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January 24, 2021

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Forgotten Bluffton: BHS grad who became mayor of Cleveland

Ralph Locher - also was a member of the Ohio State Supreme Court

Have you ever wonder what famous people were at one time Bluffton residents?

There are several, and this winter this series will identify many of them.

The first is Ralph Locher, a 1932 Bluffton High School graduate, who eventually became mayor of Cleveland and later a member of the Ohio State Supreme Court.

He also served on the Board of Trustees of Bluffton College and is a member of its athletic hall of fame.

Here’s his story:
He was born on July 24, 1915, in Romania to Ephraim and Natalie (Voight) Locher.

His father, a native-born American of Swiss descent whose family had established itself in Bluffton, was a representative of the Standard Oil Company in Romania from 1906-1928.

This service was interrupted for a two-year period by the German occupation of that country during World War I.

During that period the family was supported by Ephraim Locher's brother, Cyrus Locher (1878-1929), former Law Director of the city of Cleveland, and later United States Senator from Ohio. (We will also tell his story in this series.)

Locher’s mother was a Romanian-born descendant of a German family; in later life Locher's membership and activity in both German-American and Romanian-American organizations was used to his advantage in Cleveland's cosmopolitan political scene.

After his family established permanent residence in Bluffton in 1928, Locher graduated from Bluffton High School and spent his freshman year at the University of Dayton.

Upon the death of his father in 1934, he transferred to Bluffton College, from which he graduated after distinguishing himself as a debater.

He attended the Law School of Western Reserve University on a part-time basis until earning a degree of L.L.B. in 1939.

He was admitted to the Ohio bar the same month he received his degree, entered legal practice with the firm of Davis and Young, and married Eleanor Worthington, also a Bluffton HS graduate. (Eleanor's father was owner of Bluffton's Star Theatre, a silent movie theatre on Main Street.)

In 1945, after six years of legal practice, he was appointed Secretary to the Industrial Commission of the State of Ohio by Governor Frank J. Lausche, a former Mayor of Cleveland.

The following year, Governor Lausche reassigned Locher as his Executive Secretary and Legal Counsel.

Locher's career was substantially furthered by this popular Democratic politician. Governor Lausche appointed him a delegate to the National Council on State Government from 1950-1953, and upon Lausche's recommendation, Locher was appointed Law Director of the City of Cleveland by Mayor Anthony J. Celebreeze on Dec. 1, 1953.

During the eight years that followed as Law Director (1953-1962), Locher's energies concentrated on four major areas.

As one of the moving forces in the Community Relations Board, he was actively involved in the prosecution of several early anti-discrimination suits, especially in the areas of employment and union-admission practices.

He testified twice (1956 and 1959) before the Ohio General Assembly on the subject of municipal utility rates and regulations.

In 1958, he became an active supporter of Democrat Stephen M. Young in his successful campaign for the United States Senate against the Republican incumbent John W. Bricker.

Locher gained added prominence in his own right as President of the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers (NIMLO) in 1959, and served as Chairman of NIMLO's Task Force on Bid-Rigging Damages the following year.

Upon the appointment of Mayor Anthony J. Celebreeze as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare by President John F. Kennedy, Locher was named Acting Mayor of Cleveland on March 27, 1962.

His position was immediately challenged by a citizens' suit leading to a special general election the following November, whereby Locher defeated both Republican Willard W. Brown and Democrat Mark McElroy by the largest majority acquired by any mayoral candidate in the history of Cleveland.

The major accomplishment of Locher's first administration was the successful mediation of a 13-week newspaper strike which affected both major dailies in Cleveland.

Locher also spearheaded implementation of the Erieview plan for downtown development and revitalization, which was to become the major concern of his period in office. In the regular general election of 1963, he was reelected without opposition from either major political party.

The year 1964 opened with increasing racial tensions, centered around school desegregation and allegations that school construction maintained segregated school districting.

During a wave of demonstrations, loss of life and much property damage was sustained. School construction was maintained under Locher's orders in support of policies formulated by Ralph McAllister, president of the school board. This decision was to strip almost the entire support of Cleveland's large African American community from Locher.

This year also was to find Locher at the peak of his political activity beyond the local scene. He headed the Speakers' Bureau for Stephen M. Young's successful campaign for reelection to the United States Senate, hosted the 1964 Governors' Conference, and served as delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention.

After the election. Locher was to carry on a significant correspondence with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who then served as President Johnson's liaison to local government.

Locher won reelection for his second complete term in 1965 after an exceptionally narrow four-way contest with Carl B. Stokes (Independent), Ralph J. Perk (Republican), and Ralph McAllister (Democrat), which was finalized only after a recount.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Locher a representative to the International Trade Fair held at Budapest, Hungary, in May 1966.

The following month, Locher hosted a national conference of mayors held at the request of Vice President Humphrey. Locher also testified before a United States House of Representatives sub-committee on behalf of the "Model Cities" Bill drafted as part of the national "War on Poverty."

Following his years as Cleveland’s mayor, Locher returned to private legal practice, however, he returned to public service, being elected Judge to the Cuyahoga County court of Common Pleas in 1968 without opposition.

In 1972, he was elected to the Cuyahoga County Probate Court.

In 1976 he ran for justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, was elected and served from 1976-89, when he retired from full-time judicial service. He died in 2004.

Today Ralph Locher is a part of forgotten Bluffton.