40 Years as an Early Mansfield Newspaperwoman: Nita Branson

Women’s History Month is fast approaching, and for this blog post we are featuring a woman in Mansfield’s history who wrote the story of many women: newspaperwoman Nita Branson, who had almost a forty year tenure across three successive Mansfield newspapers and retired with great fanfare from the News-Journal in 1957.

Throughout Women’s History Month in March we will be featuring a column that Branson wrote weekly in 1921 and 1922, “Little Chats with Some Mansfield Business Women” to showcase the many and varied careers of the women of Mansfield in the early 1920s in their own words. Each day of March we will be sharing an interview that Branson conducted with a Mansfield business woman as it appeared in the Mansfield News, from the advertising department at Tappan to the Western Union Telegraph company to an optometrist to a clothes buyer for the H. L. Reed Co. Interested in receiving emails with the articles? Fill out our form here to sign up or send an email to genealogy@mrcpl.org with the subject line “Women’s History Month Emails”.

Nita Branson

Mansfield High School, Class of 1910

“Cares not a pin what people say, or may say”

Mansfield High School Annual, 1910.

Nita Branson was born in 1892 to Floyd and Mayme Branson on 18 June 1892, in Tiffin, Ohio. Both her parents were likewise Ohio-born and raised, her father in Steubenville and her mother in Franklin Township in Richland County [1].

Floyd and Mayme moved to Mansfield with their teenaged daughter around 1906, and Floyd took up work with the Roderick Lean Manufacturing Company. Nita began attending Mansfield High School, and graduated in 1910. Her senior quote was “Cares not a pin what people say, or may say”– a philosophy that likely would serve her well in a male-dominated field such as journalism in the early 1900s. After graduating, Nita took a more traditional route of teaching for several years, including teaching third grade at Bowman Elementary School [2].

Image from 1891 Mansfield City Directory. Sherman Room Collection.

Then, however, Branson deviated from her fellow female classmates by taking up less traditional work with the Richland Shield and Banner as a proofreader in 1919, shortly before the Mansfield News bought the long-time local newspaper. With the News, Branson worked her way up from proofreading to writing articles in the social pages.

Sherman Room Photo File.

Branson continued to advance up the journalism ladder, weathering the change yet again as the News merged with the Daily Journal to become the Mansfield News-Journal in 1933. She became a feature writer for local articles and eventually became the religion editor for the paper. She held this position for more than ten years [3] and eventually retired in 1957 at 65.

Branson’s retirement was an occasion of great note and “nothing quite like it had ever happened before.” A coalition of local leaders conspired to surprise Branson with a celebration, and so after her final day with the News-Journal, two men prominent in local businesses and known to Branson drove to her house to pick her up on the pretense of going downtown to celebrate with a cocktail. But instead of going straight to a restaurant or bar, they drove with Branson by the News-Journal building, and her coworkers honored her with a ticker-tape parade, showering the car with paper from the machines used to receive news updates from the United Press wire service.

The night’s surprises were not yet over though. The trio continued on to the Mansfield-Leland hotel, where a group of the city’s prominent men waited to surprise Branson with a party to celebrate her long and storied career in Mansfield journalism. The crowd included city and county officials, business and industrial leaders, community organizers, and even editor emeritus G. C. Kochenderfer, one of Branson’s superiors in the earlier days of the News-Journal. The surprise was certainly effective–Branson’s response to the male community members’ celebration of her career was simply to say “I’m flabbergasted!” [4].

The Leland Hotel.

Before, during, and after her time as a journalist, Branson was highly involved in the community. She was involved with the Audubon Society and was musically inclined, providing piano music for many a party or social gathering. She attended the First English Lutheran Church, and was a founding member of the Mansfield Community Chest, a charitable organization that raised funds for various humanitarian needs within the city, and was additionally a very active member of the Red Cross.

Through her long working career, Nita never married. But after she retired from the News-Journal, Branson did all the things she did not have time for while she was so dedicated to her career: she traveled, and she met a man she loved. In 1964, at 72 years old, she married Ralph G. Winkler, the man with whom she would spend the last five years of her life. Branson succumbed to a heart condition 12 November 1969, after having been under the care of first her husband and then Mansfield General Hospital [5].

