Biography of Hon. Thomas J. Godfrey
Mercer County, Ohio Biographies


Among the mass of good citizens, who have made Mercer County a leading county of the Buckeye State, there have. arisen individuals, who, through their superior ability, their greater enterprise and their more pronounced public spirit, have added luster in their fields of work and have distinguished themselves for posterity. Such a one was the late Hon. Thomas J. Godfrey, who for more than 30 years served faithfully in public life and for 50 years was prominently identified with the business, educational and social affairs Of the village of Celina.

Thomas J. Godfrey, whose portrait accompanies this sketch, was born June 6, 1831, in Darke County, Ohio, and died at Celina, November 30, 1906. He was a son of Elias B. and Sarah (Elliott) Godfrey, the former of whom was born in Ohio and the latter in North Carolina. Mr. Godfrey's parents reared a family of seven children, twos of whom now survive. The father died in 1888, and the mother in 189r, at Dowagiac, Michigan, to which place they had removed in 1859.

Mr. Godfrey enjoyed more extended educational opportunities than were afforded many youths of his time and after, he had completed his academic and university training, receiving the latter in Asbury University, at Greencastle, Indiana, he began to teach school and met with such success that the two succeeding years were passed as an educator, both in Ohio and Indiana. His ambition, however, was to attain eminence as a lawyer and he began reading law in the office of Allen & Meeker, at Greenville, Ohio. In 1857 le was graduated at the Cincinnati Law School. Shortly after being admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Ohio at Columbus, he located at Celina, which village continued his home the remainder of his life.

Mr. Godfrey's active entrance into politics may be dated from 1863, when he was elected prosecuting attorney of Mercer County. By the close of his first term, his public efficiency had been so acknowledged that he was enthusiastically and unanimously renominated, but pending the election he was nominated to the State Senate by the convention representing the district then composed of the counties of Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Mercer, Van Wert, Paulding and Williams. From the first his election was an assured fact and his administration of the office was so satisfactory that in 1867 he was returned to the Senate.

Upon the organization of the General Assembly in January, 1868, Mr. Godfrey was honored by election as president pro team., and this office, like every other, he administered with fidelity and efficiency. In 1869, when the Democratic party selected the late Hon. George H. Pendleton as its candidate for Governor of Ohio, Mr. Godfrey was equally honored by being selected for the office of Lieutenant Governor. In that year the party met universal defeat in the State. In 1873 Mr. Godfrey was chosen a member of the constitutional convention, that notable body of distinguished men, and he served with characteristic capacity on its judiciary committee during its sessions in 1873 and 1874. In spite of the legal learning and careful weighing of important issues which, characterized this eminent body, the constitution submitted by it to the popular vote was rejected in the fall of 1874.

When the campaign of 1880 opened, Mr. Godfrey was advanced by his party as a presidential elector for the Fifth Congressional District, but was. defeated with his party. In October, 1881, Mr. Godfrey was again returned to the State Senate, the senatorial district comprising the counties of Mercer, Van Wert, Auglaize, Allen, Paulding, Defiance and Williams. In 1883 he was reelected.

With his retirement from the political field, Mr. Godfrey took, if possible, a still greater interest in matters more closely pertaining to his own community as well as to the educational affairs of the county and State. He had more time to devote to them.

