Rossford Council member practices what he teaches PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer   
Saturday, 02 November 2013 08:54
Rossford Councilman Larry Oberdorf is seen in council chambers. (Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
ROSSFORD - For a couple decades Larry Oberdorf taught students at Rossford High School about government.
Now retired, he still sees several of them regularly when city council convenes.
Some people tell him he's "taught most of the people in Rossford." That includes Mayor Neil MacKinnon, and the members of council who sit alongside him at meetings, Jerry Staczek, Caroline Zuchowski Eckel and Greg Marquette.
Oberdorf said he's pleased to serve with his former students. He takes "pleasure without taking unjustified pride."
"The people I had that are on council would have been on council whether they had me as a teacher or not."
Oberdorf hopes they, like all his former students, derived "at least a little appreciation for our country and our government" from his tutelage.
His grounding in the basic principles of how government works has served him well as city council president.
But he feels what he brings most to his role on council is a depth of life experience. "I don't think everyone on council necessarily likes me, let alone loves me, but I think there's a degree of respect that allows me to function so that at least I can work with these people to a degree to come up with consensus."
That life experience, he said, started growing up in "extreme poverty" on the east side of Toledo, crammed into a two-bedroom apartment with two brothers, two sisters, his father and grandmother.
He was a good student, and he saw learning as "my route out."
Inspired by teachers at Waite High School, he went to the University of Toledo where he majored in social studies and minored in business and accounting.
America, he said, is a land of opportunity. "But you have to do some legwork yourself."
So he worked full time through school, treating his education as a job. Once his career was launched, he went to Bowling Green State University to earn his master's degree.
His teaching career started at Lake High School in 1969. He thought he had it made. He was newly married to his wife, Nancy, and was earning a good salary, $5,200 a year. He'd bought a brand new Volkswagen for $1,800. He expected to spend his career there.
Then the district hit a financial crisis, and the schools were closed. So he looked elsewhere. That's how he came to Rossford, where he spent the next 29 years, eventually as department head and teaching government as well as coaching wrestling and track.
The Oberdorfs also decided to move to the small city from Toledo. While he'd pulled himself up from tough surroundings, he said, "I always wanted to see my kids do better."
Rossford was the place for that to happen. "It's a good place to raise a family, good values, good morals, good education," he said.
Those values were part of what he passed on to students. "I always told them to be honest with me and I'd be honest with them," Oberdorf said. "If you're not honest with your students they will see right through you."
If they ever asked him a question he couldn't answer, he would say so  and set about finding the answer.
Among the many he taught were his own four children. His wife, who taught English and reading at the junior high for many years, once even approached the high school principal to discuss the grade Oberdorf had given their daughter.
Oberdorf enjoyed being a teacher. He now works with student teachers at UT. He tells them "you have to have a working rapport" with students, "friendly, not friends."
"I had fun with them," he said. "Being a teacher is being an entertainer to some extent. You have to have content competency, but you have to have a way to ingrain that in the students, interact with the students so they learn." Then he adds, laughing, "I didn't always succeed with some of them."
He's still in contact with many. Some still seek his advice.
MacKinnon said it was Oberdorf who talked to him about seeking a vacant seat on council several years ago.
"I was never really ambitious to be in government," he said. "What I wanted to do was give something back to a community that gave me everything."
MacKinnon said he knew Oberdorf and his wife his entire life. MacKinnon had Oberdorf both as a teacher and as a track coach.
"I remember him as being very thorough," he said. "He demanded a lot and got a lot. He was guy who really cared for students ... He was all in."
Now mayor, MacKinnon works closely with Oberdorf. "He's involved in just about every decision I make. I run just about every decision by him.
"Still on occasion I feel like I'm in his classroom," he said.
Oberdorf feels MacKinnon is "a great mayor."
"I truly enjoy working with him," he said.
As a member of council, Oberdorf said he keeps the citizens' interests chief in mind. He considers what would be best for them, giving his decisions extensive thought and even prayer.
The council has faced tough decisions over the years. In the past year, those included a vote by council to remain a part of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
When he started on council 10 years ago he was one of the many in the city who wanted to break off ties with TARTA. He served on an ad hoc committee that studied the issue, and lobbied to get state legislation passed to make it easier for communities to exit the system. But as he and others studied the matter they realized "we were wrong."
"We were really getting a lot of effective service for our money."
They contracted with a firm to conduct a study and found it would cost more to provide the service themselves.
And some of those services Call-a-Ride and TARPs which help the elderly and infirmed to remain mobile, are needed. "I think there's a moral and ethical obligation to provide transportation," he said of those services.
So council voted to remain in the system. Some residents tried to get the matter on the ballot.
And while Oberdorf sees their point, he believes in "representative democracy," people elect representatives "to make those decisions."
That includes "extremely unpopular" decisions that are "in the long run best for the people."
Another contentious issue that will be on Tuesday's ballot is a pay increase for members of council.
The charter amendment would hike annual council pay from $3,000 to $8,400, and for council president from $3,300 to $9,000. A separate charter amendment raises the mayor's pay.
Currently Oberdorf says he gets about $220 take home a month, less than $10 an hour for all the time he puts in.
Pay hasn't been raised in 20 years.
"It ultimately rests with the voters," he said. "Do they think we're worth it?"
Now in the middle of his third term, Oberdorf said, he's still up in the air about whether to run again. He did indicate late last year that he may not, but he's now giving that further thought.
Part of that decision, Oberdorf said, is how his health is. The retired coach has always stayed in shape. He plays racquetball and has run several marathons and numerous 5K events, though he admits his times are getting slower.
He's never had a serious injury. "God has been good to me," he said. "I'm 67 and still moving."

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