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A Legacy of Service to Ohio Educators

At the Ohio State Teachers Association meeting in June 1916, an anonymous note was posted to a bulletin board stating, “Those teachers interested in the formation of a statewide teachers retirement system should meet in . . .” Ten people assembled.

STRS Ohio’s beginning was an idea written down on paper. Early leaders made it a reality. While the system’s first 100 years are marked by several significant events, the timeline below attempts to capture some of the most significant ones through the decades.

Legislation introduced to create retirement system

The bill “to provide a statewide retirement system for teachers in schools supported wholly or in part by public funds” was introduced by Childe Harold Freeman as H.B. 359 on March 7, 1919. Freeman, a state representative from Hardin County, had also been a school teacher, principal and superintendent.

The bill passed in the House (April 9, 1919) and in the Senate (April 16, 1919) unanimously. The governor signed the bill on May 8, 1919, and it became law on Aug. 8, 1919 — creating the United States’ first statewide actuarial-based teacher retirement system.

State Teachers Retirement System begins operations

Photo of William E. Kershner.

William E. Kershner served as the first executive director when the system began operations on March 26, 1920. The system had 12 staff members and a five-member board. The board’s first tasks included creating rules, policy and criteria for teacher membership; as well as standardizing eligibility requirements for retirement and disability benefits and return-to-work situations.

The year of “firsts”

Photo of STRS Ohio staff in the 1920s.

The system’s first offices were located at 66 S. Third St., in Columbus, Ohio. In the system's first year, member contributions totaled more than $1.9 million and investments more than $4.4 million.

Membership by the numbers

The system served 34,000 members in its first year. John R. Adams of Lake County was the first teacher to receive a retirement benefit from the system; one of 323 Ohio educators to retire during the first year of the system’s operation. The average monthly pension was $44 per month — but the value far exceeded the monetary total. These first pensions demonstrated tangible recognition of teaching as a profession.

Great Depression shows impact on Ohio

Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, marked the start of the Great Depression. State tax revenue was cut, more than 127 Ohio banks failed, Ohio farm income fell 42%, Ohio layoffs reached tens of thousands, but Ohio’s public wanted its teachers on the job. The pension system held more than $60 million in investments — all in Ohio bonds and federal paper.

System holds steady during turbulent times

During this decade, industry and military pulled teachers out of the classroom during World War II, again for the Berlin Airlift and yet again for the conflict in Korea. Retired teachers came back into classrooms as replacements. The large rotation of teachers proved to be a record-keeping challenge, but the system continued to build financial strength, exceeding $100 million in total investments by 1942.

No more rent — the system builds offices

Photo of STRS Ohio's building in 1961.

Executive Director Larry Shuter, against paying rent, proposed building STRS offices. The board approved. The site was chosen at the corner of Sixth and East Broad Streets (275 E. Broad St). Construction began in 1959 and was completed in 1961. The land was purchased for $105,000. The construction of the 27,000 square feet building took 19 months with a cost of $900,000. STRS became the first teachers retirement system to build and occupy its own building.

Technology advances, investments rise

Photo of STRS Ohio's mainframe computers in the 1960s.

The evolution of providing service to members took a big step with the move to the building at 275 E. Broad St. The weight and clutter of paper reduced with technology advancements, but the flood of data rose. Necessitated by the need to process member data more efficiently, the ITS Department began to take shape.

By 1966, the system’s total investments exceeded $1 billion. With another wave of inflation around the corner, STRS would double investments in less than six years.

System begins offering benefits counseling

Photo of a member counseling session.

As more and more members called or visited STRS with questions, the Benefits Counseling Department began with two staff members doing counseling. At this time, teachers' requests of counselors were mostly focused on retirement benefit cost estimates and basic benefit information.

Investments expand into real estate

In the early 1980s, Ohio law expanded the investment authority of public retirement systems allowing them to make direct investment in real estate property outside of Ohio.

Teachers’ contributions to society marked with lasting memorials

Photo of one of the bronze relief statues, placed in the Ohio Statehouse.

When the system celebrated its 75th anniversary, active and retired members of the system provided funding support for a Teachers’ Park at the Ohio Historical Society and for the creation of bronze relief statues, placed in the Ohio Statehouse. A plaque was placed in the park honoring teachers for their “commitment to excellence and dedication to lifelong learning.” The reliefs in the Statehouse depict traditional and modern scenes and symbols of teaching and education.

Member Services Center is started

As an additional resource for members seeking answers to benefit-related questions, the system started a phone center with eight staff members dedicated to answering phones.

System launches member website

Photo of a computer displaying STRS Ohio's website in 1997.

Expanding on existing benefits counseling and phone center services for members, the system launched its website to give these individuals the capability to seek online answers to their benefit-related questions any hour of the day.

Park developed honoring Ohio’s educators

Photo of Discovery Park.

In commemoration of the system’s 80th anniversary, Discovery Park was developed. This first park to specifically honor Ohio’s public educators was created by members and friends of the retirement system. Included in the park are the names of thousands of former and current STRS Ohio members who helped others discover the value of learning. Also within the park, the sculpture “Journey to Learning,” created by member George Danhires, focuses on the interaction between students and their teachers.

Ohio pension reform legislation is passed

The State Teachers Retirement Board began a long-term contingency planning process to preserve the defined benefit pension for Ohio’s public educators in 2009. This process concluded in September 2012 with the passage of Substitute Senate Bill 342 which included benefit changes to strengthen the financial condition of the pension system.

Social media presence established

The system launched its social media program in 2016 with the establishment of social media pages to share news and information with members and other followers related to system benefits and services and retirement planning.

System marks 100 years of service

Photo of the STRS Ohio 100th anniversary sign.

The system marks a century of providing retirement benefits and services to Ohio’s current and retired educators and focuses on a continued partnership with members in helping them to build retirement security. One of the largest public pension funds in the country, the system serves nearly 494,000 active, inactive and retired Ohio public educators.