Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Superintendent of Schools, George E. Roudebush

His name is one few of us may recognize today. But he was the superintendent of Youngstown City Schools from 1931 to 1937. That would have made him superintendent through most of the years my parents were in school. A mark of his success was that he went on from there to serve as superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools from 1937 until 1949.

George Edward Roudebush was born on September 3, 1892, at about the time children returned to school each year. He was the fourth of ten children born to John and Mary Roudebush of Goshen Township, a farming community in Clermont County southwest Ohio outside of Cincinnati. He graduated from Goshen High School in 1910 and went to The Ohio State University, graduating a year later with a teaching certificate. He returned to Goshen in 1911 and rose rapidly in this rural school district from assistant principle in 1912 to school superintendent in 1915. In 1918, he entered the Army Chemical Warfare Service, supporting the American war effort in World War One. When he returned from the war, he completed a BS degree at Ohio State and an MA from Columbia in 1923. He went from an assistant principal in Middletown, Ohio to principal of a high school in Lima to the superintendent of Grandview Heights schools outside Columbus from 1924 to 1927, then assuming the position of assistant superintendent for the much larger Columbus schools in 1927.

The last years of N. H. Chaney and the successive terms of O. R. Reid and J.J. Richeson were marked by bitterness and dissension in the school system. George E. Roudebush came into the superintendent’s office in 1931 after years of conflict and in the throes of the Great Depression. Under his leadership, he restored harmony within the school system and mobilized voters to support the schools amid straitened financial circumstances. Even so, revenues declined and he was able to reduce costs to balance budgets when revenues dropped by $700,000 between 1931 and 1933. Howard C. Aley recounts once incident when he had to deal with complaints from one well know area resident who demanded action because he was a tax payer. Roudebush responded, “I’ll listen to you when you can show me your tax receipt. You haven’t paid your taxes.”

Roudebush expanded vocational training and support for those with disabilities. While he supported athletics, always important in Youngstown, he also made sure there was support for journalism, music, drama and other school activities. He advocated the importance of religious training in the context of the family, for both adults and children. He believed parents should know the Bible to set an example for children. There is evidence that he had reservations about the New Deal. He emphasized that “schools have built up much of their program in the past around the maxims of burning the midnight oil, the dignity of labor, the habit of saving a penny, etc.” and saw those emphases being reversed under the New Deal. Certainly his own school leadership had emphasized hard work and austerity, while enjoying the support of Youngstown’s residents.

Others also recognized his excellence and when the opportunity came to lead the Columbus schools in the fall of 1937, he took it. Having led one school system through the Great Depression, he led another through the Second World War and the explosive growth in Columbus that followed the war. He worked with Columbus civic leaders to reshape the schools to reflect post-war realities. He retired in 1949 and was living in Upper Arlington, a Columbus suburb, when he died on July 4, 1959. His wife, Mabel Haight, who he married in 1920 lived until 1972. Both are buried in their birthplace of Goshen Township.

It seems that from early on, people recognized Roudebush as a capable leader. In both Youngstown and Columbus, he gave vigorous leadership that built public confidence. In the case of Youngstown, he healed a decade-long time of dissension in the middle of trying financial circumstances. It seems his life would be a good one to study for qualities of an exemplary school leader. He was that for Youngstown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

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