Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Frank Appel -- Renowned Lucasville Educator and Mentor of Branch Rickey

 Frank Appel
To be elected to the superintendency of the schools of the leading city of his native county, is a recognition which seldom comes to a school man, but Frank Appel has been accorded that recognition and, what is still better, he fully merits it.”

From The Ohio Educational Monthly, Volume 57

From its beginnings, Lucasville has been home to a strong commitment to education. From the early efforts of State Senator Robert Lucas (later governor of Ohio), who threw his support into the 1825 bill that created a common system of schools and financed public education in Ohio to the Valley Local System of today, the area has a long history of educational excellence.

One of the celebrated influences on education in Lucasville – and, for that matter, on the process in all of Scioto County – was Frank Appel. He was born September 15, 1868, not far from Lucasville. Frank's parents were Theodore and Mary E. (Brant) Appel. His mother was the daughter of Joseph H. Brant of Lucasville. On June 15, 1895, Appel was married to Martha Jane Cook, a daughter of George Cook.

Frank passed through the regular “laboratory course” of farm work as a boy. He attended the village school, where, under the direction of Principal M. F. Andrew, he made up his mind to be a teacher – “or at least too secure a teacher's certificate.”

In the face of initial failure, Appel set out to achieve his goals. The Educational Monthly reported ...

The first trial resulted in failure, not so much on account of a lack of knowledge as on account of fright due to being so far from home, the journey to the county seat taking him out of his home township for the first time.

The second trial brought success and one more country lad was started on the road to achievement. In the school room he soon found himself and began to work with that earnestness so characteristic of the

In 1888, he entered the preparatory department of the Ohio Wesleyan University with six years work ahead and money enough to last but one year. By means of teaching, at times, he supplied himself with the necessary funds to go on with his college work.”

Appel taught locally while pursuing his degree – his teaching experience covered the entire range of public school work from the six months' term in the county at $33 per month to positions as superintendent. He began teaching in 1885, in Jefferson Township and taught there and in Clay township until 1891, when he was appointed superintendent of the Lucasville schools.

Frank remained in Lucasville two years, and in September, 1894, he went to Wheelersburg, where he was superintendent until 1899. In June, 1899, Appel went to Piketon and was superintendent of the Piketon schools until January 1, 1900, when he was appointed superintendent of the Ludlow, Kentucky, schools where he had twelve schools under his charge. Later, he became principal at Portsmouth and eventually superintendent in 1908.

Appel also taught summer school at Wheelersburg, in 1898, and at Lucasville, in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902.

In 1894 Appel completed his course and secured his A.B. Degree from Ohio Wesleyan. He passed his examinations before the state board for a common school life certificate in December, 1899, and he passed his high school life certificate the following June – both requiring “scholarship and training of a high order.”


Educational Monthly paid Frank the highest of compliments ...

Best of all Frank Appel is a genuine, true, manly man. He loves sport and can throw a ball with all the curves known to a professional. He has travelled a hilly road himself, and can sympathize with boys and girls and teachers in their difficulties. He is loyal to his friends, and when Supt. J. I. Hudson resigned his position to take up other work, it was natural, just and right that the high school principal who had served so faithfully in that position should be called to the highest place. The board of education of Portsmouth is deserving of congratulations on its wise action in electing Supt. Appel and the teachers, pupils, and patrons of the schools have reason to rejoice that a true and tried friend is to be their guide and leader in educational affairs.”

Frank Appel is also well-noted in the annals of local history. The History of Scioto County, “Biographical Sketches” reported ...

Appel is honest, energetic and thorough in everything he undertakes. As a superintendent, he is fearless and efficient in the discharge of his duties. As a county school examiner, he did much to raise the standard of scholarship among the teachers of Scioto County. He was a leader among the teachers of Scioto county while he was one of them, and has made a permanent impression in his institute work in the county. He was regarded as one of the brightest teachers ever in the county.”

