By JENNIFER DEMPSEY

Progress Editor

PAULDING – On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the Paulding County Bicentennial Kick-off event was held at the Branch Christian Fellowship Church in Paulding.

The event was opened with a welcome from Paulding County Commissioner Roy Klopfenstein.

A prayer was then led by Greg Cramer, pastor of Branch Christian Fellowship Church.

Congressman Bob Latta was unable to attend the event, but sent a proclamation that was read at the ceremony. Another proclamation was presented by state representative Craig Riedel. “A bicentennial doesn’t happen very often. Wow, 200 years ago. Can you imagine what it was like living here back then?” questioned Riedel.

Bryce Steiner, Bicentennial committee member, spoke about the amazing picture displays that were unveiled at the courthouse later that evening.

“I believe we have created in our courthouse, a monument of history. Like no other in this state and possibly the country,” said Steiner.

Hanging in the courthouse are numerous large photo displays of our counties history.

Steiner went on to explain that a special scanner was created and built to tackle the project to be sure that the picture quality was top notch.

Bob Iler brought to Steiner many old photographs that are used in the displays and also scoured the Historical Museum to find more.

Gary Mabis hand-crafted the beautiful frames that are used to encase the pictures.

“It has taken hundreds, if not thousands of hours donated by many people to make this come together for our Bicentennial.” said Steiner.

The pictures are still available to see at the courthouse and are a must-see for everyone in the area.

Another big announcement that evening was a raffle featuring three custom engraved Henry repeating rifles that were made specifically for this event. 1,820 tickets will be sold for a chance to win one of the rifles and the winners will be drawn at the Flat Rock Creek Fall Festival in September.

Kim Sutton, president of the John Paulding Historical Society and Bicentennial committee member, gave a brief history of the past of Paulding County.

When Sutton took over as president of the Historical Society she was told by the past president that “History is just waiting to be discovered.”

They recently discovered a handwritten account of Wyatt Phillips journey as a runaway slave to Paulding County.

The museum is currently in the process of transcribing the writings.

New historical findings are being discovered all the time about our county. Not everything there is to know has been discovered yet.

Sutton encouraged everyone to keep exploring our county and find new information.

Judge Michael Wehrkamp, talked about the county’s motto and seal which were decided on August 25, 1967.

“The county’s motto is “No compromise.” It comes from a black banner that says “No compromise” on one said and “The reservoir must go” on the other.” explained Wehrkamp.

He went on to explain that the banner was carried by men in the reservoir war that took place in 1887 and is one of the county’s most significant historical events.

The county seal was painted on the wall of the second floor of the courthouse in 1979 and remains there today.

Wehrkamp read from the resolution that explained the seal and what each item on the seal represents.

Commissioner Mark Holtsberry gave a moving speech about the men and women from Paulding County who answered the call to protect our country in the various wars.

Paulding County had the highest percentage of men in the entire state that served in the Civil War. Over 2,250 men served and 180 of them lost their lives.

In WWI, over 1,200 men served and seven women nurses served.

“Now these men and women, most likely had never left their hometown, their township or even the county. They marched down the street, boarded trains and headed off to war,” said Holtsberry.

Over 2,000 men from Paulding County served in WWII. Some even left high school to serve.

Holtsberry introduced the county’s oldest living veteran, Stan Jordan of Antwerp. Jordan served in WWII and was honored with a standing ovation.

Holtsberry also talked about Paulding County resident Randall Smith, who laid down his life protecting his fellow service members in an attack at a recruiting center in Tennessee. Smith was the last name to be added to the wall of honor at the Courthouse. “And I hope and pray he is the last one,” said Holtsberry.

Commissioner Tony Zartman, spoke about the present of Paulding County.

He spoke about the technology that county farmer’s use and how much things have changed over the year.

“Our residents are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get the job done,” said Zartman.

He commended the three school systems in the county and their efforts put into preparing our youth for the future.

“We have been taught to look outside the box and figure out what works for us. A great example of this is our county’s partnership with the wind industry. Their generosity is helping when our community is in need.”

The wind farm industry has greatly helped our county that was struggle just ten years ago.

Zartman talked about the great transformation in our county over the past few years and the villages working together to make our county better as a whole.

“As one community, we will continue to prosper,” closed Zartman.

Erika Willitzer took the stage next to talk about the future of Paulding County.

“When you think about the future of Paulding County, there are two words come to mind: hope and momentum,” started Willitzer.

Willitzer shared that when she was preparing this speech, she talked with different people to ask them why they loved Paulding County so much.

Many people shared with Willitzer about the generosity and giving nature of our residents.

Willitzer talked about the creation of the Vision Board and their plans for the future of Paulding County.

She shared about the current fundraising campaign, Our Dream of a Million.

So far, the group has raised over $70,000 in cash and pledges to make our county a better place for its’ residents.

The board has been encouraging villages to work together to make the county a better place to live for the residents.

Willitzer also shared about the housing survey that the board is currently doing to find the current housing needs for the county. The survey can be found on their website and Facebook page. All county residents are encouraged to take the survey.

In addition to the Vision Board, many other organizations in the county have been forming and stepping up to revitalize our community.

“In all the years that I’ve been a part of rural revitalization, when one group of people take a giant leap of faith, it’s often followed by others taking the same action too. It’s a ripple effect. It’s momentum. And that’s exactly what is happening with other groups in Paulding County.” stated Willitzer.

“You can be part of Paulding County’s better future,” ended Willitzer.

Closing the evening was a special speech by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

DeWine commented on how early maps of the county said it wasn’t good for farming and how proud he was that people decided to take a chance and make our county livable.

“These communities in Paulding county, what would be a better place to live?” said Governor DeWine.

“What you have in Paulding is so very, very special. Every time I come to Paulding county, I leave with the impression that this is a family community. This is a community where people take care of each other. This is a community that is just a great place to live. The quality of life in Paulding county is great.”

Following the ceremony, guests were invited to the courthouse to see the amazing pictorial history displays hanging on the walls.

Various Bicentennial events will happen throughout the year to help commemorate the celebration.