For seven years he served as president of the board of trustees of the Ohio State University, and was a member of this body from May, 1878 to May, 1903, a period of just 25 years. On June 2, 1903; the board of trustees of the Ohio State University adopted a set of resolutions, expressing the sentiment of the board relative to Mr. Godfrey's retirement, from. which we quote, in substance, a part:- "On May 12, 1903, since our last meeting, the' term of the Hon. Thomas J. Godfrey, as member of the board of trustees, expired. He did not seek reappointment, preferring to retire after having rounded out 25 years of continuous service. Mr. Godfrey was first appointed a member of the board of trustees of the Ohio State University, under the act of May 1, 1878, for the term of four years, his appointment dating from May 13, 1878; he was reappointed for seven years in 1882, 1889 and 1896. On May 16, 1878, at the first meeting of the board under the act above mentioned, he was elected its president, and was reelected November 5, 1878. He was again elected president of the board November 14, 1883, and reelected November 14, 1884. In November, 1889, he was again elected to this position and reelected in 1890 and 1891. He served on several committees; was chairman of finance at different periods; was chairman of the committee on faculty and courses of study for several years; and was chairman of the special committee that reported the plan of organization of the College of Law. He took an active part in the establishment of this college and was one of its most active supporters. He seldom missed a meeting of the board. His loyalty and devotion to the interest of the University during his long period of service never abated. His service began when the University was small in numbers, weak in influence, meager in income and a supplicant for needed support. He saw it grow in numbers, power and influence until it assumed its present proud position, and had the satisfaction of knowing that he had contributed to such growth. In his intercourse with his fellow members of the board, with members of the faculty and with the student body, he was always courteous and kindly, and took a friendly interest in all that was going on. The trust that was confided in him a quarter of a century ago, has been faithfully discharged, and he retires with the good wishes of his associates, the faculty, students, alumni and all friends of the University." The members of the general faculty of the University expressed themselves. as follows, relative to Mr. Godfrey's retirement: "The Hon. T. J. Godfrey having retired from the board of trustees of Ohio State University after a. continuous membership of 25 years, we as members of the General Faculty hereby express our sincere appreciation of his long and eminently faithful service and our regret that the affairs of the University are no longer to receive the benefit of his careful oversight and judicious counsel. We follow him into his retirement with our kindly wishes and the hope that the future may bring him none but peaceful and happy years."

Coming closer home, Mr. Godfrey found time to serve as county school examiner at various times and was a regular and welcome visitor at all the Teachers' Institutes held in Mercer County, of which there have been 48 annual sessions since the movement was inaugurated in 1859.

In business life Mr. Godfrey was also a leading factor for years, both in city and village. With R. G. Blake, G. W. Raudabaugh, E. M. Piper, A. P. J. Snyder, T. G. TouVelle, William Dickman, Christopher Schunck and S. S. Snyder, he became one of the stockholders of the first building and loan association organized at Celina. This company was chartered as the Celina Building and Loan Association, on February 2, 187o, and when the stockholders held their first meeting for the election of officers, Mr. Godfrey was chosen president. Two years later, Mr. Godfrey, with Dr. D. Milligan and his son, bought the entire stock of the association, surrendered its charter and proceeded to organize a banking house, which came into being in February, 1874, at Milligan, Godfrey & Company. The subsequent death of Dr. Milligan caused a reorganization and business was resumed under the firm style of Godfrey & Milligan, which continued without change until 1888. It was then succeeded by the Commercial Bank Company, the board of directors of this concern being: Thomas J. Godfrey, Calvin E. Riley, John Milligan, J. B. Pulskanip, and Ashley M. Riley. On January 1, 1896, Mr. Godfrey retired from the Commercial Bank Company, after a long period of honorable connection.

All public men require relaxation and Mr. Godfrey, like many others, gave a great deal of attention to agricultural interests. He owned a valuable farm and when the perplexities of business, professional and political life bore heavily upon him, he took refuge in his country home and found both pleasure and profit in the developing of what was one of the finest herds of Jersey cattle to be found in the country.

Thomas J. Godfrey was united in marriage on September 29, 1859, to Lorinda Milligan, daughter of the late Dr. D. Milligan, for years a leading capitalist and prominent citizen of Fort Recovery, Ohio. The one daughter born to this marriage, Luella, was carefully reared and liberally educated, being a graduate of the class of 1881 at Glendale Female College, near Cincinnati. In 1883 she was married to Rev. J. M. Anderson, who was the valued pastor of Olivet Presbyterian Church, at Columbus, Ohio. Rev. and Mrs. Anderson have two sons; Carl Godfrey and Robert Bruce. Mrs. Godfrey died September 8, 1898.

Fraternally, Mr. Godfrey was well known all over the State. He was prominent in Masonry; he was a member of Shawnee Commandery, K. T., at Lima, Ohio, and had received the 32d degree. He belonged also to the Uniform Rank, Knights of Pythias.

History of Mercer County, Ohio
and Representative Citizens
Edited & Compiled by: Hon. S. S. Scranton
Published by: Biographical Publishing Company
Chicago, Illinois

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