It’s not everyday you wake up the most famous person from somewhere. But it happened to me this week as Cleveland.com chose yours truly as the “Most Famous Person” from Van Wert County, Ohio!
First, I’m guessing there are more famous and important people from Van Wert County (college football coach Larry Smith, who went to school with my mom and dad, comes to mind). Second, friends and family did not jam the phone lines — American Idol style — with votes on my behalf (the choices from all 88 counties were picked from Cleveland.com staff). Third, after thinking about it for a few days, I’m extremely humbled and honored. It’s actually very, very cool.
The list of the 88 famous Ohioans is incredible:
- Adams County: Jack Roush, owner of Roush Fenway Racing
- Allen County: Phyllis Diller, comedian
- Ashland County: Tim Richmond, NASCAR driver
- Ashtabula County: Urban Meyer, Ohio State head football coach
- Athens County: Sarah Jessica Parker, actress
- Auglaize County: Neil Armstrong, first human to walk on the moon
- Belmont County: John Havlicek, NBA Hall of Famer
- Brown County: Brian Grant, NBA player
- Butler County: Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first MLB Commissioner
- Carroll County: Eddie Maple, jockey, National Racer Hall of Fame
- Champaign County: Pete Dye, World Golf Hall of Fame
- Clark County: John Legend, award winning singer
- Clermont County: Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. president
- Clinton County: Charles Murphy, owner of the Chicago Cubs
- Columbiana County: Mark Hanna, U.S. senator
- Coshocton County: Bob Brenly, MLB player, coach and broadcaster
- Crawford County: Jack Harbaugh, NFL player and coach
- Cuyahoga County: Paul Newman, legendary actor
- Darke County: Annie Oakley, famed sharpshooter
- Defiance County: Don Miller, member of the Notre Dame “Four Horsemen”
- Delaware County: Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th U.S. president
- Erie County: Thomas Edison, inventor
- Fairfield County: William Tecumseh Sherman, Union Army General
- Fayette County: Art Schlichter, Ohio State football player
- Franklin County: Jack Nicklaus, golf legend
- Fulton County: Barney Oldfield, auto racing legend
- Gallia County: Bob Evans, restaurateur
- Geagua County: John Popper, harmonica virtuoso and singer
- Greene County: Woody Hayes, legendary Ohio State coach
- Guernsey County: John Glenn, first astronaut to orbit the earth, U.S. senator
- Hamilton County: Steven Spielberg, famed movie director
- Hancock County: Ben Roethlisberger, NFL quarterback
- Hardin County: Jacob Parrott, first Medal of Honor recipient
- Harrison County: George Armstrong Custer, Union Army General
- Henry County: Chip Davis, founding member of Mannheim Steamroller
- Highland County: Johnny Paycheck, country singer
- Hocking County: Curtis Scaparrotti, Army four-star general
- Holmes County: Alta Weiss, baseball player in men’s minor leagues
- Huron County: Paul Brown, only NFL coach to have team named after him
- Jackson County: Jim Rhodes, four-term Ohio governor
- Jefferson County: Dean Martin, legendary entertainer
- Knox County: Paul Lynde, actor and comedian
- Lake County: Don Shula, NFL coach
- Lawrence County: Bobby Bare, country music singer
- Licking County: Victoria Woodhull, first woman to be nominated for president
- Logan County: Norman Vincent Peale, writer and minister
- Lorain County: Toni Morrison, author
- Lucas County: Gloria Steinem, leader of the feminist movement
- Madison County: Dick LeBeau, NFL Hall of Famer
- Mahoning County: Jack Warner, founder of Warner Brothers
- Marion County: Florence Harding, first lady
- Medina County: Matthew Dunn, comedian and stuntman
- Meigs County: Ambrose Bierce, journalist and author
- Mercer County: Wendell Mobley, country music song writer
- Miami County: Cris Carter, NFL Hall of Famer and broadcaster
- Monroe County: Sad Sam Jones, MLB pitcher
- Montgomery County: Orville Wright, co-inventor of the airplane
- Morgan County: Rufus R. Dawes, Union Army soldier
- Morrow County: Warren G. Harding, 29th U.S. president
- Muskingum County: Zane Grey, author
- Noble County: James Madison Tuttle, Union Army General
- Ottawa County: Crystal Bowersox, singer
- Paulding County: Jesse B. Jackson, humanitarian
- Perry County: James Comly, soldier, journalist, baseball team owner
- Pickaway County: John Holmes, adult movie actor
- Pike County: Branch Rickey, MLB executive who signed Jackie Robinson
- Portage County: Jack Lambert, NFL Hall of Famer
- Preble County: Sherwood Anderson, author
- Putnam County: Dean Jagger, actor
- Richland County: Luke Perry, actor
- Ross County: Nancy Wilson, famed blues, jazz and soul singer
- Sandusky County: Tony Little, television pitchman
- Scioto County: Roy Rogers, western movie actor and singer
- Seneca County: Jay Gruden, NFL coach
- Shelby County: Paul Christian Lauterbur, inventor of the MRI
- Stark County: Marilyn Manson, shock rock singer
- Summit County: LeBron James, NBA player
- Trumbull County: William McKinley, 25th U.S. president
- Tuscarawas County: Cy Young, legendary MLB pitcher
- Union County: Norton P. Chipman, creator of Memorial Day
- Van Wert County: Jim Heath, broadcaster and author
- Vinton County: Maude Collins, Ohio’s first female sheriff
- Warren County: Jerry Lucas, college and NBA standout player
- Washington County: Alf Landon, politician
- Wayne County: Bobby Knight, college basketball player and coach
- Williams County: Paul Allman Siple, created formula for the “wind chill”
- Wood County: Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist ice skater
- Wyandot County: Carl Karcher, created Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants
Ohio, Ohio, Ohio
I shared a few of my memories of growing up in Van Wert in my book Front Row Seat at the Circus:
I was born in Ohio.
As were my brothers and sister.
As were my parents and their parents, and their brothers and sisters, my cousins, my aunts and uncles.
The truth is, my family has deep Buckeye blood. My grandparents lived literally right across the street from each other in my hometown of Van Wert.
That really made life easy as a kid, if you got tired of one set of grandparents you just ran across Washington Street to the other.
My grandfather, Rolden L. Heath, Sr. was elected to the Van Wert City Council for a dozen years without ever having put up any campaign signs.
Those were the good old days when reputation and word of mouth was all a good candidate needed.
My grandmother, Coralie Heath, is most responsible for my love of presidential history.
In the late 1960s she had spent months collecting a set of miniature U.S. presidents from the local Kroger grocery store, which had been releasing a new one each week.
She hand-numbered them, and when I was just two, she let me play with them alongside the little green plastic soldiers and dinosaurs in the bathtub.
Thanks to those statues, my mom likes to tell everyone I learned the names of the presidents before I learned the alphabet.
When we left Ohio and moved to Arizona, my Grandma gave me the set of presidents to take along.
As a kid I would stage mock debates— think Andrew Jackson versus Abraham Lincoln, (how awesome would that be?)—and used the presidents as newscasters on the “news sets” I made out of my Lego blocks (Jefferson was great on weather because his arm stretched out as if pointing to a map.)
The figurines—made by the Marx toy company—still sit proudly on my refrigerator at home to this day. Occasionally they make a special appearance on my Facebook page.
Weird I know.
But from then until now, there is nothing I enjoy more than studying and debating presidential history.
So there you have it. My love of everything presidential started in Van Wert, Ohio. Anything I can do to help make it more “famous” is fine by me!
Thanks again Cleveland.com for the honor!