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Judge and Mayor Ralph S. Locher

By Fred Steiner

Ralph Sidney Locher

July 24, 1915 – June 18, 2004
1932 Bluffton High School graduate
1936 Bluffton College graduate

Using politic jargon, he’s Bluffton’s Favorite Son.

Ralph S. Locher, a 1932 Bluffton High School and 1936 Bluffton College graduate, as a Democrat, earned this title by becoming mayor of Cleveland and later a member of the Ohio Supreme Court.

These Ohio political achievements resulted from Locher’s own determination and a mentorship from his uncle, Cyrus Locher, also a Democrat and rural Bluffton native son, who himself was a United States Senator from Ohio in 1928.

Born an American citizen in Moraine, Romania, Ralph and his older brother, Walter, arrived in Bluffton with their parents, Ephraim and Natalie Voight Locher, in 1928.

Ephraim, a native-born American of Swiss descent,  grew up in the Bluffton-Pandora Swiss Settlement. This made Ralph a third generation American as his paternal grandparents, Christian and Fanny Luginbuhl Locher, born in Switzerland,  had immigrated to our Swiss Settlement. Locher’s Romanian mother proved Bluffton is an interesting example of America’s melting pot. 

Locher’s father moved to Romania as a representative of the Standard Oil Co., living there from 1906 to 1928. This was interrupted for a two-year period by the German occupation of that country during World War I.

Locher’s mother was a Romanian-born descendant of a German family. Because of these close European connections, Locher's membership and activity in German-American and Romanian-American organizations were used to his advantage later in Cleveland's political scene. His Romanian connection resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s appointing him as the U.S. representative to the International Trade Fair in Budapest, Hungary, in May, 1966.

Here’s his story:

Coming to Bluffton in 1928, Locher spent his four high school years in Bluffton. 

At BHS his success on the high school debate team was impressive. A team of Locher, Gordon Alderfer and Don Smucker, coached by Paul Stauffer, himself in his second year as a teacher, defeated Canton McKinley High School’s team 2 to 1 in the state high school debate tournament. Stories on Alderfer and Smucker will eventually join these outstanding alumni profiles.

Locher called his debating interest a hobby, although he had many other high school interests: 
• as a sophomore he was a member of the student senate and class president
• as a junior he was on the yearbook staff and Senior Hi Y Club
• as a senior he edited the yearbook, was student senate vice-president, played on the BHS Mid West League football championship team and was elected as a National Athletic Scholarship member.

Following high school, Locher enrolled at the University Dayton but, following his father’s early death in 1934, he transferred to Bluffton College where he graduated in 1936.

His final residency in Bluffton was 1936, when he moved to Cleveland as a law student at Western Reserve University. He earned his law degree in 1939, passed the Ohio Bar exam that year and joined the Cleveland law firm of Davis & Young.

However, he never really left Bluffton, as several circumstances continued to bring him home, in addition to his love for locally-produced smoked sausage.

His aunt, Mary Diller, lived in Bluffton and  the parents of his wife, Eleanor Worthington, also a Bluffton High School 1932 graduate, lived in Bluffton. The Bluffton News, of which he was a lifelong subscriber, kept regular tabs on his Bluffton visits and political advances.

In addition, he served on the Bluffton College board of trustees for 18 years, and following his 1988 departure was named an honorary board member. He was also named to the Bluffton College Athletic Hall of Fame.

He and his wife created a Bluffton College student endowed scholarship in their name. In 1978 he was granted an honorary doctorate from Bluffton College.

Examples of the Bluffton News stories keeping tabs on Locher demonstrate local color infused to otherwise straight political news stories:

November, 1945 – If you saw in the Columbus Sunday newspaper the picture of the occupants of governor’s box seats at the Ohio-Illinois football game, you probably recognized Mr. and Mrs. A.T. Worthington, sitting behind Governor and Mrs. Lausche. The Worthingtons took in the game as guests of the governor while spending the weekend with their daughter Mrs. Eleanor Locher and family. Her husband, Ralph Locher, former Cleveland attorney is personal secretary to the governor.

February, 1950 – Ralph Locher, former Blufftonite, now executive secretary to Gov. Lausche is an old hand when it comes to press conferences. The governor’s office, besieged as it always is by newspaper reporters, Ralph had had a lot of experience in relations with the press – however, he had a brand new one Friday.

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