George William Ritter
George Ritter was born in Vermilion on June 30, 1886.
His father John had come to Vermilion from Meckbach, Hesse Cassel, Germany in 1882, living first with his aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. Lingelbach. John established himself as a tailor, married Louise Hauth and together they had six children.
George attended the first three years of school at the schoolhouse once located in Hanover Square. He graduated from Vermilion High School with the class of 1902. He enrolled at Baldwin University and Cleveland Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1906. To pay for his education, he worked each summer stringing twine and making gill nets. According to an article in The Vermilion News, “George became the fastest stringer along the lake, and could turn out more nets than anyone.”
Although George never moved back to Vermilion permanently, the family homestead on Main Street was a frequent stop during the summer months. In 1911, he married Mary Fowler of Berlin Heights. After practicing law for several years in Sandusky, George moved to Toledo in 1913, becoming a partner in the firm of Kohn, Ritter, Northup and McMahon. In 1917, he organized his own firm with Leland Gardner. In 1928, he served as law director for the city of Toledo.
From 1925-1953, he was also associated with Willys – Overland Motors, Inc. in Toledo. In its heyday, from 1912 to 1921, Willys-Overland was the second-largest automobile manufacturing plant in the nation, just behind the Ford Motor Co. of Detroit.
The company fell on hard times during the Depression, however, and was forced into receivership. In 1936, George Ritter, Ward Canaday and Hiram Leonard successfully reorganized the company, which went on to become the nation’s first factory to be converted to wartime production. During the 1940s, it produced one of the most valuable U.S. military machines – the Jeep.
Throughout this period, George Ritter headed up the legal side of the company. After the war, he was an active partner in the firm of Ritter, Boesel, Robinson and Marsh. He was a Mason, active in the Toledo Rotary Club, served on numerous boards, and belonged to a variety of clubs from Castalia to Florida and Washington D.C.
He and his wife Mary never had any children. In the 1950s, they began to share their wealth. They funded construction of the Ritter Planetarium at the University of Toledo; the Ritter Library at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea; a dormitory at Lake Erie College in Painesville (where Mary attended); and the Ohio Legal Center at Ohio State University. George also funded the purchase of an organ for the Congregational Church in Vermilion, given in memory of his mother.
His best known legacy is Vermilion’s public library. George grew up during the time Andrew Carnegie was funding construction of public libraries across the country, and it was said George was disappointed that Vermilion wasn’t included.
His design for Vermilion’s library was based on the architecture of the Joseph Swift House, a mansion located seven miles south of Vermilion which was built in 1841. George provided additional money to purchase marble from the state of Georgia for the front of the library building and its pillars, choosing pink marble rather than white because of worry that white marble might darken over time.
When George Ritter died in 1979, at the age of 92, he left money in his will for an addition to be named in memory of his sister, Allie. His will also directed that a trust fund be established for the library. Money from the trust enabled the library to become a member in the Clevnet library consortium in 1985, and it continues to be a source of funding today.
George also left money in his will to provide a full, four-year scholarship at Baldwin-Wallace College for a young man graduating from either Ottawa Hills High School in Toldeo or George’s own alma mater, Vermilion High School.