Curious about the articles that Nita Branson wrote for the News and the News-Journal? Come to the Main library and explore the articles through NewspaperArchive, or visit the Sherman Room to explore our microfilm archives!

As always, feel free to contact us at genealogy@mrcpl.org or 419-521-3115 with any questions, or explore our digital resources and archives at mrcpl.org/shermanroom!

  1. Mansfield News-Journal 9 April 1942, page 13; Mansfield News-Journal 3 May 1933, page 2.
  2. Mansfield News, 10 September 1915, page 5.
  3. Mansfield News, 14 November 1969, page 4.
  4. Mansfield News-Journal, 19 June 1959, pages 1-2.
  5. Mansfield News-Journal, 07 December 1964, page 6.


L. J. Bonar: The Sage of Mansfield

Lewis John Bonar was born in a log cabin near the small community of Lucerne, Knox County, Ohio on March 23, 1836.  His father, James Bonar, had a small farm and Lewis spent his boyhood turning the soil and chopping wood.  He would define his boyhood as a life of “denial, toil, hard work, and drudgery,” and would often fantasize about running away to the sunny south, but “an opportunity never presented itself.”  His father, James, and mother, Jane Lewis, had purchased the parcel of land from Jane’s father, John Lewis.  Lewis’ Grandmother, Hannah Congar Lewis, would often tell stories of the “thrilling and exciting tales” told of their experiences with the Native Americans, who lived within 200 yards of their cabin.  James and Jane had 4 children while living on the farm: Lewis John was the oldest, next was Matthew Leander, born March 5, 1839, then Katherine, born March 31, 1843, and finally, Milton Ludlow, born January 12, 1852.  Shortly after Milton’s birth, the family sold the farm near Lucern and bought a farm two miles east of Johnsville, Ohio in Morrow County.  Lewis’ father, James, died on March 13, 1854. He and his mother stayed on the farm for two more years, but farm life never appealed to Lewis and the family eventually made their way to Bellville, Richland County, Ohio.

Lewis J Bonar

Lewis had a rudimentary education in his childhood, focused on the “three R’s,” as he called it.  He attended school in the winter months when he was not needed on the farm, but this instilled in him a desire for further education.  When he was 19, Lewis walked 12 miles from his family home to Mansfield to purchase books from Dimon Sturges’ book store.  He purchased Charles Rollin’s “Ancient History” and Addison’s “Spectator.”  These books were some of his prized possessions at the time and stayed in his library until his death.  The following year, around 1856, Lewis accepted a position at the Strong and Waring general store in Bellville.  He stayed there until the start of the Civil War when he volunteered for three months of service under Capt. Miller Moody.  Because of his small stature, 5’10” and 128 pounds, Lewis was deemed unfit for service and was rejected, but he did conduct some clerical work at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Julia Jackson Bonar (from the Mansfield News Journal, 27 January 1899)

When he returned home, Lewis, or L.J. as he became known, married Julia A. Jackson on December 11, 1861.  Julia was the daughter of Judge Benjamin Jackson of Bellville.  The couple would soon move to Mansfield buying a home on the west side of South Main St. for $1800.00. L.J. would work for seven years as a salesman for Blymyer Bros. before entering the insurance business.  It was in insurance where L.J. really made a name for himself. He worked for various companies up until 1871 when the Chicago Fire upended the insurance world.  Fifty-eight companies filed for bankruptcy and thousands of policyholders were never paid.[1]  In 1872 a friend, John P. Vance, asked him to be a special agent with the Insurance Company of North America for Ohio.  L.J. reluctantly accepted, beginning work on Valentine’s Day in 1872.  He would remain associated with the company for nearly sixty years.

Despite his long career in insurance, L.J. Bonar is probably best know for his work in Mansfield civic organizations.  Around 1880, L.J. was one of the original organizers of the Mansfield Humane Society.  At first he would refuse any official position in the organization, but he would eventually serve 38 years as president of the society, retiring in 1927.  Another organization in which L.J. found immense pride was the Abraham Lincoln Society.  In 1908 he approached Huntington Brown and and suggested they create a suitable observance of the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  This call resulted in the creation of the Abraham Lincoln Society. L.J. would be secretary of the society for the first four years, before taking over as president, a position he held until 1925.

