary Club.

He was a past president and a past campaign chairman of the United Way of Greater Lima.

He also was past chairman of the Lima-Allen County Economic Development Council.

In addition, he twice in retirement was chairman of successful levy campaigns for the Shawnee Local Schools.

Mr. McGovern grew up in Parma, Ohio. He knew he wanted to be an educator from age 16, inspired by an aunt who was an education professional.

"He was very much an advocate that all people should have an education, and a good education. It didn't matter what district you were in," his wife said. "It's remarkable to me that he was 16 and he felt that way."

Mr. McGovern was in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, assigned to be a researcher in Washington.

He received a bachelor's degree from Miami University in 1951 and a master's degree in education from Harvard University in 1955.

He was an elementary school teacher in Parma for a year before he was tapped at 26 to be principal of a 1,200 student elementary school.

Conducting research was an interest of his, too, his wife said.

After he received a doctorate in 1959 from Columbia University in New York City, he became an assistant director of research for the Educational Research Counsel of Greater Cleveland.

From 1962-1965, he was an assistant to the superintendent of the New Rochelle, N.Y., schools.

He also served as a consultant to the University of Notre Dame and the New York state education department.

"When you look at his resume, it's just amazing," his wife said.

Mr. McGovern was an elder of Market Street Presbyterian Church.

Surviving are his wife, Lila, whom he married June 16, 1956, and brother, Donald McGovern.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Chiles-Laman Funeral Homes' Shawnee Chapel. Services will be at 11 a.m. Jan. 16 in Market Street Presbyterian Church, Lima.

The family suggests tributes to the Lima Convalescent Home.



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