Interview with Matt Childers, grandson of Francis Durbin
Matt Childers never met his grandfather, Francis Durbin, but he has learned a lot about his grandfather and his life – even though Durbin passed away just after his 58th birthday. “He was a downtown Lima fixture because his office was right around the corner on High Street, right around the corner from the mural, in fact.”
“I never met any of my grandparents,” he explained, “but because of the beauty of their history and my parents’ collective love of their parents, I heard a lot of stories.”
Durbin was born in Kenton, Ohio on December 8, 1891. He and his wife Agnes had 3 daughters before she passed away in 1937. Childers shared, “My mother was the middle child and she was just 8 when her mother died, and she was 21 when her father died.”
Childers remembers the stories that described him as a dynamic person, and Durbin’s father was also dynamic. “At the age 29 my great-grandfather, W.W. Durbin, was the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Ohio.”
W.W. went on to become Under Secretary of Treasury in FDR’s Administration. The story goes that Warren G. Harding, being from Morrow County, and the Durbins, from Hardin County, had a friendly political rivalry going on. “There was a lot of national political news that took place at that time in Ohio, and I was able to sit around the dinner table and hear all the stories,” Childers explained.
“Another story that was not necessarily confirmed was that when he was attending Notre Dame Law School he used to travel back and forth from Kenton with a woman who was going to St. Mary’s College. He reportedly introduced her to Knute Rockne, who was the famed Notre Dame Football Coach. Don Miller, one of the “Four Horseman” of the football team, was from Defiance and the story goes that two of the “Four Horseman” were at Francis’s funeral. It’s interesting that all that took place.”
On the political side, Durbin started a tradition of going to the party conventions with his father when he was 17 and for 40 years he continued to do so. “He spoke at Truman’s last convention in 1948 and died right after that,” he explained.
In Lima, Durbin practiced law for over 35 years. He was known for taking pro bono cases and represented people at all levels of financial means. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus, state president of the Eagles and a member of the Elks Lodge #54.
His obituary had a quote from Lena Siferd, who said that “Francis was the least vindictive man I ever saw. He was always going out of his way to help someone who had fought him sometimes in the past.”
Childers said, “That became part of my family’s heritage and the mantra of ‘others’. My parents always talked about that, and Francis was always doing good work, prison ministry and helping impoverished folks. It was part and parcel of who he was, and that has gotten passed on to our family. He had grandchildren who all grew up in Lima and I’m the baby of all those 10. I like to think that the tradition of service to the community and of who Durbin was has been passed down to us, even though his life got cut pretty short. He was a really good soul and his legacy didn’t stop in 1949.”