COLUMBUS: Alex Arshinkoff’s death this week severed one of the Akron area’s last living links to the political legacy of Ray Bliss, the Akron insurance man who served as chairman of the Republican Party at the county, state and national levels.

Without Bliss’s help, it’s unlikely that Arshinkoff would have been elected chairman of the Summit County Republican Party in 1978 when Arshinkoff was just 23.

And without the lessons he learned from Bliss, Arshinkoff never would have become nationally recognized as a “Powerful GOP Boss,” the way a Washington Post headline described Arshinkoff this week.

Arshinkoff died at age 62 after several years of declining health.

Bliss had returned to Akron in 1969 after President Richard M. Nixon, whom Bliss helped elect, forced Bliss’ resignation as Republican national chairman. Bliss had put the Republican Party back together after Republican Barry Goldwater’s overwhelming loss in the 1964 presidential election.

Bliss, who died at 73 in 1981, accepted no more full-time political jobs. Instead, he became a teacher to other Republicans, especially Arshinkoff.

Arshinkoff got hooked early on politics, the way other young men in Northeast Ohio became followers of the Cleveland Indians or the Cleveland Browns.

As a freshman at the University of Akron in 1974, Arshinkoff was elected president of the College Republicans. He caught the attention of D.E. “Gene” Waddell, the Summit County Republican chairman, who backed Arshinkoff for a spot on the county GOP’s influential executive committee.

Arshinkoff won the seat and also was elected a party vice chairman. Waddell had a reward.

“Stick around, we’re going to go up and have a drink with Ray Bliss,” Waddell told Arshinkoff.

At the meeting, Bliss told Arshinkoff to give the College Republicans a social dimension, as Bliss had done in the 1930s with the Young Republicans.

Arshinkoff took Bliss’ advice, rented the local American Legion Hall for a bash with 10 kegs of beer and a band that played 1950s’ hits.

The young man was off and organizing. Waddell in 1978 decided to step down as county chairman and, with Bliss’ support, proposed Arshinkoff as his successor.

Despite the hard work he had put in for the party, Arshinkoff was regarded as an unproven outsider by some. With his Macedonian ancestry, he was a dark-haired ethnic in a party dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestants

Akron Mayor John Ballard and former Summit County Commissioner Richard Slusser opposed Arshinkoff and charged they had received little financial help from the party in past elections.

This irked Bliss.

“One present officeholder and one former officeholder have said the party organization provided them with no money,” said Bliss. “They got thousands of dollars. These careless statements make it difficult to build a party.”

Slusser dropped out, and Arshinkoff was elected chairman, the youngest urban county GOP chairman in Ohio and possibly the nation.

He left college to be chairman full time, as Bliss had been.

But he kept taking “classes,” with Bliss as professor.

“It was like the chance to study art with Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci,” Arshinkoff said. “Most artists would quit art school in a minute for a chance like that.”

Arshinkoff was no instant success. In 1978, Republicans won just three of 23 local races. He didn’t show up at party headquarters for a week when his home phone rang.

“Where the hell are you?” demanded Bliss. “Get your ass down here.”

He did, and Bliss told him that in politics there were “big ups and big downs.”

Arshinkoff got back to work. By 1979, in a county dominated by Democrats, Republicans won 49 of 145 races on the county ballot, including the Akron mayor’s office.

Arshinkoff regularly visited Bliss’ insurance office.

“He was willing to help us daily, that was the key,” Arshinkoff said. “I went to Bliss four or five times a day, sometimes for five or six hours. I’d go to him for advice, and he would give it.”

Unfortunately for Arshinkoff, his political schooling was cut short just two years later with Bliss’ death.

“It was like losing my father or mother,” Arshinkoff said. “He was my friend and mentor.”

Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He also was the Columbus bureau chief of the Dayton Daily News. He is the co-author, with John C. Green, of Mr. Chairman: The Life and Times of Ray C. Bliss, which will be released in November. He can be reached at hershey_william@hotmail.com.