19th Amendment: Women shaping local government

PARKERSBURG – Women have played a prominent role in shaping local governments throughout the area and beyond.

From city councils to county commissions to becoming mayors, state senators and one even reached the office of governor in Ohio…although only for 11 days, women have formed policy, procedures and laws throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley and impacted both Ohio and West Virginia.

State Senator Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, was originally appointed to the West Virginia Senate 35 years ago (this past May) by Governor Arch Moore and has won every election for it since. She is currently running for her 10th term in the Senate and is currently the longest continuing serving member.

At different points she was the only Republican in the Senate and at other times she was the only woman in the Senate.

This past year there were three women in the Senate and they have had as many as seven.

”It is nice to have more women in the Senate,” she said. ”Hopefully, we will get some more elected this time.

”I know there are a lot of women running this time.”

Boley finds it hard to believe sometimes that Republicans have the majority in the Senate (gaining it in 2014) after many years of the Democrats controlling both houses of the state legislature.

Boley now chairs the Confirmation Committee and is President Pro Tem of the Senate. The legislature has a committee which she serves on which has planned a number of activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Some had to be canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

”We are still meeting and planning things,” Boley said.

She has worked on a lot of legislation over the years to help the state with its finances, encourage business development, keep taxes low, help different people in a variety of ways and more, supporting a lot of bi-partisan efforts to help get things done.

”I think women listen to a lot of their constituents on legislation,” Boley said. ”A lot of the legislation dealing with families and education comes from women.”

Boley pointed to Senator Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, who introduced 100 bills during the last session. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, has also been doing a lot of work.

”Those are two hardworking ladies,” Boley said. ”It is good to have the women there.

”They bring a different perspective to many of the bills.”

Boley herself is consulted on a lot of things from a historical perspective about how things were done and how things happened years ago in her earlier career.

”People respect the historical information I can give them after 35 years,” she said.

Any divides these day are more between Democrats and Republicans than men and women, Boley said.

Boley said she has always tried to make herself available to her constituents. Being retired, she has devoted a lot of her time to her Senate work. People also regularly contact her with questions about government or looking for information on what state agencies can help them with a particular problem.

“I have been there long enough to know where to send them,” she said.

Parkersburg Attorney Walt Auvil points to former Wood County Commissioner Jean Grapes as having a long-term impact on the area. Grapes, a Democrat, served on the commission from 1990 to 1996, the only woman to do so to date. She entered the field of real estate sales in 1963, soon owning and operating her own real estate agency as the first female real estate broker in Wood County. She remained active through Dec. 6, 2016, before retiring. She died January 13, 2017 at the age of 86.

Grapes was involved in the Democratic Party at various levels throughout her life.

”There were so many aspects to Jean,” Auvil said.

Auvil said she made a number of impacts to the area, most notably securing million of dollars from the operators of the hydroplant in Belleville to give the county money in lieu of taxes.

He credited Grapes’ dedication, negotiating skills and tenacity in getting that money for local governments and schools.

Auvil said in the beginning the company came before the county commission and basically said they were going to build it and were not going to pay any local taxes.

“Jean was to too happy about that,” he said as other municipalities along the Ohio River had seen such benefits from similar plants in tax and other revenue.

After not getting very far in negotiating, Grapes went to then Governor Gaston Caperton and the legislature and got a bill passed where such facilities would have to pay taxes to the county by the virtue of them being built.

”(The people with the plant) did not want that prescience set of having a law passed,” Auvil said. ”They decided to then negotiate.

”They agreed to pay millions in lieu of taxes if she agreed not to push the bill.”

Grapes was able to get Caperton to veto the bill.

”It was a prime example to me of Jean Grapes in action,” Auvil said. ”Trying first to negotiate it and work it out.

”When that didn’t work, she knew there was more than one way to skin a cat. And by golly, she went to work to skin it.”

People listened to Grapes from governors to lawmakers to business leaders.

”No one wanted to say ‘no’ to Jean,” Auvil said. ”She would chew your ear off.

”This showed that one person in the right place at the right time can make something happen.”

Grapes didn’t have to do what she did, but she felt it was wasn’t fair that other people in other areas got such benefits and Wood County wouldn’t get anything.

”She acted on her principles,” he said.

Auvil recalled seeing a picture of Caperton talking to Grapes, around the time the bill was vetoed. He recalled how the governor was leaning over so he could hear everything Grapes was saying in his ear as Grapes was not very tall, a place he had found himself many times.

”He was getting an earful of wisdom from Jean Grapes,” Auvil said. ”I knew exactly what was happening.”

The hydroplant situation is what defined Grapes for Auvil.

Auvil said Grapes upbringing shaped how she dealt with a lot in life. She was born born poor on a farm in Wirt County during the Great Depression and had to work for everything she had.

