The appointment of Michael Gebhardt came Wednesday evening, less than a month after the death of Kaplan, 59, who had just been elected to his first term in November 2011.
Gebhardt will serve as a board member through 2013. The remaining board members unanimously voted to appoint Gebhardt to the seat.
He said it was an honor to be selected to serve.
“Rich was a real friend to the schools and believed wholeheartedly in the significance of his role as a member of the Elyria school board,” Gebhardt said. “I echo that sentiment and will do my best to live up to his expectations, and most importantly, to the expectations of Elyria’s students, staff and community.”
Gebhardt is a graduate of Elyria High School and lifelong advocate of Elyria Schools. In that role, he has served as president of the Elyria Schools athletic booster organization, the Pioneer Club and serves as treasurer of the Elyria Citizens Committee for Quality Education, a position he has held for more than 20 years.
Gebhardt and his wife, Nancy, an Elyria Schools teacher, have three daughters, Amy, Kara and Emily.
Former Elyria school board member and Elyria Municipal Court Judge Gary Bennett swore in Gebhardt, who serves as the judge’s bailiff.
“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” Bennett said before administering the oath of office. “The bitter comes because Rich Kaplan was a dear friend of mine. I served on the board for 18 years, and I encouraged him to run for the school board because I knew how much he loved volunteering with the district and cared for the students. But the sweet comes because I also have known Mike for very many years and he, too, brings the quality of volunteering for the schools. I know his first priority will be to do what is right for the schools and what is right for the community.”
Also during the meeting, longtime board member Don Boddy was named president of the board with Virginia Hawes, also a longtime member, being named as vice-president.
The appointment may seem sudden, but Howard Lane, the school board’s attorney and who also represents The Chronicle-Telegram, explained Wednesday that the board was on a tight timetable.
Lane said under Ohio law the board had between 10 and 30 days from the date of Kaplan’s death to appoint his replacement. Kaplan’s death occurred Dec. 10 and started the board’s timetable.
Dec. 20 is the earliest the vacancy could have been filled and Jan. 9 was the latest. Lane said if the board had failed to meet that timetable, the authority to appoint the new member would have fallen to the Lorain County Probate Court.
Elyria board member Evelyn France previously said the board would seek applications from community members in the process of filling the vacant seat. However, when she spoke she said she was not aware of the short time for the appointment under Ohio law.
“We would have loved to do that and take our time in picking the best person for the seat, but we did not have that luxury with there being a death on the board,” Boddy said.
Lane said Gebhardt will not serve out Kaplan’s entire term, which was up in 2015.
There is so much time remaining in his term that Ohio law requires the seat to go up for election in November, with the winner being chosen to serve out the remainder of the term starting Jan. 1, 2014.
Superintendent Paul Rigda said Gebhardt has been a school district supporter for longer than he has been superintendent and that is refreshing to him because it lets him know Elyria is getting someone who is passionate about the schools.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.