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John F. Seiberling

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John Frederick Seiberling, Jr.
John F. Seiberling 93rd Congress 1973.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio’s 14th district
In office
January 3, 1971 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by William Hanes Ayres
Succeeded by Thomas C. Sawyer
Personal details
Born September 8, 1918
Akron, Ohio
Died August 2, 2008 (aged 89)
Copley, Ohio
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Behr
Children three
Alma mater
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1942-1946
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Legion of Merit

John Frederick Seiberling, Jr. (September 8, 1918 – August 2, 2008) was a United States Representative fromOhio. In 1974, he helped to establish what later became the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and served on the House Judiciary Committee that held the impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.[1]




Born in Akron, Ohio, Seiberling attended the public schools of Akron, and Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. He received his A.B. from Harvard University in 1941. His parents, Lieut. John Frederick Seiberling (1888–1962) and Henrietta McBrayer Buckler (1888–1979), had been wed on October 11, 1917 in Akron, Ohio. He had two sisters: Mary Gertrude Seiberling (born 1920) and Dorothy Buckler Lethbridge Seiberling (born 1922). His paternal grandparents were Frank Seiberling, the founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and Gertrude Ferguson Penfield. His maternal grandparents were Julius Augustus Buckler and Mary Maddox.

During World War II he served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1946. He was subsequently awarded theLegion of Merit for his participation in the Allied planning of the D-Day invasion.[2]

He married Elizabeth “Betty” Behr, a Vassar graduate, in 1949. They have three sons: John B., David and Stephen.

Seiberling received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School in 1949. In 1950, Seiblerling was admitted to the New Yorkbar and went into private practice. He became an associate with a New York firm from 1949 to 1954, and then became a volunteer with the New York Legal Aid Society in 1950. From 1954 to 1970, he was an attorney with Goodyear. He once took a leave of absence rather than cross the picket lines during a United Rubber Workers strike.[2][3] During this time he was a member of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in Akron from 1964 to 1970.

In 1970, Seiberling won the Democratic nomination for Ohio’s 14th congressional district, based in Akron. Running on an anti-Vietnam War platform, he then defeated 10-term Republican William H. Ayres by 12 points in a major upset. He would be reelected seven more times from this district,[3] He never faced substantive opposition in what became a solidly Democratic district. Indeed, he won each of his seven reelection bids with over 70 percent of the vote.

His political legacy in the House includes playing a key role in a number of successful major, bipartisan parkland and environmental protection legislative efforts, including enactment of the massive Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.[4] He also participated in the 1975 Congressional delegation meetings in the Middle East that helped precipitate the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.[2] He did not run for reelection in 1986, and endorsed Akron Mayor Tom Sawyer as his successor.

After his time in Congress, Seiberling served as faculty at the law school of the University of Akron from 1992 to 1996.

On January 8, 2001, he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Clinton.[5]

On Thursday, October 12, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law H.R. 6051, which designates the Federal building and United States courthouse in Akron as the John F. Seiberling Federal Building and United States Courthouse.[6] Seiberling died of respiratory failure at his home in Copley, Ohio on August 2, 2008.[1]

John Seiberling’s cousin, Francis Seiberling, was also a U.S. Representative from Ohio (Republican). His mother, Henrietta Buckler Seiberling, was a seminal figure in Alcoholics Anonymous’ founding and core spiritual ideals.[7][8] His paternal grandfather was Frank Seiberling, founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.[7] The family’s one-time home, Stan Hywet, is now a national museum.[7]



Cuyahoga Valley National Park

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

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The CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK (formerly the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area) was created by an act of Congress sponsored by Rep. John F. Seiberling and signed by Pres. Gerald Ford on 27 Dec. 1974. It designated 32,000 acres along 22 mi. of the CUYAHOGA RIVER in southern Cuyahoga and northern Summit counties as the third urban park in the Natl. Park system; the Golden Gate Natl. Recreation Area in San Francisco and the Gateway Natl. Recreation Area in New York City were established in 1972. The northern boundary of the park is at Rockside Rd. in VALLEY VIEW. The CVNRA was established to preserve the “scenic, recreational, natural, and historic” values of undeveloped land between Cleveland and Akron, land threatened by commercial development and rapid population growth. Established officially on 26 June 1975, the CVNRA includes such already developed recreational facilities as the Virginia Kendall Park, Blossom Music Ctr., and Hale Farm & Village. Congress authorized $34.5 million for land acquisition over a 5-year period, and under the direction of Superintendent Wm. C. Birdsell, the Natl. Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a controversial land-buying spree that angered many people residing in the park area and politicians. By 1980 only 60% of the land had been acquired, at a cost of more than $42 million, and the Park Service had bought 306 of the 750 homes in the park area.

