PORTAGE PATHWAYS: 'Country gentleman' Frank Derthick was force for progress

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

Frank A. Derthick was a farmer and much more.

In addition to engaging in agriculture and cultivating orchards on his farm near Mantua Center, he also lectured on agriculture for a half-century, was active in the Grange movement, led school reform efforts and served as state food and dairy commissioner in the late 19th Century.

"Mr. Derthick was a 'country gentleman' in the full sense of the word," an account in The Ohio Teacher noted following his death in 1922. "He lived ... an exemplary life."

Born Jan. 3, 1844, in Copley, he was reared in Bedford and educated in rural schools until enrolling at the Western Eclectic Institute, the forerunner of Hiram College. His education there was interrupted by the Civil War; he enlisted in the Union Army and finished his schooling at Oberlin Business College following the war. He settled permanently in Portage County following his marriage to Perlea Moore of Mantua in 1866.

As a young farmer, he became active in the Grange movement, which arose following the Civil War as an advocacy group for modern farm methods. He became active locally and later served as state master of the Grange as well as holding a national post with the organization. It was said that he visited every one of Ohio's 88 counties during his years with the Grange.

His involvement with the Grange in the 1880s led him to propose the establishment of a state food and dairy department. His proposal led to its creation, and he was named state food and dairy commissioner in 1888, a post he held for six years.

Under his leadership, the Ohio agency pioneered in statutory regulation of the dairy industry. He was instrumental in passage of what was known as the "bogus butter" law that laid down guidelines for the sale of oleomargarine, which dairy farmers contended was inferior to butter. The Ohio law eventually became the basis for federal legislation.

In addition to his efforts on behalf of agriculture, Derthick became known statewide for his efforts to improve educational opportunities for farm children, whose schooling often was limited to relatively brief stints in one-room district schoolhouses. Serving for 10 years as president of the Ohio School Improvement Federation, he urged the consolidation of rural schools as a means of providing rural youngsters with better schooling.

He continued his own education by returning to Hiram College and earning a master's degree. He served as a Hiram trustee from 1889 until shortly before his death, and also served for many years as a trustee of Ohio State University and on the board of the State Agricultural Experimental Station in Wooster.

"In every capacity he was faithful and efficient," The Ohio Teacher reported. "His judgment was sound. He was broad-minded and unselfish. In his rich, helpful life ... he was strong and vigorous intellectually, physically and morally."

He and his wife reared five children; all attended Hiram College for at least one year. He was active in the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) for 50 years.

Frank A. Derthick died on Jan. 4, 1922, one day after his 78th birthday.

"He was interested in the upbuilding of his community," his eulogist observed. "In the life of Hon. F.A. Derthick, Ohio has a type of what a farmer and country resident can do and be. In his death scores of people feel that they have lost a true, loyal, helpful friend. A prince has fallen."

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