Because You Asked . . . .    

Senator Frank Bartlett Willis in 1924 - former Governor of Ohio

The Man Who Put Us Back on the Map

Frank Willis, the most famous son of Galena, served his people as Ohio legislator, Governor of Ohio, United States Senator, and was campaigning to be named candidate for President of United States when a fatal heart attack cut his life short at 57 years.

Jay and Lavinia Willis, of New England stock back to 1620,  were caught up in the western movement and traveled to Missouri in 1850 in covered wagon.  Jay built a house and tried to make a living trading with Indians and farming.  As an ardent supporter of Lincoln, Jay attended the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  He served in the Union army during the Civil War.  Due to poor health, they returned to Ohio.

On December 28, 1871, Frank Bartlett Willis was born on Peachblow Road in Lewis Center, Delaware County, Ohio. 

An article in NEWS REPUBLICAN, Kenton, OH, tells of journey Frank made to Peachblow and stopped at his birthplace.  He didn't know much about the farm because his family had moved when he was young child to a farm on Rome Corners Road in Berkshire Township, Delaware County, Ohio, where he was reared.  This was the Nathan Dustin house. 

Frank had a collie dog, Cap, to which he was greatly attached. When the dog died. Frank's father buried the dog in the yard, bought a marble monument in Columbus and placed it by the grave with a fence around it.

Frank became childhood friends with Nate Dustin's granddaughter, Almira 'Allie' Dustin, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Dustin who lived west of Galena, and later in brick home, known as the Dustin Inn, across from present Galena Post Office.  Allie was two years younger than Frank. Of this time in his life, Frank said, "I was a callow lad in Berkshire Twp., Delaware Co." Frank and Allie were inseparable, she was always at his side. 


Frank attended either West Galena or Rome school in Berkshire Township where he studied with Oren Poppleton who taught him rudiments of Algebra and Physics.  When it came time for high school he roomed with Alwood Griffith and attended Galena High School.   He and Allie became high school sweethearts.  Frank took a teacher's exam and did not graduate from Galena. Then for 2 or 3 years in winter he taught at West Galena School, where he left his signature on the door frame, and worked on father's farm in summer. 

After graduating from Galena School, Allie attended Otterbein College while Frank was at Ohio Northern University at Ada, Ohio.   He worked chopping wood and other jobs to pay his way through school. Professor Simeon Fess took special interest in him. Later Frank took over his teaching position and still later they were fellow senators from Ohio. Fess thought Frank was one of the brightest that ever came to ONU. History was his chief interest and later it was political science. He was also in oratory.  He became one of the most popular men on campus. 

Ohio Northern Faculty

On the day of graduation in 1893 with a B.A.,  he was made a member of the faculty.   He received his M.A. in 1894.  He taught history and economics at ONU from 1894 to 1906 and from 1906 to 1920 he was Professor of economics and law.

Frank married his girlhood sweetheart, Allie Dustin.  They had one daughter, Helen D, 1873. She never married but taught Spanish, history, and music at ONU and died in 1977.  Allie died in 1956.  They are both buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Delaware, Ohio.

Ohio House of Representatives

Frank's political career began when he became a member of Ohio House of Representatives in 1900, a position he held until 1904. In 1910 he defeated a democrat in struggle for Eighth congressional seat; (Counties: Delaware, Champaign, Hancock, Hardin, Logan, Union).  He was elected as republican to 62nd and 63rd congresses on March 4, 1911 and served until January 9, 1915, when he resigned to become governor.

Governor of Ohio

He was Ohio governor from1915 to 1917.  He beat both Democrat James Cox, a progressive activist and then Progressive James Garfield.  People were weary of so much change so fast. However, when Willis ran for reelection in 1916, he lost to Cox. When he ran again in 1918, he lost again to Cox.

Frank possessed deep convictions, high morals, strong principles. He was  "on the right side of every great moral issue," noted Sen. Robinson of Indiana.  He was a powerful advocate of prohibition.

