Homecoming Week in Montpelier, Ohio is always something special. On the evening of October 30, the Homecoming celebrations culminated with the hometown boys dealing a 20-2 thrashing to TAAC rival Ottawa Hills. There was another homecoming celebration in the Land of the Locomotives that took place the day prior on October 29, this one featuring the return of a prominent hometown hero. It was on that day that Montpelier native, Class of 1995 member and current Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, returned to his old stomping grounds for what was titled, A Homecoming for Ohio’s Future.
The first stop of the day for Mr. Husted was a ‘meet-and-greet’ event hosted by Derrow-Shirkey Ford – Lincoln at their dealership on East High Street at 2:00 p.m. Several old friends turned out to welcome the Secretary home, and to talk about subjects ranging from the old days to the current. From 3:30 until 5:00, Mr. Husted attended a private event, then his entourage made its way to Hobe Krouse Field, where a tailgate party awaited under threatening skies.
Mike Bumb and Joe Brigle of the Montpelier School District greeted Mr. Husted at the field house, and escorted him to the practice field where the Locomotive football team was engaged in intense practice for the game against Ottawa Hills the following evening. After practice, Head Coach Steve Brancheau called the team over to where Husted, Bumb and Brigle were standing, and as the team took a knee, he introduced the Secretary to the them. Coach Brancheau made it a point to note that not only did Mr. Husted once wear the same uniform and play on the same field, he still holds the mark for five touchdowns in a game. Looking out to running back Austin Grubb, who tied the rushing touchdown mark of four earlier in the year against Lima Perry, Coach Brancheau said, “You’ve got some work to do.” Mr. Husted drew a laugh when he said, “And I did it on only four touches.” One of those scores still stands out in the Montpelier record books, an interception that Husted returned 95 yards for a touchdown against Delta. That play would be recalled later in the event.
Coach Brancheau then stepped back and turned his team over to Mr. Husted, who delivered a talk about making memories while building character. “There’s nothing better in life than having your greatest memories made right here, in what you’re doing right now,” he said. “The question is…what are you going to make those memories? You’ve got a minimum of five games left…what kind of memories are you going to make? When you’re standing here like an old guy like me, you’ll look back and say, ‘This is what I did.’ You have a chance to make the playoffs, which is everybody’s goal in the end, right? What are you going to do about it? Maybe the other team scores and goes up a touchdown…are you going to quit? No! Maybe you get a touchdown and go ahead. Are you going to take it easy, or are you going to go up two touchdowns? That’s the difference between winning and losing. It’s who puts the effort forward, plays every play to the very end, and doesn’t quit when it gets tough.”
“You want to know something,” Mr. Husted continued. “…that’s not just character on the football field. You’ll carry it with you for the rest of your life. You’re going to be faced with situations, and you’re going to look back, draw strength from what you’re doing right now, and you’re going to say, ‘Yeah…I remember it was tough, but I didn’t quit. The other guy quit…I didn’t quit.’” Mr. Husted called the team into a huddle, and after leading a team prayer, dismissed them and headed back to the field house as the threat of rain began to become a reality.
Receiving the occasional shielding of a friendly umbrella in passing, Mr. Husted stopped and spoke with anyone wanting to talk with him…whether they had an umbrella or not. By the time that he made it out to the eastern sidelines where the team awaited him, the navy blue suit of the Secretary was darkened and glistening, completely soaked through. Mr. Bumb came forward with a wireless microphone, and standing on the track between the sidelines and the grandstand, he introduced Mr. Husted to the hearty souls who refused to bow to the will of the weather that was continuing to deal out its worst as conditions rapidly deteriorated.
As part of his introduction, Mr. Bumb recalled the timeline of successes of Mr. Husted, and then, recounted the days of his youth, pointing out an area where he and his friends would play football. Remembering back to 1984, he said, “I was about twelve years old when Secretary Husted played here in Montpelier. We had a little rule that every time Montpelier would get the ball, we’d get over here on the side, and wait to see what Jon Husted was going to do when he was on offense. After the offense, we’d go back and play football, but we learned a really good lesson that night. That night against Delta, Jon didn’t just score on offense. He scored on special teams. He scored on defense, and we missed it because when Montpelier wasn’t on offense, we were over there playing football. So what was the lesson that we learned from that? Never take your eyes off of Husted, because something great can always happen!”
Without an umbrella to shield him from the intensifying rain, Secretary Husted came forward, and thanked the hometown crowd for braving the elements. Addressing the assembled crowd in the stands, but focusing on the kids said, “I want you to know that I hope that any of the successes that I’ve enjoyed can be a lesson to you, because a lot of times when you come from a small town, you don’t believe that you can do great things…but you can. There’s no limit to the great things that you can do in life, because we live in the greatest country in the world. In the United States of America, you can be whatever you want to be, and you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to work hard and pay the price. That’s what is so special about our country. Serving in public office has been a wonderful opportunity to experience the blessings of what it means to be an American…to have a chance to serve other people, to have a chance to help solve problems, and to try to make the world a better place. It all started right here for me, so it’s very special for me to come back here.”
Continuing, Mr. Husted recalled meeting an elderly World War II veteran who saw action at the Battle of the Bulge. With the presidential election looming, the gentleman expressed his concerns for America, and his hopes for leaving the nation in better shape for the upcoming generation. “That’s the promise of our country,” the Secretary said. “It’s every generation trying to leave the world a better place for the future. I had so many people in this community who did that for me. My teachers and my coaches helped me, sometimes when I didn’t deserve it, to do better and give me a chance to live my dream. That’s been the privilege that I had. It all started right here, and I wanted to say thank you for all the support and friendship that the people in this community have always shown me. I hope that I have made you proud. I hope that I’ll continue to make you proud in the things that I’m planning on doing in the future…which we can talk about another time. God bless you, and thank you for coming out tonight and giving me a chance to visit with you.”
With that, Mr. Bumb returned to the fore, and introduced two members of the football team that came forward to present Secretary Husted with Montpelier football jersey #33. “I swear,” Mr. Husted quipped, “…if I had any more eligibility, I’d be out there with you.” As the steady rain intensified, Mr. Bumb presented Mr. Husted with a Montpelier tie on behalf of the Board of Education, and District Superintendent, Dr. Jamison Grime. Prior to leaving the sideline, Secretary Husted went down the line of the assembled football team, shaking the hand of each player.
Secretary of State Husted departed the field and the stadium in the same manner in which he arrived, stopping and speaking with anyone wanting to talk with him…whether they had an umbrella or not. Over an inch of cold, wind-driven rain fell during the tailgating event, but there was a throng that defied the elements to meet and speak with their hometown hero. Secretary Husted rushed no one, and gave no pretenses that he preferred to be somewhere warmer and drier. As he came to the end of the line, he was offered an umbrella, and he broke out in a laugh. With rainwater now dripping from his waterlogged jacket, the sincere offer of the umbrella was a moot point.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted had returned to Montpelier, Ohio, and no amount of rain was going to drown the enthusiasm of his homecoming.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org