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Published: Monday, 3/5/2001

Local leaders hail guidance that helped shape region

Back in the early 1960s, current Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas was a Toledo city councilman when he got a call one day from Governor James Rhodes.

The governor had a daunting proposal.

“He explained to me there was some land out in Wood County. He said, `You will have to put water and sewer lines out there.' I said, `Governor, I need more than that.'

“He said, `And you will do it in eight weeks.'”

“Governor Rhodes told me: `We are going to build a Chrysler plant, and they need this done. You will have the total cooperation and the power of the governor's office and the state legislature at your disposal to get this done,'” Mr. Douglas recalled.

Governor Rhodes was speaking from strength: He was making the call from the office of the chairman of the board of Chrysler Corp.

The city complied, and the utility lines went in; the Chrysler plant opened in 1965 in Perrysburg Township. It is among the region's largest employers and employs about 2,100 people.

Over 16 years and four terms, Mr. Rhodes' legacy in northwest Ohio is lasting: Highways were built, colleges were expanded, factories rose from cornfields, and one of the state's most popular parks took shape.

In the 1960s, Mr. Rhodes made several trips to Toledo to commemorate the opening of various roadways and public buildings, including portions of I-475 and Medical College of Ohio. In 1968, Mr. Rhodes promised to speed up the completion of nearly 50 miles of interstate highway through Toledo.

The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University received millions of dollars in the 1960s and 1970s for the construction of classroom facilities and other buildings under the governor's capital improvement budgets.

Mr. Rhodes was instrumental in the development and expansion of businesses and industry in the Toledo area, providing jobs for thousands workers.

“He did more for Toledo than any governor,” said Martin Janis, a Toledo civic activist and former president of the Toledo Zoological Society who was a member of Mr. Rhodes' cabinet.

“He did do a lot, and I always respected him for that reason. He and I have been good friends for over 40 years. I got to know him when I was in the legislature in 1960 and 1961.”

Mr. Janis, a former state representative, was a top administrator for all 15 years of Mr. Rhode's' tenure as governor.

Mr. Martin was elected to the Ohio House in 1960. He was appointed director of the state's former Department of Mental Hygiene and Correction by Mr. Rhodes in 1963.

Two years later he established the Administration on Aging within the department. He was director of the Commission on Aging during the governor's second two terms.

William Keip, who was budget director and administrative services director in the 1970s, said Mr. Rhodes was always thinking of ways to improve all of Ohio.

“He was passionate about all areas of government. He certainly understood the needs of Toledo and the northwest part of Ohio, which certainly were part of his overall capital plans and operating budgets,” said Mr. Keip, a Maumee native and University of Toledo graduate.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Keip said, Mr. Rhodes provided $10 million in seed money for a University of Toledo convocation center, which eventually was built in conjunction with the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo.

“Jim Rhodes was the first governor who paid attention to Toledo and northwest Ohio. But he paid attention to every other part of the state too,” said John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. Mr. Rhodes worked with Mr. Block's father, Paul Block, Jr., to put Medical College of Ohio in South Toledo.

“His tremendous energy and irrepressible personality enabled him to be involved with programs and projects throughout Ohio at the same time,” John Block said. “He had time for everybody, for every region of Ohio. He's the only one in my lifetime who did and the only one in my father's lifetime who did.”

In 1978, Mr. Rhodes put together a multimillion dollar financial loan package to expand production at the Toledo Jeep Plant, which was then owned by the former American Motors Corp.

Mr. Rhodes showed up that year to celebrate the 150,000th Jeep vehicle rolling off the assembly line at the plant. He pledged to buy the Jeep CJ-7 that he drove off the production line.

In a trip to Toledo in 1976, Mr. Rhodes promised that a full-range recreation area with a lodge and cabins would be built on Lake Erie in Oregon or Jerusalem Township. The governor's budget in 1977 provided $5 million for Maumee Bay State Park, which opened in 1991.



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