By the fall of 1980, CVNRA was offering visitors’ biking and nature tours, programs for children, concerts, and craft programs. After Birdsell’s death on 18 Aug. 1980, Lewis S. Albert became the superintendent of CVNRA. Under his direction and that of the Reagan administration in Washington, policies at CVNRA were changed. The CVNRA stopped purchasing land not needed for park purposes and sought other ways to preserve it. By Nov. 1984 the Natl. Park Service had bought 14,444 acres of land for CVNRA for $78 million and had plans to buy 3,000 additional acres. John Debo has served as park superintendent since 1988.

The CVNRA continued to expand its offering of cultural and recreational activities in the 1980s. Although it hosted the Natl. Folk Festival from 1983-85, the Folk Festival left in 1985. Soon after, the Park Service began sponsoring its own event, the Cuyahoga Valley Heritage Festival, held annually in August. The CVNRA also focused on the rehabilitation of historic structures and Park Service facilities. The Canal Visitor Center, located at Hillside and Canal roads in Valley View, was renovated in 1984. The Park Service also spent $2 million to renovate 50 other historic structures.

In the 1990s the CVNRA opened the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Ctr. The towpath, completed in Oct. 1993, parallels remnants of the canal and the Cuyahoga River. Opened in May 1994, the Environmental Education Ctr. serves elementary-age students from 1,800 schools around the northeastern Ohio region. In 1994 visitation surpassed 3.3 million visitors. By the time it celebrated its 20th anniversary in Sept. 1995, the CVNRA had an annual operating budget of $6.5 million and 139 employees. In October 2000, the park was renamed the Cuyahoga Valley National Park by an act of Congress.

Last Modified: 26 Sep 2003 03:53:27 PM

An American Hero Dies – John F. Seiberling

Obituary from the Akron Beacon Journal that ran on August 3, 2008



‘An American hero’ dies


Retired congressman who represented Akron for 16 years praised for his tireless work creating Cuyahoga Valley park, preserving wilderness

By Bob Downing Beacon Journal staff writer

Published: August 3, 2008 – 12:02 AM


John F. Seiberling, the retired Akron congressman who helped create the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, died Saturday morning at his home in Copley Township.


He was 89.


Mr. Seiberling, who was born in Stan Hywet Hall but represented blue-collar Akron in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years, was remembered by some as the conscience of Congress and by others as one of America’s great conservationists.

His death was attributed to respiratory failure caused by chronic lung disease. He had been hospitalized June 29 but was released to go home, where he died about 7 a.m. Saturday.


”Without John Seiberling, there would be no Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” said U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre. ”He was a good person . . . and he left a great legacy in the Cuyahoga Valley park.


”He was the original environmentalist. He was green way back when. He really was ahead of his time. . . . He was a man of integrity and made his decisions based on what was right, not for their political value. And he cared deeply for the country and its people.”


Mr. Seiberling represented the old Akron-based 14th District in Congress from 1971 through 1986, frequently winning re- election with 70 percent of the vote.


He was a liberal New Deal Democrat, a supporter of wilderness, arms control, free trade, world peace and historic preservation. He was a fan of Shakespeare, poetry and bawdy limericks, as well as an accomplished nature photographer and a lover of The Wind in the Willows.


He was soft-spoken and reserved yet strong willed and at times feisty. He looked at the big picture, although he was a man of detail. Known for his calm, statesmanlike approach, he operated with caution and dignity, without flamboyance. He was known for his dry wit, intellect, idealism and integrity.


He was a loner and proudly operated outside the political system, refusing to be one of the boys, to join the congressional club. Behind his back, staff and supporters called him St. John.


Before Congress, during his 17 years as an attorney for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. — the company his grandfather founded — Mr. Seiberling once took a leave of absence to avoid crossing United Rubber Worker union picket lines. That’s because he sided with the union at that time.


And in the wake of the May 4, 1970, shootings at nearby Kent State University, Mr. Seiberling ignored the political risks and warnings of advisers to speak at a rally at the University of Akron, advising students there to keep their protests peaceful.

It was his opposition to the Vietnam War that led Mr. Seiberling to run for Congress in 1970, defeating 10-term Republican incumbent William Ayers to become a 51-year-old rookie.


Mr. Seiberling served on the House Judiciary Committee that conducted the 1974 impeachment hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.


And in his 1986 congressional hearings to probe the proposed takeover of Goodyear by raider Sir James Goldsmith, it was Mr. Seiberling who drew the loudest cheers from Akron when he confronted Goldsmith with the question: ”Who the hell are you?”

Part of Mr. Seiberling’s success as a congressman was attributed to his ability to work with local and federal officials in a bipartisan effort.


He got Akron a new federal courthouse and a new post office. He twice found federal money for the city’s now-closed trash- burning power plant, as well as funds for Quaker Square, the Akron-Canton Airport, the Goodyear Technical Center and various other projects.


