Frank J. Lausche, the son of Slovakian immigrants who emerged from the ethnic neighborhoods of Cleveland to become a dominant and durable figure on the political scene for 40 years, died Saturday.
The conservative Democrat who served as a judge and mayor in his native city before becoming a five-term Ohio governor and two-term U.S. senator was 94.
He died at the Slovene Home for the Aged in Cleveland where he had been admitted two months ago, said his sister-in-law, Antonia Lausche.
One of 10 children of a steel worker father who died when he was only 13, young Lausche earned his first pennies lighting gas street lamps and acting as a court interpreter for his fellow Slovenians who came from a land now part of Yugoslavia.
He studied for a career in law, received a degree in 1920 from John Marshall School of Law--where he ranked second in his class--and quickly became known as one of Cleveland’s better trial lawyers.
Lausche’s courtroom popularity encouraged him to make his first political race, an unsuccessful bid for the Ohio House in 1922 and then a second losing campaign for the Ohio Senate two years later.
In 1932 he was appointed judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court and in 1941 became mayor of that city, a position he held until his election in 1944 to the first of five terms as governor.
He was the only governor in Ohio’s history to be elected that many times.
As mayor he was credited with establishing Cleveland’s city-owned transit system and setting up committees that dealt with labor, health, transportation and Cleveland’s growing racial problems.
Although a Democrat, Lausche earned a reputation as an independent who often ignored party positions and consistently proved popular among independents and Republican voters.
He was called a “sturdy independent” who favored right-to-work legislation and sponsored a $336-million turnpike across Ohio while creating a resources department that directed the planting of 27 million trees.
Faced with a new Ohio law that prevented any governor from serving more than two successive terms, Lausche turned to the U.S. Senate where he was elected in 1956 and reelected in 1962.
He served on the Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee and as chairman of the Far Eastern Affairs subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Lausche’s lengthy political career ended in 1968 with his defeat--due mostly to a long-running feud with organized labor--in the Democratic primary for reelection to a third term in the Senate.
“He had a beautiful, wonderful life. We’re sorry he didn’t live long enough to see Slovenia become an independent country,” said his sister-in-law. “They’re part of Yugoslavia right now, but they’re fighting for independence.”
Lausche is survived by a sister, Josephine Lausche Welf, 95, who also lives at the Slovene Home, and three sisters-in-law. His wife, Jane, died in 1981.