Toledo Irish: The Dream and the Legacy of Toledo’s Barney Quilter

Toledo Irish: The Dream and the Legacy of Toledo’s Barney Quilter
by Maury Collins

James “Barney” Quilter was a Democrat second in command in the Ohio House of Representatives for twenty years, until his retirement in 1994, and a man even political opponents couldn’t help but like. He was 86 years of age when he passed away on August 15, 2005.

Mr. Quilter was born in 1919 to James and Helen Marie Quilter and grew up in East Toledo. He graduated from Central Catholic High School and attended DeSales College.   He was a boxer as a young man but hopes of turning professional were dashed when he entered the Army to serve in the 167th Combat Engineer Battalion in Europe during World War II. 

In 1944 he married Mary Carmella Sarno, to whom he was devoted for fifty-two years, until she died in 1996.  Mrs. Quilter had Alzheimer’s, which motivated her husband to advocate for those stricken by the disease in a moving House floor speech in 1986.

Dabbling in Politics
He dabbled in Democratic Party politics, running unsuccessfully for Toledo City Council in 1957 and 1965. He worked in public relations at the Toledo Health and Retirees Center formed by the United Auto Workers.  He was one of the founders of Clearwater Inc. 

Clearwater was the original organization promoting government intervention to clean up rivers and streams in Northwest Ohio.  The Toledo Health and Retirees Center also operated pharmacies throughout the area offering union members discounted prescriptions. 

While working for the Toledo Health and Retiree Center, Mr. Quilter was discovered by Frank King, then-president of the Ohio Senate.  Mr. King pushed UAW workers to urge Mr. Quilter to run for state representative. Mr. Quilter reluctantly agreed, saying he would serve only one two-year term.   Mr. Quilter’s political career ended up lasting from 1967 to 1994.

He ascended to power by aligning himself with the late Vern Riffe, Jr., one of the state’s most powerful political figures in recent memory. Along with another Toledo state representative, the late Art Wilkowksi, the three Democrats staged a coup against then-Ohio House Speaker A.G. Lancione in 1974 that left Mr. Riffe as Speaker and Mr. Quilter as Speaker Pro Tempore.  Mr. Riffe and Mr. Quilter formed a powerful political team that benefited the Toledo area for two decades. 

Among his many accomplishments is Maumee Bay State Park, the idea that he conceived and a project that took twenty years to complete. Quilter Lodge, located on the park site, bears his name. Also named in his honor is Camp Quilter in Green Springs, Ohio, a work-earn-learn camp sponsored by the Ohio Civilian Conservation Corps under the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The Legacy of Quilter
Quilter’s legacy includes the development of the Medical University of Ohio; University of Toledo; Seagate Center; Millard Avenue Overpass and the widening of Front Street to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority docks; the University of Toledo’s law library; and the transformation of the former Portside Festival Marketplace into COSI, a hands-on science museum; public education and Alzheimer’s research.  His investigative efforts exposed fraud and abuse in the Sandusky Old Soldiers and Sailors Home and brought major reform during the 1970s.

Perhaps Mr. Quilter’s most visible accomplishment was the establishment of Maumee Bay State Park along Lake Erie in Oregon and Jerusalem Township.  Maumee Bay State Park offers 1,336 acres of not only the finest of recreational facilities in the Midwest, but also a unique natural environment created by the convergence of the land and Lake Erie.

The lodge, cottages and golf course are nestled among the scenic meadows, wet woods and lush marshes teeming with wildlife. The balance of recreational facilities with the natural world gives visitors a diverse experience in a coastal environment. Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center offers 120 rooms and eight meeting/conference rooms that accommodate up to 800 people.

Maumee Bay’s unique 18-hole “Scottish Links” style golf course has low, rolling mounds, bent grass fairways, greens and tees, numerous sand bunkers and ponds A golf pro-shop is in operation with a PGA certified professional on staff.

Maumee State Park Offers Outdoor Paradise
A 32-slip marina on Lake Erie has dockage available by reservation. A 57-acre inland lake in the park is suitable for sailing, canoeing and other non-motorized boat use. A life jacket loaner board is located at the inland lake.  24 overnight slips with electric and water,
252 electric camping sites with shower houses (heated), flush toilets, electricity and playground equipment are available. 

The campsites are open and spacious and border natural meadows and ponds which are open to fishing for campers only  Five miles of asphalt “bicycle/pedestrian” trails provide access to most of the day-use areas  Bike rental, a basketball court and horseshoe pits are available  Registered campers can borrow games and sporting equipment from the camp office.

Lake Erie, known as the “walleye capital of the world,” offers some of the best fishing opportunities in the Midwest. Great catches of walleye, channel catfish, freshwater drum, smallmouth bass and yellow perch delight the fisherman.  The man-made inland lake near the lodge offers good pan fishing opportunities with two wheelchair accessible fishing piers and the small pond, located near parking area #7, is designated as a kid-friendly family fishing area.

State of the Art Nature Center
Trautman Nature Center, located just a few hundred yards from Maumee Bay Lodge, is equipped with inter-active displays, a programming auditorium, research laboratory and viewing windows. It is a state-of-the-art nature center staffed by a year-round naturalist. Learn about the park’s history as the site of numerous significant Native American events, and why the Maumee Bay area was once known as the Great Black Swamp. A boardwalk trail is adjacent to the nature center.

Picnic areas with tables and grills can be found adjacent to the beach areas. The park features two sand beaches — on the Lake Erie shore and along the park’s inland lake. A concession area and changing booths are provided. A large lakeside amphitheater lies between the two beaches. Swimming is permitted in designated areas.

Maumee Bay State Park is home to several miles of trails that will take you through swamp and marsh wetlands, open meadows, ponds and beaches. The nature center’s interpretive boardwalk trail is wheelchair accessible. Enjoy great views of Lake Erie while you hike or bike. A multipurpose trail is open to hiking and cross-country skiing.

When you visit the Maumee Bay State Park after the Coronavirus restrictions, reflect on the fact that the whole park was the vision and the dream of Barney Quilter and it exists because of his efforts.

*Maury Collins is a Charter Member and past president of the John P. Kelly Division AOH.  Contact him at [email protected]  Web

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