”I’m not sure any of us can adequately measure with words the immense contributions John has made,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. ”The true value of his work will continue to reside in his legacy and will be enjoyed by and for many, many generations to come. His is the work of a remarkable public servant with a most generous spirit and creative mind. John Seiberling and his family have helped build and sustain this city.”


”John Seiberling was a darn good congressman,” Summit County Republican Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff told a reporter after Seiberling retired. ”If I were a liberal Democrat, I’d say he was a great congressman.”


Mr. Seiberling also left his mark far beyond Akron, stretching across the American West and Alaska.


”John Seiberling stands as a giant in terms of managing public lands . . . an American hero,” said John Debo, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. ”What he did was really extraordinary, and he truly was one of America’s great conservationists.”


Right man, right time

He was a key figure in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s and played a key role in preserving America’s wild lands — with his constituents not always aware of the issues and what was going on, said Dan Nelson of Bath Township, an emeritus history professor at the University of Akron and author of A Passion for the Land: John F. Seiberling and the Environmental Movement (to be published next year by Kent State University Press).


”Getting the Cuyahoga Valley park created in 1974 only whetted his appetite. He got involved in Alaska and wilderness lands. . . . He was the right man at the right time to get a lot accomplished,” Nelson said.


Doug Scott of Seattle, a wilderness author and policy director for Campaign for America’s Wilderness, said Mr. Seiberling should rank among the very top conservationists in the 20th century. Scott worked with Mr. Seiberling on wilderness measures while with the Sierra Club and wrote The Enduring Wilderness: Protecting Our National Heritage Through the Wilderness Act.


”Wilderness was his passion,” Scott said. ”And that legacy will touch all Americans for generations. . . . He truly was an American giant.”


Over the years, Mr. Seiberling served as chairman of the Interior Committee’s public lands and national parks subcommittee and pushed 33 bills for 250 new and expanded wilderness areas in 27 states.


In 1980, he and U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., led the fight to approve federal protection for 103 million acres under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.


In all, Mr. Seiberling played a key role in preserving 69 million acres of wilderness — that included 54 million acres in Alaska — in addition to 59 million acres of other federal parks, forests and preserves.


Mr. Seiberling made his first trip to Alaska in 1975 and came away impressed.


In 1977, he held congressional hearings across that state, helping him develop a photo collection of more than 3,000 Alaskan shots. He exhibited his photos in the Capital during the 1978 debate and said the photos helped sway members of Congress.

He was widely saluted by national environmental groups for his efforts to save the American wilderness — efforts that earned him opposition from some Western and Alaskan politicians.


Bruce Hamilton, deputy executive director for the national Sierra Club, compared the significance of Mr. Seiberling’s efforts for Alaska to President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of the national forests.


The Alaskan legislation was ”a tribute to Seiberling’s persistence and statesmanship,” he said.


”He was the expert and made quite the difference. . . . Every wilderness advocate in the country knew him and worshipped him,” Hamilton said in a telephone interview from San Francisco. ”Most considered John Seiberling to be their second congressman.”


Conservationist is born

Mr. Seiberling’s desire to save wild America may be traced to a childhood experience on a family vacation to an island in Lake Huron. On a return trip, the mainland forest near Hessel, Mich., had disappeared. The giant white pines had been cut to be turned into matchsticks.


Later, in a quote still cited by his ex-staffers, Mr. Seiberling said:

”We will never see the land as our ancestors did. But we can understand what made it beautiful and why they lived and died to preserve it. And in preserving it for future generations, we will preserve something of ourselves. If we all have an interest in this land, then we all have a stake in its preservation. There is no more worthwhile cause.”

His associates said the words were reflective of his goals. But Mr. Seiberling was proudest of spearheading the creation of the Cuyahoga Valley park in 1974.


In 1971, as a rookie legislator, Mr. Seiberling’s efforts to help sponsor legislation to create a national park between Akron and Cleveland went nowhere.


In subsequent years, though, he introduced the measure and worked to build public support for saving the Cuyahoga Valley.

Debo, the park’s superintendent, said Mr. Seiberling ”had the foresight and the ability to galvanize public support to preserve the valley. It was an incredible accomplishment.”


Not everyone supported the idea. The National Park Service didn’t think the Cuyahoga Valley deserved federal protection.

And even after winning approval in Congress, the legislation came perilously close to dying. With President Gerald Ford on a ski vacation in Colorado, federal officials, opposed to a high-cost urban park, were urging a veto.


Mr. Seiberling called Regula, who got an emergency phone call placed to Ford by Akron’s Ray Bliss, the influential former national chairman of the Republican Party. Other calls went to U.S. Sens. Robert Taft Jr. and Howard Metzenbaum, as well as former Goodyear Chairman E. J. Thomas.