Lewis J. Bonar’s home at 166 Park Ave West (from the Mansfield News Journal, 12 May 1960)

On January 26, 1899, Julia Bonar, Lewis’ wife, died at the home of their Park Ave West neighbor, Capt. J. P. Rummel, while visiting.  The couple had three children, two dying in infancy and one son, James G. Bonar, who followed his father into the insurance business.  On December 21, 1901, L.J. would marry Miss Harriett Webb in Erie, Pennsylvania.  The two would return to Lewis’ home at 166 Park Ave West in Mansfield.  On July 16, 1930, Lewis John Bonar died at his home on Park Ave West. He was one of Mansfield’s oldest citizens at 94 years old.  His wife, Harriett, would continue to live in the home until her death in 1959, a few month shy of her 100th birthday.  In 1960 the home was purchased and demolished to make room for a two-story commercial building.[2]


  1. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/645.html
  2. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio).  08 July 1960, p. 1.
  3. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 17 July 1930, p. 1.
  4. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 17 July 1930, p. 2.
  5. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 31 August 1959, p 11.
  6. Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 27 January 1899, p. 5.
  7. Bonar, Lewis J. A Sketch and Some Sketches (Hale Sturges Printing Co., Mansfield, Ohio).

Octavius D. Gass: The Father of Las Vegas

Pioneering and a sense of adventure run in the Gass family.  Octavius Decatur Gass, a grandson of Troy Township, Richland County, Ohio pioneer William Gass, is known by some as the “father of Las Vegas, Nevada.”[1]  William Gass arrived In Troy Township in 1812 and built a small, fourteen square foot cabin on 80 acres of land he had purchased from the government at $2 an acre.[2]  Octavius’s father, John Gass, was an “industrious, sober, honest man, and much respected by his acquaintances.”[3]  John married Ann McClure on March 22, 1821,[4] built his own cabin and began farming.  The couple had 8 children: 5 sons and three daughters.  Octavius was born in 1827 or 1828 and was educated in the local schools.  It is rumored he attended Oberlin College, though there is no documentation to prove this, he did have knowledge of Spanish and civil engineering, which would prove useful in his later endeavors.


Octavius D Gass

Octavius, like many men his age, went west seeking fortune during the Gold Rush.  He arrived in San Francisco in early 1850.  He immediately began working unloading two-room, pre-fab houses from the ship, earning $10 a day for his work.  He took his wages and made his way to El Dorado County, California to begin seeking his fortune.  It was while placer mining here that he would meet some of the people who would shape his life, including Nathaniel Lewis, Lewis Cole and lifelong friend, Fenton M. Slaughter.  A few years later, Gass and Slaughter moved to the small town of Los Angeles where Gass would get the position of Zanjero, or water steward.   Gass was responsible for patrolling the irrigation ditches and ensuring landowners only took their fair share.

Gass continued to stake claims, which would prove to be only moderately successful and, around 1862, decided to head east to El Dorado Canyon in the newly created Arizona Territory.  Gass had learned of the Mormon fort, Las Vegas, constructed in 1855 and abandoned in 1857 due to “crop failures, disappointing yields in nearby lead mining efforts and dissension among the group’s leaders”[5].  He purchased the fort with Nathaniel Lewis and Lewis Cole in 1865 calling it the Las Vegas Rancho.  Gass originally owed 160 acres, but soon bought out Lewis and Cole and owned the entire 640 acres.  He would later add the 320 acre Spring ranch to the property.  The fort would serve as a way station for travelers on the Mormon trail between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, Utah.  Gass also became involved in politics in the Arizona Territory, representing Mohave and Pah-Ute counties in the Arizona Territory Legislature.


