Wednesday, November 28, 2012

General George Oleander Pence (1879-1955)

From the Ohio State Manual.

  I'm sure if you've read the full name of the gentleman profiled today, most of you are probably scratching your heads in wonder, probably saying something along the lines of "this guy is a General named George..... what's so strange about that?" While the name George isn't strange in the slightest, the man in the suit and tie shown above has the unique distinction of having a military title as a given first name, and with that little factoid, I'll now explain how that came to be!
  General George Oleander Pence was an Ohio State House of Representative during the early part of the 20th century, hailing from the county of Highland. His unusual first name is given mention in the 1912 Ohio State Manual and is explained thusly: "The prefix Hon. for Honorable and the name General would seem to indicate a misnomer, but in this case it is not so, as the subject is entitled to the prefix and although General is rather an unusual given name, it was provided for Mr. Pence by his parents." Why Pence's parents decided to bestow the name "General" upon their son has been lost to history, and seeing that Pence himself never served in the military, one can wonder if he was ever mistakenly identified as a high ranking military figure due to his interesting first name!
   Pence's story begins in the town of Hillsboro, Highland County, Ohio, where he was born on May 6, 1879. One of several children born to Wesley and Susannah Duckwell Pence, General G.O. Pence attended schools local to the Hillsboro area and married fellow Highland County native Edith Marie Fawley (1880-1960) in 1903. Two sons were eventually born to this couple, Gerald Leroy (1906-1996) and Wesley Ralph (1909-1998). 
  Like most of the politicians profiled here on the site, G.G.O. Pence is recorded as being a farmer for the majority of his life, and is listed in his Ohio legislative biography as "recognized as being in the front rank of scientific farmers in Ohio." In addition to being a farmer, Pence later was elected as a township trustee for Hillsboro, serving for an indeterminate length of time.

                This portrait of G.G.O Pence appeared in a 1912 Ohio State Legislative manual.

    General G.O. Pence won election to the Ohio State House of Representatives in November 1912 from Highland County. Taking office in January of the following year, Pence was named to seats on the legislative committees on Agriculture, Fish and Game, Public Schools, and Public Waterways. He was reelected to the legislature in 1914 and after serving four years in the House of Representatives was elected to the Ohio Senate in the election of 1916. His term in the senate extended from 1917 to 1921, and his terms of service here saw him chair the standing committee on Enrollment as well as holding a seat on the committees on County Affairs, Common Schools, Agriculture, Public Works, Roads and Highways and Finance. The Ohio State Manual also denotes that Pence's "principal desire was to benefit the greatest number of people" while serving in the legislature.
   Little could be found on Pence's life after leaving public office, although he maintained involvement in a number of local fraternal organizations in Hillsboro, including the Odd Fellows, Modern Woodmen, the Sons of Veterans and Knights Templars. Pence died in Hillsboro on August 31, 1955 at age 76 and was survived by both of his sons and his wife Edith, who died in 1960. Both were later interred at the local Hillsboro Cemetery.

From the Hillsboro, Ohio News-Herald, October 22, 1914.

   A few short months after the G.G.O Pence profile was put online, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a comment on his article, courtesy of Mr. Wesley Pence, who happens to be G.G.O's great grandson!!! Wesley related in his comments that General G.O. Pence was a descendant of a family based in the United States dating back to the late 17th century. Wesley went on to relate that G.G.O was viewed as a bit of a "dandy" by some in Highland County, dressing in fashionable suits, spats and also owned a diamond-studded cane! According to Pence family lore, G.G.O was also believed to have had a stake in "gambling operations throughout Ohio, along with other questionable enterprises of the day" and may have fraternized with some shadowy characters in Ohio's capital during his time in state government!
   General G.O Pence's "double life" is certainly one of the more interesting tidbits I've been forwarded during the time I've profiling people here, and Pence's odd name was mentioned by Wesley as being "overblown and pretentious" with no other instances of the name "General" or "Oleander" occurring anywhere in the Pence family lineage. The spelling of Oleander (Pence's second middle name) is also spelt "Olander", and the former spelling is believed to be a corruption of the latter. It has also been related to me that G.G.O was characterized as being "very stern, particularly with children" and wasn't above using his diamond-studded cane as a persuasive tool to quiet down rambunctious youngsters!! 
  Through further correspondence Wesley also related that Pence was most often referred to as "Senator" by his contemporaries, and one can certainly wonder if he was ever introduced as the "Honorable Senator General" when campaigning for office! G.G.O's son Welsey Ralph followed in his father's footsteps and began a career in public office, and while still in his early twenties was elected as prosecuting attorney for Hillsboro, Ohio. 
  I'd like to extend a hearty thank you to Wesley Pence for his kind comments, as well as his insight into the interesting life of his wonderfully named great-grandfather. While I've received many comments on articles over the past two years, I've always believed that ones from family members and descendants yield the most interesting pieces of information, and that is certainly the case here! