New council President Andrew J. Ginther says the woman who taught him in the fourth grade was "the best teacher I ever had."
When the late Ruth Colleen Saddler-Hale retired from a 25-year career with Columbus City Schools, then-Superintendent James G. Hyre told her:
"We are sure that you have been a great inspiration to many boys and girls who have attended our schools."
She most definitely was to one of them.
A boy no longer, but still boyish-looking at age 35, new council President Andrew J. Ginther says the woman who taught him in the fourth grade was "the best teacher I ever had."
"I think I learned more in the fourth grade than I have since," Ginther said during an interview last week.
He recalls in particular a book report Mrs. Hale had him do in the fourth grade, one of a wearying many book reports she had her students do at the old Brentnell Elementary School, on the life of the late Robert Kennedy.
"She really pushed me to think about ways to serve and act on behalf of the public and the community," Ginther said.
Ruth Hale, the wife of Ohio State University vice provost and professor emeritus Frank W. Hale Jr., for whom the Black Cultural Center on campus is named, died on Nov. 23, 2001.
Andy Ginther was born on April 27, 1975, in Riverside Hospital. He grew up in Clintonville, the third of four children born to a social worker mother and a father who was an attorney specializing in helping foster parents. Foster children were on hand most of the years he grew up, Ginther said, sometimes as many as four at a time.
After graduating from Whetstone High School, where he had played several sports, Ginther said that he was too slow to make the football squad at Ohio State, but there was room for his athletic abilities on the team at tiny Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. It was founded in 1947 by the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers.
Teachers and administrators at Earlham strongly encouraged students to study abroad, Ginther said, and the only added cost was the plane ticket. Ginther's was to Ireland, where he studied peace and conflict resolution at the University of Ulster and Queen's College while teaching at public schools in Belfast and Derry, the very center of "The Troubles" where peace has often proven to be elusive and conflicts never seen to get resolved.
However, Ginther said that the "best, most powerful examples" of the areas in which he was studying were to be found in places like Belfast and Derry.
Ginther vividly recalls participating in a panel discussion involving former terrorists who tortured and killed Catholics and Protestants because that's what they were taught to do, only to later realize, sometimes in prison after meeting their opposite numbers on the other side of the religious divide, that they had been "sold a complete lie."
Ginther, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Earlham, also served in consecutive internships at the Carter Center in Atlanta, where he taught nonviolence and dispute resolution to children.
All that peace and conflict resolution and nonviolence studying and teacher has had an affect on how he handles himself, Ginther said.
"Some folks say that I'm too reserved, laid back," he admitted. "I'm a deliberative person, not an emotional, reactive person. I'm always trying to figure out how the most people can benefit from a situation."
After college, Ginther was a legislative aide to state Sen. Dan Brady, D-Cleveland, which is how he met his wife, Shannon. The two just had their first child, Clara Caroline, five and a half months ago. Ginther said that his future wife was working for a state representative from Richland County and they were introduced by a mutual friend. The two dated for a year, during which time Andrew made his first bid for elective office, an unsuccessful run for the Columbus Board of Education.
"She cannot blame buyer's remorse," Ginther said of Shannon. "She knew what she was getting."
What she was getting was someone who, at the age of 24, wanted to go to bat for the school system that had produced him.
"I was tired of listening to people talk poorly about Columbus schools," Ginther said. "As a matter of fact, I had a great experience in Columbus City Schools."
Although he finished in the middle of the pack of a crowded field that first political campaign, the onetime coordinator of the of violence prevention for local nonprofit organization Strategies Against Violence Everywhere was elected to the school board on a second try. He remained there for six years, until being appointed to city council in February 2007. He was elected in his own right that fall and chosen as president on Jan. 3, succeeding Michael C. Mentel.
"There's probably not a more fascinating place to serve a community than city council," Ginther said.
Any given day can involve issues as varied as trash pickup and job creation and everything in between, he added.
In light of his rise from school board to council and now council president, Ginther said that people often ask if he's interested in moving even further up the political scale.
"Washington has absolutely no appeal to me, and probably never will," Ginther insisted.
This, he added, is a good thing, since Shannon has no desire to be a single parent with him off in the capital.
Partisanship is what Washington is all about, in Ginther's view, and that's not the case with Columbus City Council, and not just, he added, because all of the members and even the mayor are Democrats.
"There's not a Republican way or Democratic way to plow the streets," Ginther said.
Ginther works as community outreach coordinator for Triumph Communications Inc., a central Ohio consulting company that provides services in public relations and political campaign management.
"This is a pretty special place, Columbus," Ginther went on, citing the willingness of the city's voters to increase the income tax to help fund city services.
During one of the "worst economic recessions in my life, the people were willing to embrace the future," he added.
To that end, Ginther said that he and the others on council must "remain diligent" in fulfilling pledges made in the campaign leading up to voter approval of the income tax increase. Those include reforming city government, saving money by creating fair compensation packages for city workers and an "unprecedented economic development agenda" to retain existing jobs and bring in new ones.
"People always ask me," Ginther said, "what's the most important: People working and working good-paying jobs."
The Ginthers live in Clintonville, two streets away, the council president said, from the street on which he grew up.