90-year-old recalls first Ohio Boys State
It may not be Ohio in 1936, but these fellows attended the first Kansas Boys State function at Wichita in 1937. File photo

90-year-old recalls first Ohio Boys State

With The American Legion Boys Nation preparing to convene July 17-25 in Washington, we thought that we’d share this letter sent a while back to the Legion Boys State director in Ohio, Jerry White:

My name is William O’Neil. I am 90 years old. I attended the first Buckeye Boys State in 1936 as the delegate from the St. Clairsville, Belmont County, post of the American Legion. I came across my pin just the other day, while cleaning out my dresser drawers.

I lost my wife a year ago after 69 years of marriage. I live alone and do quite well, but I realize I must prepare for the time when I can no longer drive and will have to move to assisted living. Hence, the reason for putting things in order.

I cannot remember much about that first Boys State except that we were billeted in the cattle barns at the Ohio State fairgrounds and I almost froze to death, even though the event was in June. We slept on Army cots. I do remember that those delegates who were elected to the principal offices had been coached and came well prepared, while most of us were not ready for the intense campaigning that took place the first day. Every delegate had a part in the mock running of the state, for the one day when we took over the capital building. But I cannot remember my assignment.

I have lived in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, for over fifty years, but I grew up in Belmont County, Ohio. I belong to a genealogical society in St. Clairsville and I make frequent trips there for meetings.

One of the things I remember about Boys State is the fact that I made a report to the Legion post in St. Clairsville after my great adventure. I am hopeful that some mention of that was printed in the Martins Ferry Times, which is the newspaper that covered the events in St. Clairsville.

A couple of months ago, on my trips to St. Clairsville, I began to make stops at the Martins Ferry Library to search their newspaper microfilm files. So far, I have not found what I have been looking for, but I have found three articles about the first Buckeye Boys State in 1936. It was held for ten days, from June 20th to June 30th. Griffith Johns, the delegate from Martins Ferry, made reports to the local newspaper. I had hoped to make contact with Griffith Johns, but he died in 1993.

I thought you might like to know about someone who attended the first Buckeye Boys State.

– Bill O’Neil

(Editor’s note: The Ohio American Legion’s first Boys State program was held in 1936 in the cattle barns of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, with more than 440 delegates in attendance.)