Joe Hermiller, 1925-2010: Bowsher teacher started quiz bowl league


Joe Hermiller, who taught history at Bowsher High School until he was 75 and founded a high school quiz bowl league that competed around northwest Ohio, died Thursday in nursing care at the Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek in Springfield Township. He was 84.

The cause was not known, his wife, Mary Lou, said.

For years, he dealt with complications of multiple sclerosis.

At first, his fingers went numb as he wrote with chalk on the board. Later, he needed a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair to get around.

"He was an unusual person. He absolutely never complained," his wife said. "That's one of the things that drew people to him. He made the best of what he had, and he certainly did a lot in teaching and in the high school quiz bowl. He took on more chores than able-bodied people."

The school created a parking spot for him. One colleague helped him get into school in the morning; another helped him out to his car in the afternoon.

"Universally we admired the dedication and the stamina he put into his teaching," said Dave Pugh, a retired Bowsher colleague who helped with the quiz bowl. "He was a real scholar. He knew his material and he was serious about it."

Mr. Hermiller plain liked American history, his wife said.

"We visited just about every fort and every battlefield in the United States in the 55 years we were married," she said.

During 15 years at Jones Junior High School and for more than 30 at Bowsher, he drew students in by making vivid the stories of history. He was more interested in why an event happened than in dates and data.

His stories were so captivating that his wife during a recent illness would say, "•'Joe, I need a history story,'•" she recalled last night.

His storytelling made him popular, but he was not an easy teacher, his wife said. He regularly assigned term papers and taught advanced placement courses.

"He loved teenagers, and he was just determined to give them the best education and, in the case of quiz bowl, the best enjoyment they could have," his wife said. "He took it upon himself to go the extra mile."

With quiz bowl, he noticed that teams competing on local television programs were done after they were eliminated. He knew schools wouldn't expect to have a decent sports team if it only played once.

"He started a league which in effect operated like a football or basketball league, with match after match after match," Mr. Pugh said. "He took a great deal of pleasure in seeing the students he worked with have the opportunity to compete, succeed, and it was an opportunity that wouldn't have been there if he hadn't been willing to take it on. You could just see him smile when somebody had a success."

There was a constant waiting list of schools eager to get in the league, which was limited to 15 teams, his wife said.

For his work with his Bowsher team and the league, he received the 1999 Benjamin Cooper Quiz Bowl Ambassador Award from the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence, which holds the annual National Scholastics Championship.

He was born Dec. 9, 1925, to Anna and Oscar Hermiller and lived on Upton Avenue. He graduated from Central Catholic High School.

He was a Jesuit seminarian for eight years in Milford, Ohio, and New Baden Springs, Ind., leaving before ordination. As a result of his studies in seminary, he received bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Loyola University, Chicago.

He taught for a year at a Jesuit high school in Chicago and returned to his hometown, where he taught full time for 1 1/2 years and part time for more than 20 years at the former Mary Manse College.

He was a high school football fan and followed Bowsher and Central Catholic, plus St. John's Jesuit, which his sons attended.

He was dedicated to the Toledo Mud Hens and went to games long after he used a scooter to get around.

Surviving are his wife, Mary Lou, whom he married Aug. 20, 1955; sons, James and Thomas, and daughter, Susan Hermiller.

Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. today in the Coyle Funeral Home, where a vigil service will be at 7 tonight. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Church, where he was a member since 1957.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

or 419-724-6182.