The Frank Appel/Branch Rickey Connection

The educator Frank Appel was a major influence in young Branch Rickey's life. Along with another Lucasville superintendent who succeeded Appel, James H. Finney, he built Rickey's self-esteem and supported his burning desire to continue his formal education. Appel viewed Branch as “an especially passionate and intelligent young man” with great potential.

In the fall of 1892 the Rickey family (with the exception of Frank, Branch's father, who stayed to work the farm on Duck Run) moved into Lucasville. Part of the reason for their move was their belief that 11-year-old Branch was especially bright and the one-room schoolhouse near Duck Run at Little Buck Knob had given him all it could. It was recorded that “Lucasville had a better school, with more than one overworked teacher and with a more complex curriculum.”

The Rickeys moved into Squire Crain's house on Valley Pike across from Chandler Moulton's store, – the village evidently called this dwelling a hotel (“Just a big house,” said Branch Rickey, later recalling the move.). They rented three rooms on each of two floors with separate entries at the front and rear.

At the time, the Lucasville school offered instruction in twelve grades but no diploma. Its two-story wooden building, bustling halls, and three large classrooms were a dramatic change from Duck Run.
One biographer said …

And whatever its physical and scholastic limitations, the school was blessed successively with two spirited and resourceful young superintendents, both still students at Ohio Wesleyan University, who chose teaching, as did many rural young men, as a stepping-stone to professional careers elsewhere. The first was James H. Finney, a vigorous, talented, and athletic farm boy. Finney quickly developed a reputation as a pedagogic innovator and a firm proponent of a humane liberal arts education with stress upon classical literature; as Rickey recognized later in life, he was a born psychologist too.”

After Branch finished schooling in Lucasville in 1898, it was Finney who encouraged him into taking the exam for Scioto County primary-school teachers that summer. Finney also tutored Rickey without charge in preparation for the test. Branch passed the exam and started teaching the next fall at the one-room school at Turkey Creek, seventeen miles from Lucasville. The money he made would aid the family and help finance Branch's desire to continue his education.

To be honest, there was more to Branch Rickey's educational desires than just scholarship. Let me explain ...

Chandler Moulton – who would one day become Rickey's father-in-law – was born in Vermont in 1839, the grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1848 the Moultons settled in Scioto County, In time, Moulton became a Republican member of the Ohio legislature, “a man of commanding influence in business and politics. He takes everything easy and does not worry about anything. Job could have taken lesson of him and improved his book,” said an admirer. Needless to say, Chandler Moulton was a well-respected resident of Lucasville – of special interest to the young Branch Rickey.

To get to the point … Jennie (later called Jane), the fourth of Moulton's six children, was Branch's age and …

Rickey knew her from the time of his arrival in town, but at some point – he always claimed it was “love at first sight” – in their adolescence, he saw her as a young woman and fell in love. This feeling was unshakable and in 1898, when he was seventeen and she sixteen, they began to correspond after Jane and her sister Mabel were sent to the Western College for Women, in Oxford, Ohio, where she studied French and drawing, read Caesar, sang in the chorus, played piano, joined the school's athletic club, and participated in golf, tennis, basketball, cricket, and battle ball.”

While at Oxford, Jane wrote a steady stream of “My dear Branch” letters, and even confessed she could not concentrate on her studies while thinking of Rickey. She told him she had failed a French recitation because of him. Branch was highly motivated to pursue this attraction and make Jane the future Mrs. Rickey. Securing an education that would improve his station in life would help solidify his plans. After all, “it was expected that all the Moulton children, girls included, would go to college and marry respectably.” The Moultons harbored “grave doubts about whether Branch could support her I the manner they expected.”

Frank Appel, then school superintendent in Wheelersburg, wrote Branch a letter at that time. He and Finney had been talking about him, Appel wrote. They agreed that something had to be done to help him go on to college, especially – it was meant to be a joke – as the OWU team needed a reliable catcher. Appel wondered would, therefore, Branch be willing to spend the summer in Wheelersburg with him cramming for the entrance exam for OWU's prep school, a pre-college academy which shared ties to the OWU campus and faculty in Delaware? If he passed the exam, and afterwards the prep school courses, he would be admitted into the college, Appel explained.

