By JEREMY SPEER

Ohio has meant a number of things to me over the years.

• Where I lived during my first five years of life. Because of my age, only faded, piecemeal memories exist of my time in the St. Clairsville area.

• Where my parents’ aunt and uncle and cousins grew up in the Cleveland area, and later where my wife’s brother and his family lived in the Columbus area.

• The painfully flat stretch of land between Toledo and the Pennsylvania border — the Ohio Turnpike — that twice a year we took to visit my grandparents in the Pittsburgh area. Later, I got to know the stretch of Interstate 75 between Toledo and Cincinnati that was a ticket of sorts to warmer weather on vacations to the south.

• The state of the archrival football team of my revered Michigan Wolverines.

One of the biggest things I learned in 2019 is that I thought I knew Ohio, but I had no idea. Nothing like moving to someplace to really get to know it.

Here are the top five things I’ve learned about this neck of the woods:

• It really is pretty here. People in Michigan, probably salty over the Buckeyes’ long-term dominance over the Wolverines, love to make fun of Ohio. And, yes, there is a lot of rural, flat land in the Buckeye State, and Michigan isn’t called the Great Lakes State for nothing. But I have been downright amazed by the natural beauty of this area. Nearby, the Sandusky and Blanchard rivers form a winding path of pretty views, with the tributaries that flow into them also carving out some great beauty. There are more forests here than I thought there would be and there is nothing quite like driving down Ohio’s back roads during the summer as the sun sets. Within driving distance are rolling hills, waterfalls and the lakefront.

• This is a fascinating state demographically. I love demographics and looking at groups of people. I am fascinated with the fact that Ohio is the 10th most densely populated state, but it is only the 34th largest state by land area. This would indicate that people are packed tightly here, yet there is rural land in almost every direction of this state. There is an interesting coupling of rural peace separated by cities seemingly popping up out of nowhere. I can drive two minutes out of Tiffin and feel like I am miles away from bustle, yet within two hours I can be amid the bright lights of Toledo, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Cleveland, Dayton or Columbus. I am fascinated with the political importance of Ohio, one that will again prove pivotal this presidential election cycle. Among the areas our papers cover there is a distinct feel to Tiffin, Fostoria, Findlay and the rural areas in between them, and none are like the other.

• Sports are serious business — My wife, Betsy, came from a sports family. She played softball and skated, and her brother played college hockey and baseball. She knows sports but really has never taken too keen of a passion for any professional or college team. That seems pretty normal in Michigan — people like sports, but you perhaps have to look a little bit harder to find the passionate fans. Here, almost everybody is united by the scarlet and gray — men, women, young, old. Everybody is a Buckeye fan, and I am amazed by the knowledge of fans. Extended to the high school level, I have been impressed by both the organization and skills of athletic programs in northwest Ohio and the unwavering support fans have for their local team.

• Agriculture and flood prevention are lifelines — I knew I was moving to a rural area, and I knew it was flat. But when I moved to the Tiffin area in May, it was amid one of the biggest agricultural crises the area had seen in years. It didn’t take me long to realize how much a poor growing season means to the local economy. Then, as I started spending time in Findlay, people shared with me tales of Blanchard River flooding and its past crippling effects on the community. Flood mitigation is one of the most important local issues there. Every area has things it relies on for success — in my previous life, it was a snowy winter and warm summer that would maximize the tourism seasons. Here, it is clearly having conditions ripe for a bountiful harvest and for keeping the rivers from overflowing their banks.

• History is everywhere: By its geography, Ohio has always been an important American crossroads. It’s been neat to move to a place with such a deep history — be it the region’s involvement in the War of 1812 and Civil War, the importance of trains to the area that’s punctuated by Fostoria’s Iron Triangle, or the impressive list of industry that has or currently calls northwest Ohio home. Also, it’s amazing how many presidents come from this state — Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, McKinley, Taft and Harding, as well as famed astronauts Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. I’ve enjoyed learning about my new surroundings, as this area certainly boasts a diverse history.

Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin and the Review Times in Fostoria. He can be reached at Send an E-mail to jeremyspeer

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