McCrabb: Middletown’s ‘cheerleader’ heading to sidelines

There Ann Mort was, president of the Middletown City School Board, standing in the girls bathroom.

She was chaperoning Middletown’s prom and as Mort looked to her left she saw a student “having a meltdown” because she had lost the back to one of her earrings.

“At 18,” Mort said, “that’s a crisis.”

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So Mort then removed the back of her earring and handed it to the girl and her tears evaporated. Mort used a piece of a pencil eraser to keep her own earring in place.

Years later, Mort received a handwritten thank-you letter from that student. She was in college, and she took the time to write that she appreciated Mort’s gesture.

“It’s the little things that count,” Mort said.

For nearly 50 years, Mort did all the little — and big — things that made Middletown a special place to live. Now, the 77-year-old said it’s time to pack cardboard boxes with a lifetime of memories and move from her home on Riverview Avenue to a retirement village in Florence, Ky., to be closer to her daughter, Tracy Hopkins, 53.

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“It’s time to start the next chapter in my life,” Mort said while sitting in her near empty home office. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m sad to leave, but I want to do it while I can do it and not have it be a burden on the kids.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a person whose fingerprints are more visible in Middletown, where she and and husband, Dick, moved in 1970 because of the district’s respected public school system. She said her two children, Tracy and Tony, received “very good educations” in Middletown.

Mort, a Preble County native, graduated from Miami University and worked in the extension services department at the Middletown Public Library for 15 years. Then she opened a public relations firm, and since she owned the business, she had time to dedicate to Middletown, her second home.

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She volunteered with the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Challenge, Middletown Bicentennial, All American Weekend and Light Up Middletown. If it was positive for the city, Mort attached her name to the event.

“I tend to be on the sunny side of the street,” she said. “I always say the people who have the ability to deal with the negatives in life have my undying gratitude. I can’t do some of those things so I do what I can do and do some positives.”

Her public service included the Middletown Convention and Visitors Bureau, Planning Commission, Zoning Appeals Board, Middletown School Board and City Council.

In 1994, Mort and Sam Ashworth, whom she met during the U.S. Balloon Nationals and Bicentennial, started publishing a monthly magazine in Middletown.

Its name?

“Good News.”

Of course.

Mort and Ashworth were quite the team. She wrote the articles and he designed the graphics. She was detailed, he was a procrastinator.

“No matter the project she’s working on or the groups involved, she’s a cheerleader for that,” Ashworth said. “She looks on the positive side and brings energy. She’s a very take-charge person. She brought positive energy to Middletown.”

Mort was asked if she considers herself “a cheerleader” for the city.

“Don’t quite fit into the uniform,” she said with a laugh. “My idea is for people to like the place they live and for outsiders to see it as I see it: A positive.”

It hasn’t all been positives, of course. You shed tears in 47 years. She lost her husband, Dick, last year and she has buried more friends than she wants to count.

And when you’re in the public eye — deciding how your neighbors’ tax money is being spent — you are certain to upset some people.

“I had enough death threats when I was president of the school board I just handed them off to the police chief,” she said. “I said, ‘If I disappear, here’s where you start. But that’s OK. You know that comes with the job.”

Now it’s time to say goodbye. To see Exit 32 in the rear-view mirror.

Middletown’s loss will be Florence’s gain. But it won’t be the same there. Probably never will feel like home.

“You can’t build old friends overnight,” she said. “You can’t build those relationships in a year.”

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