Gass at Las Vegas Rancho, ca. 1873.  Photo from The Otis Marston Colorado River Collection, Huntington Library

On February 24, 1872, Gass married Virginia Simpson, a niece of Ulysses S. Grant, in Pioche, Nevada.  The couple would have six children.  It appeared Gass had a successful ranch with 960 acres and 30 employees, but the ranch was in a heavy amount to debt and Gass had been looking to sell since 1868.  In 1874 Gass mortgaged the property to neighbor William Knapp for $3,000[6] and, in 1879, Archibald Stewart, “a successful businessman, loaned $5,000 in gold to Octavius D. Gass, taking the isolated Las Vegas Ranch as collateral. By 1881, Gass had defaulted on the loan, and Stewart foreclosed.”[7]


Octavius Gass, Photo from The Otis Marston Colorado River Collection, Huntington Library

In 1881 Gass moved his family to Pomona, California where he sold 1,500 head of cattle to Richard Gird who was stocking the Chico Ranch.  A short time later, he moved to Yucaipa Valley where he tried to raise grapes, but a poor water supply and winds ended another dream.  Gass would return to mining in Baja California and San Bernardino County until moving to Bryn Mawr, California with his son, Fenton, to help tend to orange groves.  Octavius Gass would live into his nineties, dying on December 10, 1924, after a fall.  The man who had owned almost all of the Las Vegas Valley is today only remember by a street named in his honor in Las Vegas and by the 6,943-foot Gass Peak in the Las Vegas Range.[8]


[1] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/12834304/octavius-decatur-gass
[2] Looking Back at Lexington, pp. 15
[3] Graham, A. A., History of Richland County, Ohio. pp. 900
[4] Richland County Marriages, 1813-1871. pp. 142
[5] http://parks.nv.gov/learn/park-histories/old-las-vegas-mormon-fort-history
[6] https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/o-d-gass/
[7] https://www.nevadawomen.org/research-center/biographies-alphabetical/helen-j-stewart/
[8] The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Winter, 1988), pp. 371-390.

Mansfield Astronaut: Dr. Michael L. Gernhardt

July 20, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.  Mansfield has its own astronaut; Dr. Michael Landon Gernhardt was born in Mansfield, Ohio on May 4, 1956.  Gernhardt graduated from Malabar High School in 1974 before attending Vanderbilt University and later earning a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  Gernhardt was selected by NASA in 1992, before that he worked as a deep sea diver. Dr. Gernhardt flew in four flights spending over 43 days in space, this included four spacewalks totaling 23 hours and 16 minutes.



STS-69 (September 7-18, 1995) whose prime objective was the successful deployment and retrieval of a SPARTAN satellite and the Wake Shield Facility (WSF). The WSF was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of using this free-flying experiment to grow semiconductors, high temperature superconductors and other materials using the ultra-high vacuum created behind the spacecraft near the experiment package. Dr. Gernhardt was one of two astronauts to perform a spacewalk to evaluate future Space Station tools and hardware, logging 6 hours and 46 minutes of EVA. Mission duration was 260 hours, 29 minutes, and 8 seconds, traveling 4.5 million miles in 171 orbits of the Earth.

STS-83 (April 4-8, 1997) the Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL-1) Spacelab mission was cut short because of problems with one of the Shuttle’s three fuel cell power generation units. Mission duration was 95 hours and 12 minutes, traveling 1.5 million miles in 63 orbits of the Earth.

STS-94 (July 1-17, 1997) was a re-flight of the Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL-1) Spacelab mission, and focused on materials and combustion science research in microgravity. Mission duration was 376 hours and 45 minutes, traveling 6.3 million miles in 251 orbits of the Earth.

STS-104 (July 12-24, 2001) was the 10th mission to the International Space Station (ISS). During the 13-day flight the crew conducted joint operations with the Expedition-2 crew. Dr. Gernhardt was one of two astronauts to perform three spacewalks to install the joint airlock “Quest” (including the first US space walk from the ISS) and to outfit it with four high-pressure gas tanks. The mission was accomplished in 200 Earth orbits, traveling 5.3 million miles in 306 hours and 35 minutes.


The pale blue Earth serves as a backdrop for astronaut Michael Gernhardt, who is attached to the Shuttle Endeavour’s robot arm during a spacewalk on the STS-69 mission in 1995.