Ohio’s America 250 Commission to organize

Ohio’s America 250 Commission to organize
Teri Stein

Rena Dennison demonstrates the blowgun, a weapon Native Americans would have used to hunt for food, at the Schoenbrunn 250th anniversary.


Todd Kleismit, executive director of the Ohio Commission for the U.S. Semiquincentennial, was featured at the Schoenbrunn 250th ceremony to speak about Schoenbrunn Village, and also to introduce the planning for America 250.

“It is so appropriate to have this type of kick-off for not just a day, but a celebration that is going to last the year,” Kleismit said. “In taking an event like a 250th anniversary and translating that into the stories of people’s lives, of their culture, of their aspirations for the future, we can internalize those stories, and it helps us create aspirations for our future.”

History is a collection of important stories.

“Harry Truman once said that the only new thing is the history you have not read,” Kleismit said. “Let’s make sure that we collectively understand the history of this wonderful place and transmit that story to our children, our grandchildren and all of our friends throughout Ohio and this great nation.”

These are the same kinds of things Kleismit would like to see happen for the 250th anniversary of the United States of America.

“We are charged with leading Ohio’s activities leading up to 2026. We will have events. We will hopefully bring a lot of people together, but also we want to help bring some resources and give local organizations that already are the keepers of Ohio history a platform in which to maybe speak a little bit differently about their work and how it relates to American and Ohio history,” Kleismit said.

The Ohio Commission would like to build on things that may already be happening within the state and not just new activities.

“We will probably come up with a few new things. But I think mostly what we want to do is amplify the work that is already being done around Ohio and to promote that work,” Kleismit said. “We’re not going to be building new monuments and things of this nature. We’re going to be really trying to support the state and local organizations that are already doing such great work at the local level.”

Kleismit and other officials are in the process of appointing 29 commissioners to the Ohio Commission to help with the project. Locally, Wendy Zucal of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum is onboard as a commissioner. Many others have yet to be appointed.

The commission will not only focus on 2026.

“We’re leading toward that. But every year like to this year, there’s great anniversaries. There’s Schoenbrunn Village. It’s the bicentennial of Ulysses S. Grant’s birthday. We were just celebrating that last week,” Kleismit said. “There are multiple other occasions, things that are relevant to history, so we’re going to hopefully help amplify that work.

“Next year we expect to have the first World Heritage Site designated in the state of Ohio. There are 24 of them across the United States. There are more than 1,000 of them worldwide. Up until now there has been zero in Ohio. But we anticipate that happening next year. It’s not so much about what new things can we do.”

The Ohio History Connection has been working for more than a decade with the National Park Service’s Hopewell Culture National Historical Park to gain world heritage designation. Working with other organizations, they also are preparing nomination documentation for other Hopewell ceremonial sites.

For the America 250, a lot will be up to local communities to decide how they want to contribute to the effort.

“It’s not so much that the commission is going to dictate that these things happen. It’s how can we help you? How do you want to engage in the nation’s 250th anniversary? So it’s a two-way street,” Kleismit said. “We will try to do what we can to help those local and state organizations. I think we all need to come together, bringing people together, and connect the history with our future.”

The initiative is so new the Ohio organization does not yet have a website, but Kleismit is confident the Ohio Commission will be ready for business in six months to one year. In the meantime anyone wishing to help can start brainstorming ideas for their community to be involved.

“We anticipate being present and trying to make this as relevant as we can because we really want people to personalize the history and find the way that they can connect,” Kleismit said. “It might not be some big, huge event with fireworks and so forth. It might be painting a mural in your hometown. It’s not going to always be the same thing. People will come to history from different vantage points, different perspectives. It’ll be incumbent upon us to make it relevant to Ohioans. That’s our charge.”

Funding also is an important part of the planning. The commission is hoping to secure some funding, but local groups may be planning and holding their own fundraisers to support their local America 250 projects.

“Let’s find those right ways to get people to plug in and feel like history is actually relevant to (them). I just hadn’t thought of it that way,” Kleismit said. “We’ll have been successful if we can help make those connections.”

The celebrations could all look different depending on the area of the state.

“There’s a lot to do, and it’s terribly exciting, but we can’t do it alone. We’re going to need all Ohioans to find a way to be involved,” Kleismit said. “We’re trying to have a runway leading up to 2026.”

Additional information on the national efforts through the American Association for State and Local History can be found at www.aaslh.org/250. More information about the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission can be found at www.america250.org.

“We’re just in our infancy. So stay tuned. It’s coming,” Kleismit said.

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