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John Hartzler

8th in our series of famous BHS alumni

He's the reason the Bluffton HS mascot is the Pirate

Became assistant superintendent of Akron City Public Schools

While some say it takes a village to make a child, For Bluffton, it took a John Hartzler to make us Pirates. 

John Hartzler

May 7, 1912 - Jan. 25, 2013

1929 Bluffton High School graduate


Question: Why is the Bluffton High School mascot a pirate?

Answer: Because of John Hartzler, member of the Bluffton High School class of 1929. While some say it takes a village to make a child, For Bluffton, it took a John Hartzler to make us Pirates. 


But, there’s much more to Hartzler’s story than the naming of the BHS school mascot, as that explanation comes later. This lanky 6-foot-5-inch athletic and talented musician, following college, was an extremely popular high school teacher and school administrator, eventually becoming assistant school superintendent of the Akron City Public Schools.


Described as a person of many talents, after high school Hartzler graduated from the College of Wooster, and later attained a master’s and doctorate from The Ohio State University.

During and briefly following his college years, he formed his own jazz orchestra, performing for several years across the Midwest.


Further demonstrating his appreciation for music, Ashland High School music students recalled that while high school principal at that school he often conducted rehearsals when the band director was absent.

Ashland HS started a stage band in the mid-1950s with his encouragement, another example of the support for teachers and students.

He also worked with Ashland Symphony Orchestra, and with the All-Ohio-Boys’ Band at the Ohio State Fair. And, he was the original Bluffton Pirate.

Here’s his story

Hartzler was born in Elkhart, Indiana, son of John E. and Mamie (Yoder) Hartzler. His grandparents were Amish.

His family moved to Bluffton when his father, John Hartzler, Sr., who earned a master’s from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Hartford Theological Seminary, became president of Witmarsum Theological Seminary and later a faculty member at Bluffton College.

Back to his son, John, the BHS graduate. It is difficult to name any Bluffton student, even today, who participated in more school activities than John Hartzler.

As a senior he ranked first in his class on a school honor system, based on points received through meritorious service in scholarship, athletics, debate, class leadership, instrumental and vocal music and dramatics. In this scoring he was 73 points ahead of the second place student.

Consider his partial list of high school activities:

• Yearbook editor (senior) • President of the student senate • All-Ohio Symphony Orchestra (senior) • 5 times cast member in class plays • 3 years basketball team (captain as a senior) • Member state basketball tournament team • 3 years Debate Team • 3 years Hi Y • 4 years orchestra (cello player) and band (baritone horn) • 3 years piano accompanist boys’ glee club • 2 years class vice-president • 2 years National Forensic League

The senior class poll listed him as the “most dignified” classmate, describing him as “wise, stately, dignified, tall – is that all?”

Following graduation from College of Wooster in 1933, he taught in the Jeromesville school system before being hired at Ashland in 1936 to teach seventh-grade social studies. He was a teacher and principal at Ashland High School from 1936 until 1957, when he assumed the position of assistant superintendent of the Akron City Public Schools.

In 1943, he was named Ashland High School assistant principal, followed by becoming principal in 1951, a position he had until leaving six years later to be an assistant superintendent in Akron.

According to an Ashland newspaper tribute following his death, a former student shared that "he made his classes so interesting."

This tribute continued, “During World War II, he worked with students on bond drives or anything they could do to help the war effort.”

Students who were in school then remember the noon dances and movies and Principal Hartzler playing his arrangement of "Jingle Bells" on the piano at Christmas assemblies.

His involvement in the Ashland community extended well beyond schools, as he belonged to the Lions Club, Rotary Club, Young Men's Business Club, Jaycees, Ashland Community Chest, Civil Defense and served as business manager of Ashland Symphony Orchestra.

Hartzler also piloted his own plane and taught a pre-flight class for Ashland students planning to join the United States Air Corps. It may have been the only school in the country to have such a course.

How Bluffton HS became the Pirates

The 1928-29 Bluffton High School boys’ basketball team, led by Hartzler, was undefeated at the end of its regular season. This unbeaten record was largely a part of Hartzler’s role. In 1928-29 after every basket, the ball went back to the center court for a jump ball. With a 6-5 guy in the center ring, you can see why Bluffton won all the tips and games.

In the dawn of Bluffton High School athletics the school played an independent schedule in all sports. Its team colors were red and white, but those teams were not called the Pirates. They had no mascot.


When and why Bluffton embraced red and white is, itself a mystery. All that is known is that it took place prior to the 1913-14 school year, because an existing girls’ basketball uniform displayed those colors.


However, we do know how, why and when Bluffton High School’s mascot became the Pirate. It’s thanks to John Hartzler.


The following account is from the last-ever reunion of the Bluffton High School class of 1929 when remaining class members met in the early 1990s.


Wallace Miller, a member of the class, came up with the Pirate idea. He approached Norman Triplett, president of the school council. The student council liked the idea and voted in favor of the Pirate.


Why did he suggest Pirate? John Hartzler, member of the class of 1929 and center of the boys’ basketball team’s nickname was “Long John Silver.” He played with his “crew of pirates.”


The great team of 1928-29 advanced to the Class B state high school basketball finals, only to lose by two points in the state championship to Akron St. Mary’s.


With a team of that caliber, led by a guy nicknamed Long John Silver and his pirate crew, you draw your own conclusion to this story.


Decades later in a conversation with Hartzler, he said, “It seems to me that naming the mascot wasn’t a big deal.” That may be the understatement of the century for Bluffton High School sports fans, but that’s what he said.


Even in his final visit to Bluffton as a 95-year-old he was an impressive figure, full of interesting stories. Yet the loss of that game to Akron St. Mary’s still lingered in his mind. He explained why Bluffton lost the game to the Akron team and his explanation is interesting.


He claims the Bluffton boys were goofing off too much at some frat houses at Ohio State University the day before the game. They became tired late in the state finals’ contest – John blamed the frat boys.


One additional interesting story  Hartzler witnessed an unusual situation while the John Dillinger bank robbery took place at noon, Aug. 14, 1933, adding to the Hartzler saga. He worked on the Bluffton College campus that summer. Moments after the robbery, walking home to lunch he passed the home of C. Henry Smith, president of Citizens National Bank.

Dr. Smith was known as a dignified gentleman, never doing anything out of that character. John was shocked to see Dr. Smith leave his house in haste, start his car, back out of the drive way, spreading stones all over the place, as he headed up town. John had witnessed Dr. Smith’s reaction to a phone call that the bank had been robbed.

Hartzler and his wife, Christine J. Blosser, were married on Dec. 23, 1934. The couple had two daughters, six grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. His sister, Helen C. Hartzler, graduated from Bluffton High School and Bluffton College. John is buried in Goshen, Indiana.


Ivan "Ike" Geiger, class of 1927

R.L. Triplett, class of 1902

1928-29 Bluffton High School state runners-up - Class B - Front from left, Manley Thompson and Gerald "Spike" Berry.

Second row from left, Robert Schaeublin, Norman Triplett, John Hartzler, Howard Triplehorn and Garfield Griffith.

Third row from left, Sidney Stettler, Ross Irwin, Odell Alspach, Wade Basinger, Dwain Murray.



Student senate

Senior photograph

Hartzler family with John as a child



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