Community Spotlight: A life of service and devotion to education

Richard Stearns
Richard Stearns

The Stearns family name was passed down through the centuries to the new land known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony was created by charter from King Charles and gave the colonists the right of self rule on Feb. 27, 1629. A year later Isaac Stearns and his beloved wife Mary, with other emigrants, embarked on the good ship Arabella from Yarmouth, England, on April 8, 1630. The Arabella was a sailing ship of 350 tons, 28 cannons and 52 seamen and was captained by Nathaniel Melbourne, who was also part owner. The couple arrived in this land at what was to become Salem, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1630, with their three children. Also aboard ship was Gov. John Winthrop.

Richard Stearns is a descendent of Isaac Stearns. He was born to Albert and Ruth (Yates) Stearns on April 23, 1936, and is the eldest of seven siblings consisting of four brothers and three sisters.

While growing up on a farm Richard learned all of the aspects of farm life, from taking care of livestock to planting and harvesting crops. In school he found that the classes in science, mathematics and history were of special interest to him. He played baseball and ran track on the school teams. He graduated from Jackson-Liberty High School in Seneca County in 1954.

Upon graduation from high school, Richard looked into attending college but funds were not available. With six younger siblings he couldn’t ask his parents for help as money was scarce. In order to get money to start college, he worked at a lumber company, a construction company and at a factory. With little progress financially, he joined the Air Force as the GI bill was offered as a path to a college education.

Scored high in military tests

During basic training, tests were given to recruits which helped determine their career fields. Richard scored high in the tests, and he was counseled about his career field. He was told that he had choices of photography, air police and also an area that they would not reveal to him until a security clearance was completed. Not wanting to jump into the unknown, Richard chose photography as his interest.  About a month later he was told that photography was closed and that he was being checked by the FBI for his security clearance. The FBI report had him passing his security clearance. He would begin tech school that would take nearly a year to complete. After training in tech school, he graduated as a military intelligence analyst, which included a top secret crypto security clearance.

The next 18 months were on overseas assignment. While at Clark Air Base in the Philippines he was named "Airman of the Month.” When traveling, he carried a radiation detector at all times to be able to check for radiation exposure. Before returning to the states, Richard had been to 15 different countries on three different continents. Upon returning to the U.S. for the last 18 months of his enlistment, his assignment was to be spent at National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Ft. Meade in Maryland. At the end of his enlistment the Air Force wanted Richard to reenlist, but he declined. And NSA wanted him to come aboard as a civilian analyst. But Richard saw the path to that college education he wanted by using the GI bill.

Richard received an honorable discharge. He felt it was an honor to be able to serve the United States of America.

While many service members had their “war stories” to tell, Richard had an obligation to keep sensitive information under lock and key.  There was an “incident” that he can speak to. Two analysts from NSA took a vacation to Florida. They didn’t return as scheduled, so their whereabouts was investigated. It was found that they had gone to Cuba and then to the USSR (Russia). Cuba was and still is under a strong communist influence from Russia. The two analysts had defected to Russia for an unknown sum of money and a promise that they would be heroes there. The Soviets obtained information they wanted but then had no use for them. The U.S. didn’t either. In the U.S. they would be prosecuted for security violations of top priority, breaking the oath to which they had sworn and face severe penalties as traitors.

After Richard’s enlistment was up, he enrolled in Bowling Green State University to pursue a degree in business law. He moved to Crawford County in 1966 and became the president of Gerlo Corp., holding that office from 1967-89. During this time the county superintendent of schools approached him to do substitute teaching. Richard let him know that he hadn’t enrolled in any education classes, but that didn’t deter the superintendent as he was desperate for subs. During the next few months Richard did substitute teaching between the college courses and school classes. At a certain point Richard came to a conclusion that teaching would be great career and he could contribute to the education of the students. He dropped the idea of getting a business law degree and switched to education as a career choice.

Richard started his teaching career at Wynford Schools in 1969. After two years at Wynford, he applied for a similar position with Colonel Crawford Schools.

He had obtained his bachelor’s degree and later also his master’s degree .

Member of several educational organizations

Richard joined the Colonel Crawford Education Association (CCEA), the Ohio Education Association (OEA) and the National Education Association (NEA) so he could be informed on educational issues that were in legislative discussions. He was elected president of CCEA and also served as lead negotiator for teacher contracts. That followed with being elected chairman of North Central Ohio Education Association (NCOEA), consisting of six counties with 33 school districts. He was then appointed to the OEA President’s Advisory Council.

Richard gave testimony to the Senate Education Committee on shortcomings of obligations by charter schools. He testified about the charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which was later charged with owing the State of Ohio more than $60 million dollars in false billings and fake enrollment records. Richard was appointed as legislative contact person for the OEA. He was also recognized by the National Reference Institute as “Who’s Who in American Education” for a significant contribution to American Education and was listed in their publications.

In 1994 Richard retired from classroom teaching. “In looking back over my classroom time, I appreciated and enjoyed the time I had with the students," he said. "It was a pleasure to see them take on new challenges and to grow academically and socially.”

He was also happy upon learning of successes his former students were experiencing in their adult lives.

In retirement, Richard joined the Crawford County Retired Teachers Association (CCRTA), the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA) and the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA). He was appointed legislative chair of CCRTA to speak on issues before the state legislature which had content that concerned retired teachers.

Richard was elected president of CCRTA and became District V director of ORTA. He gave testimony to the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) on inequities in the retirement system. He also gave testimony before the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) on those same inequities. He was elected Western Area vice-president of ORTA and was appointed state membership chairman. That was followed with being president-elect and then a year later as state president of  ORTA. Each county throughout the state had their own chapter of retired teachers. Richard traveled statewide to attend their meetings and update the members on concerns that the state and federal legislatures were discussing which would affect retired teachers. He listened to their concerns, addressed their questions and informed them when it was in their interest to contact their representatives in the state and federal legislatures.

Awarded $10,000 grant from NRTA

The NRTA  advertised that they were offering $10,000 in grant money for a grant to improve retired teacher groups for all the states. At ORTA they decided to submit a proposal for membership growth and were awarded the grant money. Richard and his team worked for nearly a year in compiling, sorting and testing the information before submitting the finished product in a handbook. The NRTA liked what they saw and invited Richard and the team to their national conventions. They flew them to San Francisco and also to Washington, D. C. to make presentations to the states attending the conventions.

After five years as a state officer, Richard wanted to take some time for himself to travel, play some golf, maybe do some fishing and relax. Then a new venture presented itself. He was asked to serve on the Harvey One Room School Board.

After a year Richard started to produce the newsletter, the “Harvey Slate.” He was then elected vice-president of the board followed by being elected as president of the board. That put him into contact with the Community Foundation for Crawford County where Harvey School finances were secured. Richard was asked to help evaluate applicants for scholarships held at the Community Foundation. He remembered the struggles he had in getting his college degrees, so he established a college scholarship. It was to help any Crawford County college student in their third or fourth year of study to assist them in completing their degrees in either education or medicine, two fields that he regarded as most beneficial to everyone.

As a veteran, Richard is well aware of the trials many veterans are challenged with after their service to the country. He is a regular contributor to the Wounded Warriors Project, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and is a 25 year member of American Legion Post 181, Bucyrus.

Richard recently received an honor of which he is extremely proud when on Veterans Day, Nov.11, 2021, he was inducted into the Crawford County Veterans Hall of Fame.

Submitted by B. Michelle Randolph.

This article originally appeared on Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum: Community Spotlight: Richard Stearns dedicates his life to service