As governor he ordered state censor board to cancel permit issued for the movie, THE NIGGER. He announced that no permit would be given to THE BIRTH OF A NATION to be shown in Ohio. Negroes everywhere praised Willis.  

Governor Willis is known for revision of road laws of the state, reorganization of state militia, reorganization of civil service commission, revamping of entire liquor licensing system, and  regulation of appointment of county agricultural agents.

As Governor, he ordered part of militia to E. Youngstown to quell violence during steel strike, and mobilized entire Ohio National Guard to settle Mexican border trouble.

Frank upheld church attendance: "Man should go (to church) because in every man's heart there is an everlasting hunger for something better than himself, and his worship satisfies that longing."

Ed Griffith told of attending the funeral of his Uncle Alwood Griffith, where the sermon was given by Frank who had roomed with Alwood during his days at Galena High School. He mentioned "Alwood Griffith never told a dirty story." Ed was so impressed that he then and there decided he would never listen to nor tell a dirty story. He was in the 8th grade.

United States Senator

In 1916, he was a delegate to republican National Convention in Chicago which nominated Theodore E. Burton as candidate for president.  In 1920 he returned to the National Convention in Chicago and nominated Warren G. Harding as candidate for president.

In 1920, he was reelected to the Senate to fill the one year vacancy left by Harding. Frank was reelected in 1926, and served until his death in 1928.

In 1924 he was again a delegate to Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

While a senator Willis was very adamant for prohibition.  He was active in securing substantial additions to Volstead Act, among them a measure popularly known as the Willis Antibeer Bill.

His first assignment on committees included commerce and territories. (Chairman of the latter). He sponsored a number of bills for the advancement of territories. Resolution by both houses in PR on the occasion of Willis' death referred to him as "Puerto Rico's kind and distinguished friend" .

Willis served on committee on immigration. He sponsored a bill which set up new safeguards regarding immigrants.

He was one of greatest defenders of foreign policy for his party.  Willis was an active participant in discussions regarding Columbian Treaty, Navel disarmament, Treaty of Peace with Germany, our relations with Haiti and Dominican Republic, Isle of Pines, Near East, foreign-debt settlements, World Court, Central American affairs, Nicaragua and Mexico.

Frank was vocal on welfare of ex-service men.  He opposed League of Nations.  He had definite opinions on the Federal Reserve System, Farm Relief, Forestation and other natural resources.  He favored high tariff, internal tax revision, Mussel Shoals, good roads, and better postal rates and salaries.

He was interested in commercial and military aviation, cooperative marketing, radio control, railroad labor dispute, oil pollution of waterways, seasonal coal rates, agricultural diversification, as well as industrial conditions.

"1 have never seen a man fight on this floor with a smile as effectively as did Frank Willis," noted Sen. Dill, of Washington.

Presidential Hopeful

By 1928 Frank was aspiring to the presidency.  With the passing of time Willis became a trusted and beloved national figure.  The election of 1928 seemed to be the time to throw his hat into the presidential ring.  

Washington's Senator Dill said, "I regretted to see (Willis) enter the race for the presidency, not because I felt he was unworthy of it at all, but because that road is such a broad pathway over which so many men pass to political misery or to world fame. And yet it was but natural, coming from the great state of Ohio, that he would turn to the White House. It is worth recalling again, that just as Virginia was the pivotal state in the early history of the country which supplied more presidents than any other state, so the state of Ohio has been the pivotal state of the Union since the Civil War."  Every Republican president since Civil War has come directly from Ohio or has been born in Ohio. (The only other two presidents of the republican party came by way of the vice-presidency.

Frank's physical appearance was awesome. "Willis weighs more than 250 lbs. and he has a voice which matches his size. He is a professor at Ada University and when he is lecturing to his class he can be heard all over the campus. A boiler factory in full operation is a whisper along side of him." -COLUMBUS DISPATCH.