Bliss told Ford that he should sign the legislation if he wanted to win Ohio and to veto it if he wanted to lose Ohio. Ford signed the bill on Dec. 27, 1974.


Mr. Seiberling called Ford’s approval a Christmas gift for people in Northeast Ohio. In later years, he said the park was far more than he ever expected.


Mr. Seiberling also protected the park from Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the interior, James Watt, who wanted to eliminate it as a federal park in the 1980s.


Mr. Seiberling also played key roles in the 1977 federal surface-mining reclamation act and a 1976 bill enlarging the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. He also pushed to eliminate acid rain in clean-air legislation.


He was unsuccessful in an effort to have federal judges selected on merit instead of political appointment, and to create a youth job corps.


He aggressively fought President Reagan over federal budget cuts in the early 1980s.


His influence was felt beyond U.S. shores. He played key roles in Congress in the birth of nations: the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.


His staff saw Mr. Seiberling as ”this cuddly distinguished college professor whom we all loved,” said Andrew Wiessner, a one-time staffer and now a retired public lands consultant in Colorado.


Issues instead of politics

Mr. Seiberling was different: He was the nonpolitical congressman, a good and dedicated public servant, Wiessner said.

”He looked at the issues, not the politics,” Wiessner said ”There was a gentle way about him. He was so scholarly and so thorough”


Long-time Seiberling staffer Loretta Neumann added: ”He really was a Renaissance man, an amazing man, a giant. . . . Everyone who ever worked for him said it was the best job they ever had, and that was true for me, too. . . . He was the right person at the right place at the right time to do the things he did.”


Neumann, who came to Mr. Seiberling’s staff from the National Park Service, said he hired her mainly to get the park established.


”At the time, I knew nothing about the workings of Congress.” she said. ”When I first met him, I told him so. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I need you to teach me about parks. I can teach you what you need to know about Congress.’ ”


State Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, who succeeded Mr. Seiberling in Congress, said he knew Mr. Seiberling ”virtually my entire political life.”


”He was a commanding figure throughout this community and as soon as I got to Washington, it was clear as it had ever been that he was beloved by the people who knew him best,” Sawyer said.


He had an ”enormous respect for the rule of law and love of nation,” Sawyer said, and his respect for the environment went beyond Northeast Ohio in a way that ”will be remembered for generations.”


After serving in Congress, Mr. Seiberling returned to Akron to practice law, teach law and direct the University of Akron’s Center for Peace Studies for 51/2 years, until mid-1996. He also returned to enjoy the Cuyahoga Valley from his long-time home at the edge of the park in Bath Township. He and his wife later moved to a Copley Township condominium.


He earned countless honors over the years, including the Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award from the Akron Community Foundation in 1999.


He attributed his love of nature to his father, John F. Seiberling Sr. But he frequently said the most influential person in his life was his mother, Henrietta, who died in 1979.


His mother was described as a formidable woman of strong moral conviction — a churchgoer who introduced Bill Wilson of New York and Dr. Robert Smith of Akron in 1935. They went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron.


Getting an education

Mr. Seiberling attended King Elementary School and Buchtel High School in Akron before going to Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Va.


He graduated from Harvard University in 1941.


During World War II, he served in the Army from 1942 to 1946, fighting in Europe. He enlisted as a private and attained the rank of major. He earned the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and three Battle Stars. He also earned the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise (France) and the Ordre de Leopold II (Belgium).


After his discharge, he earned a law degree at Columbia University in New York in 1949. From 1949 to 1954, he practiced law with Donovan, Leisure, Newton and Irvine in New York City. He joined Goodyear in Akron in 1954 and remained here until he went to Congress in 1971.


Locally, Mr. Seiberling was a member of the Akron Regional Development Board and the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority. He was a three-term president of the Akron-based Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.


He was a member of the United Community Council of Summit County, the Stan Hywet Hall Foundation, the United World Federalists of Akron and the Akron Bar Association’s World Peace Through Law committee.


He was a founder of the Summit County Committee for Peace in Vietnam and a member of the local Sierra Club and the Cuyahoga Valley Association.


In 1949, he married Elizabeth ”Betty” Behr, a Vassar graduate. They shared the same interests, the same priorities, the same outlook for 59 years of marriage.


She actually met her future husband while at Vassar through his sister, who was a student there. They had their first date in Paris in 1945 — at an officer’s mess.


He proposed during his last year of law school in New York. She later told reporters she accepted his proposal in part because he had respect for women’s intellectual capabilities.


In addition to his wife, he is survived by their three sons, John B. of Washington, D.C., David of Akron and Stephen of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and one grandson, Evan. He also leaves sisters Dorothy Seiberling of Long Island, N.Y., and Mary S. Huhn of Pennsylvania.


A memorial service is planned for late August or early September. Billow funeral home in Fairlawn is handling arrangements.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or


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