Former student helped keep OUS in Ironton

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Four decades ago, there were rumors swirling around Lawrence County that Ohio University was going to be moved out of Ironton.

One Ohio University Southern branch student wasn’t going to let that happen.

In 1968, Betty Williams, then a 37-year-old student, was taking night classes to get an education degree.

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She and other students read in the newspaper the high school needed their classrooms back and OU was probably going to be moved somewhere else, most likely Portsmouth, which also had an OU branch.

“They said there was nothing anybody could do,” Williams said. “The powers that be called a meeting with the students and explained what we had to do, that we would have to go to the main campus in Athens.”

When she asked an OU official what she could do to make sure the school stayed here, she was told that if she wanted to keep the school in Ironton, she would have to start a petition.

So she and a group of friends and family spent months gathering signatures. She said she was concerned about how she was going to educate her seven kids because driving to Portsmouth to take classes “just wasn’t cutting it” and that for many people going to OU, Athens wasn’t pratical.

“Nobody thought we would do it, we weren’t anybody, we were just students, but there was a little article in the Tribune saying that we were gaining ground,” she said. “In the end we got 11,000 signatures.”

She said there was a huge outpouring of support.

“We had grandparents out there on the streets getting signatures,” she said. “Everyone had kids that needed to get an education.”

Recently, Williams, who now lives in Florida, was in Ironton visiting old friends. She had found the box of petitions and presented them to OUS on July 20.

Williams said the reason for fighting to keep the OU in Ironton was because at the time Lawrence County was one of the Ohio counties with lowest number of students who graduated from high school and went on to a secondary education and that many of the students were working adults who didn’t have time to leave town to attend classes.

Williams got her degree and became a teacher. She and her husband moved to Florida in 1971. Over the years, OUS has grown from being night classes at Ironton High School in the high school to a full-fledged campus serving thousands of students every semester.

“That is my dream come true,” Williams said. “It’s everything I wanted. I am humbly, humbly thankful the children are being educated, and that was the beginning, end and middle of what the petitions were about.”