As poor as they were, her family would go around to neighbors who didn’t have any food and gave them a little to help them get by.

”That was an example to her on how to treat other people,” Auvil said. ”She tried to look out for people in a way modeling herself on that from her early days.”

Officials with the Washington County Republican Party points to Nancy Hollister, born in Marietta, Ohio who eventually served as the governor of Ohio…for 11 days.

Hollister was first elected to Marietta City Council in the early 1980s and elected Mayor in 1984, according to her bio on the Ohio Republican Women website.

”… she promoted tourism, business development and helped secure funding for a new bridge across the Ohio River,” according to the site.

She served as mayor until 1991 when she was appointed as the Director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, “a position which allowed her to improve life in Ohio’s 29 Appalachian counties,” the website said.

Hollister was elected Lt. Governor in 1994 and served until Dec. 31, 1998. When then Gov. George Voinovich was elected to the U.S. Senate, he had to resign at the end of 1998 to be able to be sworn in, making Hollister Governor for under two weeks until Governor-elect Bob Taft could be sworn in.

Hollister served as governor for 11 days and to-date has been Ohio’s only female governor.

She has remained active serving in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005, on the Board of trustees of Ohio History Connection, Friends of the Museums and the state Board of Education.

LaTrelle Ellis, the leader of the Washington County Chapter of Republican Women, also pointed out the contributions of other local women including Ronna McDaniel, Chairman of Republican National Committee; Mary Taylor, Former Ohio Lt. Governor, Candidate for Governor; Cindy Oxender, Marietta City Council; Cassidy Shoaf, Marietta City Council; Judy Drake, Belpre City Council; Marilyn Ashcraft who works with the Ohio Republican Party; and LeeAnn Johnson of the State Central Committee, 30th district and the Co-Chair of Ohio Women for Trump Coalition; who is also the wife of U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson.

Ellis also mentioned former Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford of Williamstown. She had been mayor for many terms, as well as running her business Mel’s Diamond House in Vienna.

”These women have a passion for justice, using untapped potential for the good of mankind, and love of freedom and country,” Ellis said. ”Wanting our communities and schools reinforcing family values is a driving force for most of these women.”

Women have made big contributions as the mayor of Parkersburg.

Parkersburg City Clerk Connie Shaffer recalls the lives and contributions of Mayor Pat Summers Pappas, who served as mayor from 1982 to 1985, and Mayor Helen Gerwig Albright, who served as mayor from 1990 to 1993.

Mayor Pappas had previously served on the Municipal Planning Commission for the City of Parkersburg before running for Mayor.

She was heavily involved in the arts and many other community programs, Shaffer said.

If Pappas thought something needed to happen, she was on the phone with the appropriate people.

”She was interested in government at all levels, and would not hesitate to pick up the phone and call legislators, either local with the Wood County Commission, WV State officials or Washington D. C.,” Shaffer said. ”She was very detailed oriented.”

Her parents were involved in the community as well. Her father started a photo company in Coolville, Ohio; and there is a room at the Parkersburg-Wood County Library dedicated to the Summers family, and also a room at the Art Center.

”While Mayor Pappas was in office, we started the fleet plan for the Parkersburg Police Department, and the beginning of URA Parcel #1, then known as Towne Square, and more recently known as Wood County offices,” Shaffer said.

Mayor Albright had previously served two terms on Parkersburg City Council before being elected as Mayor.

”Mayor Albright was one of our most conservative mayors, and she started our first Street Cleaning and Snow Removal division of Public Works,” Shaffer said.

Her family co-owned the Bentley & Gerwig Furniture Company in 1912 Parkersburg. Her childhood home is still standing at the corner of 8th and Juliana Streets.

Shaffer said both Shaffer and Albright were dedicated to the city, its success and worked hard to accomplish that.

”Both Mayor Pappas and Mayor Albright were confident, educated women, and they and their families were well known among the citizens,” Shaffer said. ”They both approached running for office as if this had been their goal for several years, and they both won their election on their first attempt.”

Willa O’Neill of the Washington County Democratic Party said many of the candidates in their local races for the November election are women.

”In all of our local races we have women running,” she said. ”Democratic women are out there running to make a difference.”

O’Neill said women bring a different way at looking at situations and with a different perspective. They are trying to find the best outcome for everyone.

”What they are looking for is to reach a goal and accomplish something,” she said. ”They do that by reaching consensus and working together.

”It is a win-win for everyone. They aren’t looking in terms of winners and losers.”

Democratic women are running to get their voices heard, speaking for women and families.

”I think that is what women bring to the table,” O’Neill said. ”They are very family oriented.

”What is good for families is legislation they are concerned with.”


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