BUFFALO PRESS, Buffalo, NY -January, 1915: "The latest Possibility ." "Have you heard Willis of Ohio? He seems to be a human sort of chap, for he loved his old collie dog. A poor man, eloquent, ready of tongue...wise in the ways of the world, friendly to all. ..ambitious and industrious. "

"Immense sums of money and corrupt practices were in evidence in the Ohio campaign against him for the presidency, but that did not intimidate or deter him for a moment. He was making a triumphant march toward the convention, with his state delegation solidly behind him, when. ..death came," stated Sen. Heflin, Alabama.


Died at Gray Chapel, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, on evening of March 30, 1928.

DELAWARE GAZETTE, March 30, 1928: "The Willis-for-president Homecoming crowd commenced to gather in Delaware early Friday afternoon. Visitors from all parts of Ohio and citizens from all areas of the country were arriving in large numbers to assume an active part in making the big Willis celebration the greatest event of its kind ever held in Delaware.

"This great event, sponsored by the non-partisan Delaware County Willis-for-president Club, will bring thousands of visitors to Delaware tonight as a tribute to Sen. Frank B. Willis in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination."  Within hours of that writing, Willis was dead, hopes shattered as to their native son being the chief executive of our country.

My grandfather, Senator Oatfield Whitney and his wife were in the audience that night. The event was reported in the Washington Post.  While 2500 people listened to the Buckeye Glee Club sing the campaign song, "Farewell,"  Willis called his wife, grasp his aid, Charles Jones, and the wall saying, "Jones, I never felt this way before.  Something is awfully wrong."  He suffered a fatal heart attack while waiting the opportunity to address the full house and died at 9:09 p.m.

Mrs. Willis received the following message of condolence from President Coolidge: "News of the sudden passing of your husband has been a great shock to me. He rendered distinguished service in his state assembly, later as governor of Ohio, and also in the national House and Senate.  He was an earnest and effective advocate of causes which he considered just and a man of upright character. His going will be a distinct loss to our public life. Mrs. Coolidge joins me in deep sympathy for you and your daughter and his other relatives and friends."

Frank B. Willis' funeral was held in Gray Chapel.  Ten senators appointed by the Vice President  attended the funeral.  He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery with his wife, daughter and parents.

In October 1932, the Frank B. Willis High School, at 74 West William Street in Delaware, was dedicated.  Dr. W. O. Thompson, president emeritus of Ohio State University gave the dedicatory address.  Former secretary and aid to Willis, Charles Jones, addressed the group as the late Senator's daughter, Helen, unveiled the bronze plaque bearing the likeness of the Senator and a motto - "Industry to produce, thrift to save, optimism to cheer, patriotism to exalt, honesty to live by, firm faith to die by."

In July 1966, the village of Galena dedicated a memorial plaque in honor of Willis in front of the Galena School as part of the villages Sesquicentennial Celebration.

Thanks to the notes of Everett Chambers who gave a talk to the Big Walnut Area Historical Society about Frank B. Willis.   Chambers said, " I grew up hearing about Frank Willis.  He was married to Allie Dustin, sister of Fred, who was our next door neighbor.  Frank grew up on Rome Corners road, just a mile from where I grew up and a home I visited to play with a classmate of mine.  He taught school at W. Galena and graduated from Galena High School as I did.  I got the Frank B. Willis trophy given to valedictorian of Galena High School."


Photos from the Life of Frank Willis:  
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Birthplace on Peachblow Road Peachblow Road
Rome Corners Road  North Franklin in Delaware where his parents lived in 1914 when he was elected  Governor Frank, Helen and Allie at Helen's Graduation from Ohio Northern University
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Death Articles from
Washington Post
Monument in Oak Hill Cemetery Marker placed in front of 
Galena School
July 1966

. . . .And Now You Know
by Polly Horn


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