Web page keeps former Ohioans close to home

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 13

STEUBENVILLE, O. — Calling all Toledoans in Tulsa, Clevelanders in California, and Akronites in Atlanta.

Rick Platt wants you to come back to Ohio.

“This is a great place to live,” he said. “Too many people have left over the years.”

He’s getting his message out to thousands of people, via the Internet.

Mr. Platt runs a web page called Homesick Ohio, designed especially for people who have left the Buckeye State but want to come home.

“Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but people from Ohio care a lot about their roots and their hometowns,” he said.

Mr. Platt’s day job is heading Alliance 2000, the lead economic development agency in Steubenville, on the Ohio River. The web site he runs, called RickOhio.Com, is a hobby for him and his two broth ers. It includes information on Ohio politics, sports, and entertainment.

In the “Homesick Ohio” section of the site (located at www. rickohio.com/homesick), Mr. Platt has accumulated web sites of Ohio ans living in all 50 states, and e-mail addresses for 74 former residents who want to talk about their old home state.

He’s also assembled information on various Ohio traditions, from county fairs to high school football, and places on the web to get information about Ohio events, including The Blade’s web site.

It’s all aimed at people who can’t be in Ohio to get that information firsthand. And the numbers seem to indicate that at least some of those former Buckeyes are starting to make the move back. Mr. Platt said he gets about 15 or 20 e-mail messages a week from former Ohioans about how much they want to return.

“In the 1980s, our economy was hurting. People left,” Mr. Platt writes in an open letter on his web site. “My college and high school friends moved all over the country to find work.

“Now, I’m happy to say, they’re moving back. And I encourage them whenever I can.”

More than 5,000 people visit Rick Ohio.Com in an average week. In August, they came from more than 40 countries – indicating how widespread the 1980s Ohio diaspora was.

In interviews via e-mail, many of the site’s visitors said they are doing everything they can to get back.

Bob Wellington left Youngstown in the early 1980s and eventually settled in Florida. But he’s looking to return home, and is using the Internet to do a job search in northeast Ohio.

“We wish to come back to be with family,” he wrote. “When I move back to Ohio, I wonder if someone in Florida will put out a site for homesick Floridians.”

In the meantime, he uses the Internet to keep in touch with family and friends back in Youngstown.

“I look at the small-town Ohio life-style, and realize that is what I want,” wrote Neona McDaniel, a Canton native who lives in Tennessee. “I want my son to grow up knowing his relatives. I want the slow-paced life that comes with small-town living.”

And for anyone who thinks that computers and the Internet are cold and impersonal, there are the words of Susan Kent.

“Boy, did it make me cry!” Ms. Kent wrote of the first time she saw RickOhio.Com. “I’m a big softy at heart, and have been missing home so much lately.”

Ms. Kent, originally from Massillon, O., has lived in Orlando for about 10 years. She said the Homesick Ohio page has been a godsend, letting her keep in touch with her old hometown.

“All the landmarks of my past, I can revisit through him,” she wrote. “If anyone takes Rick’s site away from me, I will really cry!”

Even those who don’t plan on moving back have found the site useful. Jerry Kellison of Santa Ana, Calif., was looking at Rick Ohio.Com one day to see if there were any names familiar from his youth in Cincinnati. To his surprise, listed there was his aunt, who he had not spoken to in years.

“We have `re-met,’ so to speak,” he wrote.

Thanks to the growing ubiquity of the Internet, Mr. Platt’s site reaches across the continent and around the world.

“We do not plan on returning to Ohio, but we are always Bucks at heart,” wrote Jennifer McKinnon, who surfs the Web from her home in Alaska, on a computer with an Ohio screensaver. Homesick Ohio includes links to Ohioans in Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and Guam.

Mr. Platt knows Ohio’s charms well. He’s lived in the state his entire life, and has visited each of its 88 counties at least five times.

And he said he’s very happy he’s been able to reach so many people with the rudimentary tools he uses: a 5-year-old, $800 computer in a spare bedroom.

He hopes his site can help persuade more people to come back home to Ohio. Just as economics played a big part in many ex-Ohioans leaving, the good job market today is encouraging many to return. RickOhio.Com is ready to help them; the most popular section of the site is called Jobs In Ohio, and it points visitors to classified ads and other career resources.

“Getting a job here is the one thing people need most to move back,” Mr. Platt said.