Doug Fuller addressing the crowd
Doug Fuller addressing the crowd

Mantua – The Mantua Restoration Society (MaRSI) held its annual meeting Saturday April 25th at the Mantua Center School.  It was recently recognized by the Portage County Historical Society for its enduring efforts to save and restore the historic Center School built in 1914 and to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Several MaRSI members have spearheaded the Save the School campaign efforts that have resulted in the Mantua Township Trustees Vic Grimm, John Festa, and Jason Carlton solidly getting behind the movement and agreeing to apply for grants and funding to accomplish developing the Center School into a community center.

The Mantua Restoration Society is a volunteer group of township citizens who value and seek to preserve the historic center of Mantua Township as heritage, inspiration and a focus of township life.  They seek to preserve historic buildings and sites and make them vibrant, integral parts of township government and community involvement.  Initially, it was chartered as a non-profit group in 1977 when the township people rallied to put a basement under the Town Hall to prevent it from deteriorating and eventually collapsing.  The present iteration of the group began in 2010 as the Friends of the School.  They held an open house and renewed the MaRSI Charter in 2011 and got 501-C3 status (Tax deductible donations).  There are various activities planned throughout the year to raise funds and public awareness, including Art on the Hill on July 11th; A Flea Market/Garage Sale on July 18th and 19th; Derthick’s Corn Maze September thru October; and a USO type dance featuring the Garretttones Big Band on November 7th.  Ongoing activities include developing a coloring book of local historic buildings, a Coverlet Fundraiser, a local watercolor painting group, and charity quilt makers.  A Challenge Grant has been issued by a local donor and has been set up whereby donations of up to $50 are matched dollar for dollar to save the school. A potluck lunch is offered on Wednesdays from 9:30 AM -2 PM.   Residents are encouraged to partake at the school/community center.  From time to time various speakers and columnists are at the dinners and available to regale the group.

The new slate of officers for 2015 include Carole Pollard, President; Mark Hall, Vice President; Lynn Harvey, Treasurer. They are still in need of a secretary. As in the past, the main objective will continue to be preserving the school building and developing it into a community center.  According to Pollard, we have the oldest school building in the county.  That building, concrete from foundation to bell tower, was built on stable land.  Nothing has shifted in a hundred years. It has been maintained for its whole life. Nothing has ever fallen into disrepair. Many, many of the local residents have attended that school and look on it very fondly. It is a piece of history close to our hearts.  The 18,000 square foot building can house the township business and records office, meeting spaces for the trustees and zoning, assembly area for all sorts of larger gathering including emergency shelter and education/day care for children.

At the meeting, attended by more than 40 community members, Doug Fuller was the featured speaker. He is an architect with more than 40 years of experience and certified by the AIA (American Institute of Architects). He was instrumental in saving the Kent Hotel. Much like the Kent Hotel, the Center School building was built with cutting edge technology in 1914.  It was constructed in the aftermath of the Collinwood school fire and incorporated the latest improvements of the era. It has 2 staircases to quickly get you out of the building in addition to the front door. It is a very tough building, constructed mostly of concrete.  Fuller also noted that MaRSI is the only such organization in Portage County to be working full time saving buildings. As such, it has  been recognized as the current authority in doing this.

Terry Nielson recounted the current efforts in progress including having applied for two grants. The first is the Hiram Community Trust Grant which provides for a Free Clothing Center to be located in the basement of the school. Our Mantua Trustees have graciously agreed to forgo the rent for that space

A Community Development Block Grant has been applied for to purchase and install an elevator. Other grants in process of being applied for include a Lowe’s Grant (Lowe’s Home Improvement Store—they have a community involvement program) to fix the front steps and add railings. Now that the Mantua Trustees are affiliated with MaRSI, this becomes a strong possibility. A grant to pave the parking lot with permeable asphalt is in the works as well as solar lighting for the parking lot.  A grant to apply for an emergency generator will be applied for once the elevator grant results are received.

Lynn Harvey spoke about her project of collecting anecdotal history from people who went to the Center school and graduated from it in the period 1914 through 1952 when it housed grades 1-12. This will likely be published as a book in the future.

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Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.