By BILL LAIDLAW
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life," Wilbur Wright wryly commented nearly a century ago, "I would say to him, 'Pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.'"
The quip from the famous Ohio aviator highlighted the promise and prosperity of Ohio in the early 20th century as an economic, political and social center of the nation and a place where young people could look forward to a solid future.
At the Ohio Historical Society, you might think our business is strictly about looking backward and preserving and interpreting our state's rich history. We certainly do this, but we also keep an eye on the present and the future. We want to do our part to make Ohio a great place not just to begin life, but to grow, prosper and give back to the state.
We have a long-standing commitment to educating Ohio's young people about history and making learning real and meaningful. We do this by providing original source material, unique publications, programs and artifacts from Ohio's past. Teachers and students experience history in a way that transcends ordinary classroom lessons and contributes to success on school proficiency tests.
Our educational role is neatly tied to our role in promoting Ohio's economic development through tourism. Many of our 60 sites are destinations in their communities, playing a major role in attracting "heritage tourists." More than 300,000 visitors a year come to one or more of our historical sites, museums and memorials. More than 175,000 of these visitors are students and teachers learning more about where they come from and how their ancestors lived and worked.
Our Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO) also plays a crucial role in facilitating economic development in Ohio by reviewing, assisting and recommending approval of federal historic tax credits for the rehabilitation of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The OHPO has helped generate more than $1.4 billion in economic development activity since the program's beginning.
We perform 22 functions mandated by the state. We operate a network of state memorials, serve as the state's archives administrator, publish information on Ohio's history, archaeology and natural history; collect, preserve and make available library and museum collections, encourage the development of local historical groups and coordinate a historical marker program, among other important functions. Many of these activities are challenged because funding -- both public and private -- is scarce. But these activities remain important to Ohio's past and to our future. More importantly, they are valuable to people who live and work in Ohio, for they contribute to our quality of life.
We're passionate about Ohio's past, but we're just as passionate about its future. We believe in the words of Maya Angelou, "No man can know where he is going unless he knows where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place."
This summer, take in Ohio history at the Youngstown Historical Center, Museum of Ceramics in East Liverpool and Zoar Village in Tuscarawas County. These are a few examples of great places to enjoy the past while also gaining a perspective for the present and the future.
X Dr. William K. Laidlaw, Jr. has served as the executive director of the Ohio Historical Society since August 2003. Additional information on the Ohio Historical Society is available at www.ohiohistory.org.