Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Famous Relatives: Mayor Piola L. Leifer

Mayor Piney Leifer (1873-1942) in a 1938 newspaper photo.
My first entry in this "Famous Relatives" series of blog posts was about the actor Richard Gere. But the majority of my famous relatives are nowhere near as famous. Famous is an elastic term. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to consider someone famous as long as that person performed some sort of career or accomplishment in the public eye, even if that public was relatively local.

My first cousin three times removed, Piola Leroy “Piney” Leifer (1873-1942), was the mayor of the small town of Brewster in Stark County, Ohio, where he lived virtually his whole life. He first won election as mayor in the fall of 1930 for the term that began January 1, 1931. Evidently he was quite popular with the voting citizens of Brewster, since he was re-elected five more times. He filled the office of mayor for six consecutive terms until his death in 1942 interrupted the sixth term.

Piney Leifer was born in Justus, Stark County, Ohio, the child of Swiss immigrant Jacob Leifer (1842-1922) and his wife Katharine Ann Werstler Leifer (1839-1904), and he was the nephew of my great-great-grandmother Louisa “Lucy” Leifer Shanower (1856-1916). Before he entered politics, Piney was a farmer and a prominent horse and cattle dealer. I don’t know why he left that career to run for mayor of Brewster, but the timing of the career change suggests that perhaps his horse and cattle business was hit hard by the Great Depression.

The Depression years of the 1930s were difficult all across the USA, but Mayor Leifer performed the feat of keeping the village of Brewster financially solvent throughout his mayoralty. Only a few other Ohio municipalities of that period could boast the same feat. During Piney Leifer’s administration Brewster, Ohio, built a waterworks system, sanitary sewers, a sewage disposal system, and a municipal building. Brewster paid off the debts from this construction and built up its bank account.

Mayor Leifer also had the village implement a locally operated power system, distributing power purchased from the Ohio Public Service Company to residents. The income to the village from resales of power funded village improvements, but after the new municipal building was paid for, the village cut the charge for power by fifty-five cents a month for average consumers.

These accomplishments during one of the worst economic periods in US history gained Piney Leifer statewide prominence. He explained his successful guidance of Brewster like this: “The real secret of municipal financing is to get at least seventy-five cents value out of each dollar spent.  Here in Brewster we try to get a value of at least eighty-five cents on every dollar we use.”

Several months after Piney Leifer was elected mayor of Brewster for his sixth term, he grew ill. He never married, so he moved in with his sister Celia Catherine Leifer Roush (1876-1948) and her husband Andrew Jacob Roush (1874-1954). Nine months later, on December 16, 1942, he died at their Brewster home.

His successful guidance of the village of Brewster through the tough Depression years became his legacy. “Think how much interest would be saved if municipalities bought things only when they could pay cash for them,” he was quoted in the Canton [Ohio] Repository, October 9, 1938. “We pay as we go—that’s our system.” Still good advice—and not just for municipalities, but for individuals, too.

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