Even though I've lived in the area for about a year and a half and have traveled to just about every small town and burg in about a 35-mile radius of Sandusky, Oak Harbor was one of those towns it seems like I somehow missed. About the only things I really knew about Oak Harbor was its residents are big football fans, where the high school is located and I usually get stuck in traffic downtown going to or from the football games at high school.
The Wednesday morning I drove into town I wasn't too surprised to get caught in traffic as usual. This time, though, instead of a football game it was because crossing guard Carol Barr was busy stopping traffic so children could cross the street to get to school on time. While chatting with Carol as she waited for another bunch of young ones she suggested I go down to Kozy Corners restaurant for breakfast and to meet some interesting people.
Well, Carol certainly sent me to the right place because almost immediately upon entering the small restaurant I was spotted by the Latte Ladies Red Hats group, which gathers there for breakfast and a weekly meeting every Wednesday there. The ladies, some in their red head covers and some not, chatted up a storm with me amid much laughter and news exchange about what was going on around town. Eventually I got to snapping a few photos before they all went on their ways for the day.
Once on the road again and wandering the streets of Oak Harbor, I stumbled upon Gail Overmyer, head groundskeeper for the local school system as she wandered back and forth across the middle school football field. As I drove by I wasn't exactly sure what she was up to, but upon closer inspection I found out she was spraying yardage lines for the next day's football scrimmage. After a quick lesson in line spraying I said my goodbyes to Overmyer and her helper, Jenny Galford, before heading back toward the downtown area.
I'm not sure if it's because I'm a guy or if it was because the building just looks interesting, but after wandering around downtown Oak Harbor for a few minutes I found myself in the Oak Harbor Hardware store. I met the store's fourth-generation owner, Todd Hablitzel, who told me all about the area as well as some ideas he's hoping to bring to the town as we wandered among rows of hardware.
As we were standing there chatting, a customer walked in and joined us. Todd introduced him to me as Fred Conley, the mayor of Oak Harbor. He did this in such a relaxed manner it took me a minute or two to realize he wasn't pulling my leg and I was, in fact, standing next to the town's mayor.
As it turns out, not only is Conley the mayor, but he is the maintenance supervisor for The National Bank of Oak Harbor. That day he was paying a visit to the hardware store to pick out the right color of paint to put on the walls of the bank's employee break room. After selecting the right color he proceeded to tell me more about the small town he is in charge of, not to mention some of the town's history.
Eventually we parted ways and I made my way into The Family Hair Center. Barber Jerry Whitman has been cutting residents' hair for more than 30 years. If anybody knows Jerry, then they probably know he is a huge Ohio State University fan, and I found this out quickly myself after mentioning I am originally from Michigan and thus root for the Maize and Blue.
Despite the good-hearted heckling by him and fellow OSU fan David Ison, who was in for a haircut, Jerry was an extremely nice guy who was more than eager to tell me about his town and help me out however he could. He told me about how close knit the town was and how everyone seemed to know everyone else and what they were up to, giving me examples of how he would remind a busy mother that her son's haircut time would conflict with his baseball practice when she called to make an appointment.
After a quick stop for lunch I wandered into the local grocery store, where I was introduced to Shari Wilson as she expertly made frosting roses to put on sheet cakes for sale. Shari has spent almost 30 years baking and decorating cakes for Oak Harbor residents. While there I also saw market employee David Salyers, who recognized me from a previous visit I paid to take pictures of him at work for another story. David is arguably the most well-known person in the town. Everyone who saw him greeted him by name, and he returned the favor, always with a big smile.
Once I departed from the market I jumped in my car and decided to roam the neighborhood streets in the hopes of catching some kids at play because school was letting out. As I drove I noticed a lady sitting near the road with a table and what looked like a lemonade stand. Thinking she was too far off the main road, not to mention a bit old to be manning a lemonade stand, I turned around and wandered over to see what she was up to.
It seems I wandered up on Marleen Madison and "Madison's Water Stop" as girls on the Oak Harbor High School girls cross country team fondly call it. Marleen puts out cups of water for the girls every Wednesday as they run their long-distance training runs. She sets up at the girls' halfway mark, which happens to be right near her house. It didn't take long for the girls to show up, grab a quick cup of water and take off again. It didn't seem like much at first, but once I saw the smiles and heard the thanks of appreciation from the runners, I understood why she did it.
After stopping out behind the school to watch the Oak Harbor High School football team practice with their new head coach, Mike May, I made my way over to the cheering and hollering of fans as they watched the girls soccer team in a match against Perkins High School. Fans of all ages, from classmates to grandparents, cheered the girls as they scored goal after goal against their opponents. I decided if Oak Harbor isn't known for its football, then its should be known for its soccer for sure.
With only a minute or two left in the soccer game, I decided to head out and beat the traffic. I found myself back in downtown, where I wandered upon three boys playing and exploring down near the Portage River. The boys, two twins and a friend, reminded me of myself and my friends when we were younger as they climbed on everything, tried to find jumps to go over on their bicycle and looked for snakes and anything else that could be found in and under the rocks along the bank of the river. They told me about how earlier in the summer people would line up along the bank of the river to fish or just watch the sun set.
By the time it was getting dark I found myself in front of the Happy Hour Inn, where the Ladies Rack & Cue Pool League was finishing a meeting before playing a few practice games on the bar's pool table. The ladies even tried to get me to play a few games with them, which I politely declined because I didn't have any desire to embarrass myself in front of everyone in the place.
After watching them play a game or two and deciding my choice not to play against them had been a wise one, I strolled a few doors down to one of the local pizza joints to grab some dinner. There it was largely quiet -- only one table of four men quietly talking and enjoying their food -- a far cry from the bar I'd just come from.
As I left Oak Harbor with hot pizza cheese burning the roof of my mouth I decided Oak Harbor is the kind of place to which I would take someone who had never seen what a small town can be like.
I like to think they would be pleasantly surprised how friendly the people can be, how knowledgeable they are about the area they live in, not to mention about the hidden treasures small towns have as well as the sense of camaraderie and pride shared by everyone who lives there.
I am glad I got the chance to spend my One Wednesday exploring Oak Harbor and finding out just how much more the town has to offer besides its football, high school and traffic.