Editor’s note: Students in Sara Olding’s Senior English classes at Sidney High School partnered with the Shelby County Historical Society to explore the stories of early residents and visionaries of Sidney, Ohio. Turning their research into writing, they spent time “Learning About Legacy.”
SIDNEY — I have spent most of my summers at Custenborder Field playing softball for the Sidney Electric Girls Softball League. Next to one of the fields is a memorial plaque with a picture of Herbert Schlater. Naturally, when I found his name on the Historical Society’s list of visionaries to research, I chose him. What I found through research is that Schlater’s decision to sponsor the softball league was only a mere drop in the olympic-sized pool of his community based deeds.
Schlater used the Sidney Electric Company that he founded in 1953 as leverage to provide the softball experience to young women in Shelby County. Baseball had always been his favorite sport. Growing up in Osgood, he played throughout his childhood. He even managed a team himself when he was a little older. He enjoyed his time on the field so much that he wanted more people to have that opportunity. Realizing that everyone deserves equal opportunities years before our federal government instituted Title IX made him a bit of a visionary. Having a community mindset and a vision became a repeating theme in his contributions. He had actually been denied access to certain privileges at a young age. Because he was the oldest of 10 children, he decided to stay home and help work the farm rather than get an education beyond the eighth grade. Not having a secondary education made him value it all the more. He later became a serious advocate not only of education, but of community development.
After serving in World War II and studying basic electricity, he returned to Osgood, Ohio. He was employed as an electrician with Sidney Tool and Die Company and eventually moved to Sidney. After realizing the potential he had to work with, he founded his very own electric company, Sidney Electric. With no large competitors in the area at the time, the only way was up and he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that. The company was unquestionably successful, yet he remained the same humble community member that everyone knew and loved. Sidney Electric Company is still in business today.
Schlater was also the founder of the real estate business Fair Inc. In addition he was also a partner in Clinton Realty with Thomas Given and Frank Gleason Jr. Throughout the process of running these corporations, Schlater unknowingly mapped the layout of Fair Road. He shaped Interstate-75’s exit 92 into what we know today. He actually balanced out the ratio of industrial businesses, commercial businesses, and housing placements throughout the area. In 1975 Schlater bought land on Vandemark Road, back when there was nothing more than a two- lane country road there. Shortly after, he brought the idea of expanding Sidney towards the west to the city’s attention.
Not only did he plan out the actual setting of the land, he also brought plenty of businesses to Sidney as well. He and a few business partners of his would buy land and build up dependable industrial buildings. These buildings would draw the attention of new business owners, influencing them to bring their trade to Sidney. Afterwards, when the company would become moderately successful and stronger, Schlater would sell them the building and start all over again with a new plot of land. There were moments where he and his partners owned up to ten of these buildings during the same time period. Buildings now occupied by Mama Rosa’s, Aunt Millie’s, Edge Well, Advanced Composites, and the Hampton Inn, among many others are likely in town today due in large part to his and his partners’ efforts.
His keen business sense was coupled with a fierce commitment to his community. In fact, it was common lore in his family that in a single conversation, he could make anyone want to move to Sidney, Ohio. Schlater opened a 1962 speech at a national convention for wiring in Atlanta, Georgia by sharing that he lived “in ‘God’s Country’ – Sidney, Ohio. The county seat of Shelby County in western Ohio that is ripe with industry and surrounded by a fertile agricultural area.”
His enthusiasm for home was infectious. Throughout his life, he coupled his enthusiasm with service. He invested his time, energy, and resources in the community. Serving on the Community Foundation Board of Trustees for 25 years, he also logged time as the president of the Board. In addition, he served as president of the Wilson Hospital Board of Trustees, president of Kiwanis, and chairman of the Board for Bank One (now Chase Bank). In addition, he served on the Board of Trustees for Holy Angels and was president of the Lehman Foundation along with their Board of Education. He kept his religious faith near and dear to his heart, and it was shared not only with his family, but with all he encountered. Due to his childhood experience, he was committed to giving his children an education through a Catholic school system and always thanked God for what he was able to come home to everyday. He was never too shy to express his strong beliefs and these morals greatly influenced his behaviors throughout his community efforts.
At the time of his death he was so beloved by community members that there wasn’t a funeral home large enough to house his visitation. Facing that challenge, Lehman Catholic High School offered their gymnasium to help honor this community visionary.
Things do not just happen on accident. There are stories and lives behind everything we see and have the privilege to experience in Sidney, Ohio. We can learn a lot from the struggles and obstacles others have faced, but we can learn more from how they overcame them. What I hope we remember moving forward is that the community minded visionaries left a legacy for us to continue to develop. Herb Schlater was a hardworking, dedicated, loving man who had a contagious enthusiasm for his community. If I have learned anything about him, it is that he would be proud to know that I spent my summer in Sidney on Field 6 playing for the Outlets.
The writer is the daughter of Jenny and Randy Clemons. A 2018 graduate of Sidney High School, she is attending the Capital University in the fall to study journalism.