Vernal Riffe Jr. is a tenth generation descendant of John George and Anna Maria Reiff, who emigrated to Philadelphia in the early 1700s. Vern dedicated his life to public service. He grew up in the small southern Ohio town of New Boston, Ohio, where his father, Vernal G. Riffe Sr., was active in government, serving as policeman, safety director, and mayor of New Boston for more than two decades.
After World War II, when Vern returned from service with the US Army Air Corp, his father enthusiastically supported his desire to run for political office. Vern was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1958, his career in the house spanned 36 years and 18 consecutive terms. Chosen Speaker of the House of Representatives by his peers in 1975, he served for the next 20 years in that role, the longest in the history of the House.
Through-out his service in the House, Vern Riffe displayed a strong commitment for the concerns of the citizens of Ohio. He served with distinction for three decades and provided leadership for a longer time than any other person in the history of the State. In a 1988 Dedication Ceremony, his colleagues named a new building in his honor that become the home of the Ohio House of Representatives. The Â“Vern Riffe Center for Government and the ArtsÂ” is located at 77 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio
During his long public career, Speaker Riffe received many awards and acclamations. He was named Â“Legislator of the YearÂ” on numerous occasions by a variety of organizations, and held honorary degrees from several Universities, including The Ohio State University, Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio University, Central State University, and the University of Akron. In addition, he received the Jewish National Fund Â“Tree of Life Award,Â“ and was recognized by dozens of organizations for his dedication and service to the people of Ohio. In his honor, Shawnee State University named a building the Â“Vern Riffe Center for the Arts.Â”
Of course with all those accolades and achievements Vern Riffe grew in political strength and stature. In 1982 he was urged by many to seek the Democratic nomination to run for governor of the Buckeye State. He was tempted, and even those who might be expected to align against his candidacy, admitted to his capabilities and charisma. They also knew he had what it takes to gear up and get the money to finance a media campaign.
But Vern RiffeÂ’s main strength was his one-on-one style and small group meetings, mass media exposure was not his method. Moreover, coming from a relatively small population, the democrats in the more-populated northern counties were less encouraging. Although he was an excellent and effective legislative leader with a magnetic personality, they thought he lacked statewide name recognition necessary to win the race for governor. In the end, Vern decided he could best help his constituents by staying in the House and announced he would not seek the nomination.
Vern retired in 1994, and the Almanac of American Politics reports that he was the longest-serving state House Speaker in the nationÂ’s history. The Speaker's retirement from politics was short-lived for he established the governmental consulting firm of Vern Riffe and Associates in Columbus. In addition, he was the president of Vern Riffe Insurance, Inc., located in New Boston, Ohio.
Unfortunately, after being admitted to Ohio State University Medical Center, a small lump was found on his neck May 5, 1997. Vernal Riffe Jr. was undergoing treatment for lymphoma cancer, when he passed away on Thursday, July 31, 1997, age 72. He is survived by his lovely wife, Thelma, four children, Cathy, Verna K., Mary Beth, and Vernal III (Skip), and seven grandchildren.