COLUMBUS — The young man who set out in 1967 to teach government instead became the government.

Richard Michael DeWine will check off the biggest remaining box in his five-decade-long political career early Monday — just after midnight.

With Mike DeWine’s hand atop a family Bible and wife Fran at his side in their 1823 farmhouse near Cedarville, their eldest child Patrick, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, will administer the oath of office making his father the 70th governor of Ohio.

The Republican says his pursuit of a better Ohio will be guided by his lifetime of experience — eight years as Ohio attorney general, 12 years in the U.S. Senate, four years as lieutenant governor to George V. Voinovich, eight years in the U.S. House, two years in the Ohio Senate and four years as Greene County prosecutor.

The energetic, affable DeWine is crowning his career as Ohio’s CEO following an inaugural ceremony and gala at the Statehouse on Monday.

“I believe I have prepared my whole life for this job,” DeWine said. “I think I have been blessed, fortunate to do something I always have enjoyed very much. I like it in the sense that in public office, you can go to try and solve a problem. I get great satisfaction out of doing that and making a difference.”

 

Rural upbringing

DeWine’s story began amid the farm fields of Greene County, southwest of Columbus, evolving into a political career he never saw coming as a young man, one in which the perennial candidate — to the head-shaking disbelief of others — still retains his love of the glad-handing and chicken dinners.

DeWine’s famed work ethic was entrenched beginning at age 12, when he began stenciling bags and loading trucks and train box cars while working with his grandparents and parents at the family seed company in the late 1950s. The family’s business and property holdings formed the basis of DeWine’s multimillion-dollar wealth later in life.

“I came from a family of people who worked hard. They always had this amazing work ethic,” DeWine said of his parents and grandparents, who brought him up in the Catholic Church as he learned one must help others.

“I think your faith is the focus of who you are and forms how you look at things. It has to be a part of who you are,” he said.

The same pre-teen used to dribble his basketball past the Yellow Springs house of a shy girl with whom he was smitten, Frances Struewing. One day as a sixth-grader he showed up on her doorstep with a Whitman sampler box of chocolates. Their first date came in the seventh grade and the couple began dating seriously as juniors at Yellow Springs High School.

In liberal Yellow Springs amid the President Lyndon B. Johnson era, DeWine was a rarity as a Republican even before he could vote. He and a small group formed a high school GOP group. Fran, from a family of Democrats, jokes she was “converted” by her boyfriend.

DeWine then set off for college at Miami University in Oxford — simply because that was where Fran enrolled. One freshman semester of business courses prompted him to turn to another discipline — education. He resolved to be a high school government and history teacher, even serving as a student teacher at Princeton High School in Cincinnati. He and Fran married in college and they had their first child before graduating in 1969.

DeWine then enrolled at the Ohio Northern University College of Law in Ada. He discovered a love for law and served as an intern clerk in the Greene County prosecutor’s office. He was enthralled to watch a murder trial and, once his J.D. was in hand, began working as an assistant prosecutor prior to being elected prosecutor in 1976.

His dealings with crimes against children — he and Fran have eight children and 23 grandchildren, with another on the way — colored DeWine’s governing philosophy. Children are at the front of the line.

“Child abuse, kids in horrible circumstances ... it really impacted me and it does to this day,” DeWine said. “If you look at my career, a common thread is children. Some of the things I am proudest of, including in the U.S. Senate, a lot of them have to do with the feeling we have an obligation to help other people, particularly children.”

 

Highs and lows

After one term in the Ohio Senate, DeWine went on to serve four terms in the U.S. House before being elected as lieutenant governor with Voinovich in 1990. Following a disastrous, ill-fated run against Democrat U.S. Sen. John Glenn in 1992, DeWine won election to the Senate over Joel Hyatt in 1994 and was re-elected in 2000 over Ted Celeste. He lost his seat in 2006 to Ohio’s current senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown.

The first of two terms as attorney general came in 2010 when he narrowly ousted Democrat incumbent Richard Cordray. He then defeated Cordray in November by 3.7-percentage points to win the governor’s office after earlier defeating a run from the right by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor of Green in a nasty GOP primary. DeWine spent a record $35 million to win the governor’s office, loaning $4 million to his own campaign.

DeWine sidelined a would-be primary opponent, Secretary of State Jon Husted, in late 2017 by brokering the deal that made Husted his running mate over a breakfast of Fran’s raspberry-lemon muffins at the DeWines’ Columbus condo.

“His care for the people and the interests of the state of Ohio are something I admire. They are deep. They are real,” Husted said last week.

While DeWine was lieutenant governor in 1993, the couple suffered their biggest loss — which he said “remains with me every day.” Their daughter Becky, 22, an aspiring journalist, was killed in a traffic crash near their Cedarville home. After later traveling to impoverished Haiti, the DeWines began funding schools for needy children, including one named in memory of Becky. The $13 million DeWine Family Foundation gives hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to the Haitian schools. And, after starting with 150 gifts, Fran DeWine now gathers 5,000 presents in the garage each Christmas and ships them to children in the Caribbean country.

The ever-present Fran visited all 88 counties last year while handing out 130,000 of her trademark cookbooks. She also tried to feed and keep weight on her husband, who could not really spare the five pounds he lost during the campaign.

The only child to follow their father into politics, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Patrick DeWine, says he learned from the best.

“If you watch my father, what you see is invariably he treats everyone with respect, treats them well. If you just look at his career, you can’t help but be struck by his determination and persistence when he wants to accomplish a goal,” the eldest son said.