Rickey jumped at the chance but also thought again about a military career and decided to take the United States Naval Academy examination, which Jane Moulton had been urging him to do. When the results were in, he learned he had placed third, losing to Jane's cousin. Branch was crushed.

Appel's tutoring offer was a clear alternative. In late June Rickey rented a room in a boardinghouse across the road from Frank Appel's house. For the next eight weeks, six days weekly, they spent much of the day studying geometry and reading Caesar, Cicero, and the school's basic text, Grove's Latin Grammar. Except for Sundays, when Branch visited church, each day was an academic grind and each evening was spent ingesting and memorizing the required materials.

The relentless study was brutal ...

By the end of August, exhausted by the intense heat and endless rounds of study, looking thin, drawn, and ashen, he returned home intent on talking with his father about his dream of college. Frank listened but then said he was 'really opposed' to the very idea. Frank Rickey firmly believed that, unlike West Point or Annapolis, and ordinary college might corrupt his son as he thought it corrupted other men's sons. Young Rickey had no high school diploma, argued Frank; besides, college was for the sons and daughters of the well-to-do people and Chandler Moulton's kids, people with money.”

However, Finney and Appel, most likely at Rickey's request, went to see Frank Rickey. They argued for Branch's continued education and were quite persuasive. Finney and Appel bombarded Branch's father with questions ...

'What sort of life had Frank in mind for his son?' They asked. 'Dirt farming? Storekeeping? Schoolteaching?' The boy, they argued, had 'a first-rate mind,' and Frank 'ought to be encouraging him.'”

Frank reluctantly agreed that if Branch truly wanted, he could go. But then he raise another objection: why attend OWU and not Ohio State University? Patiently the two educators explained once more about OWU's unique prep school. At last, a decision was made. Branch could – if he still wished – enter college after his second year teaching at Turkey Creek.

In his wonderful biography of Rickey, Murray Polner tells the tale of Branch's departure ...

At 5:00 A.M. On March 7, 1901, Branch awoke to prepare for his long days' trip north to Delaware, Ohio, home of the OWU campus. As he began dressing, he heard his father speak from the bedroom. 'Branch,' he began, 'I think you should go to Ohio State and not Ohio Wesleyan. I know Mr. Rightmore' – actually he had a nodding acquaintance with George Rightmore, an OSU alumnus and local school administrator – 'and he will take care of you.' Branch did not reply. His father's voice rose, filled with anxiety over his son's leaving. 'In Fact, Branch, I don't believe you should go.' Branch continued dressing, saying nothing, his first rebellious act. Then, in an even more exasperated and fretful voice, his father shouted, 'I think you ought not go to college at this time!'

His mother was preparing breakfast and brewing a pot of coffee. She helped her son pack and included Grove's Latin Grammar and a catcher's mitt in his satchel. He would wear his only suit on the train. She also gave Branch a torch made up of rolled copies of the Lucasville Transcript bound with a string, and some matches, to flag down the Norfolk and Western train for Columbus at the Lucasville depot. Packed, dressed, fed, he embraced his mother, shouted good-by to his unhappy father, and left for the station with $62 in his pocket. At 6:00 A.M., the Columbus-bound train stopped, and four hours later, in the state capital, he changed to the Hocking Valley Railroad and reached Delaware a little past noon.

'I wanted to go to college more than anything else in the world, and I didn't care how I got there,' he said. 'I just wanted to go.'”

Lucasville chums Clyde Brant and Ed Appel, Frank's younger brother, met Rickey at the train station in Delaware. And, the rest is well-known history.


Murray Polner. Branch Rickey: A Biography. 1982.

Nelson W. Evans. A History of Scioto County, Ohio. 1903.

The Ohio Educational Monthly, Volume 57. 1908.

Lee Lowenfish. Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. 2007.

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