The impact Dr. James Charles “J.C.” Sommer had on the community and the education of its children was so significant and long-standing that in 1956 – nearly nine years after his passing – the Board of Education overwhelmingly voted to name its new elementary school at Haughn and Kingston after him.
Dr. Sommer’s passion for education began at an early age. After completing the equivalent of an eighth-grade education, he passed a teacher’s examination and spent the next two years educating youth near his home in Cottageville, West Virginia. He then attended and graduated from Valparaiso University (Indiana) in 1908 with dual degrees in art and science. In 1913, he received his medical doctorate from Starling-Ohio Medical College, now The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
For nine years following his graduation, Dr. Sommer practiced medicine and taught school in Somerset, Ohio before moving to Grove City. He was most comfortable making house calls; however, he would often see patients in a small office next to his home on the corner of Park and Front streets.
Dr. Sommer was a trusted physician, a tremendous public servant and a beloved member of the community. As president of the Jackson Township Board of Education (one of the school district boards that consolidated in 1956 to form the South-Western City School District), he was largely responsible for the sound structural adjustments of village and township schools; established state-funded educational opportunities for local underprivileged youth; facilitated extensive remodeling and construction of school buildings; and established commercial, industrial and musical arts curriculums. Dr. Sommer also served more than 16 years on the Franklin County Board of Education before passing unexpectedly in 1947.
The original J.C. Sommer Elementary School has since been replaced, yet Dr. Sommer’s educational impact remains strong as the new building was also dedicated in his honor in 2015. Interestingly, Dr. Sommer never received a traditional high school diploma. During the 1940 Jackson Township graduation ceremony, he was presented with an honorary diploma, acknowledging his accomplishment achieved some 40 years prior.