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Walter Powell, former Butler County congressman and educator, dies at 88

Former Congressman Walter Powell died Friday at home. He was 88.
Former Congressman Walter Powell died Friday at home. He was 88.

Former Congressman Walter Powell’s love of traveling may have started when he was 11 years old.

In the summer of 1942, Powell and his uncle, Butch, were given bus fare to travel from St. Louis to California, where they were supposed to visit relatives. Butch had a better plan. He kept the money, and the two of them — a 15-year-old and his younger nephew — hitchhiked along Route 66 to Santa Monica.

They traveled with whoever would give them a ride.

When they didn’t get off the bus as planned, police were notified and they were eventually located and returned to their parents.

Powell, who had many travels in his life that included stints as educator, congressman, local and state politician and lawyer, died Friday. He was 88.

Judge Stephen W. Powell said his father taught him the importance of taking chances that led to opportunities.

“Never be afraid to try something,” Powell said his father told him. “When the door opens, go through it. He just kept walking through those darn things.”

Powell, who spent 20 years as a politician, was proudest of his educational career.

“Whenever somebody asked, he always told them he was a teacher,” his son said.

He started teaching Ohio history in the Fairfield Local School District in 1953. Powell said his father was popular with the students because he didn’t demand rote memorization.

He gave his students the “who,” “what” and “when” in test questions and he made history interesting by teaching them the “why” because he felt that was where the true lessons of history lay, his son said. As a result, many of his students became history majors, Stephen Powell said.

Then he was bit by the “political bug,” his son said.

Fairfield, his new home, was becoming a city and Powell got involved. He served as Clerk of Fairfield City Council in 1955 and principal of Fairfield West Elementary in 1958. He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1960, to the Ohio Senate in 1966 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970.

Twenty years later — after six years in city government, 10 years in the statehouse and four years in the U.S House of Representatives — Powell stepped down and returned home to be an educator.

He served as an assistant principal at Hopewell Junior High and principal at Hopewell Elementary and Union Elementary. While at Union, he served as a Liberty Twp. Trustee, and as a member of the Butler County Board of Elections. He was also chairman of the Executive Committee of the Butler County Republican Party.

He then retired from education and politics and started his third career. He enrolled in law school at the University of Cincinnati when he was 53. After passing the bar exam, he practiced estate planning, probate and income tax law from his home.

Powell, a 1949 Hamilton High School graduate, earned his bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg College and master’s degree from Miami University.

Powell met Bobbi, his future wife, when they were summer employees at LeSourdsville Lake. They were married June 2, 1952 in the First Presbyterian Church on Central Avenue in Middletown. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary just months before her passing.

Besides his wife, he was preceded in death by his his son, Loren David Powell. Besides a son, he’s survived by two grandsons and three great-grandchildren.

Stephen Powell said he and his father traveled extensively as they drove America’s main roads and back roads following family migration routes, genealogy leads or “curiosities and always talking along the way with the radio off,” his son said.

When asked what he’ll miss most about his father, Powell said, “The conversations.”

Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at Hodapp Funeral Home, 6410 Cincinnati Dayton Road in Liberty Twp. Services to be officiated by the Rev. John Lewis at 11 a.m. Thursday at the funeral home.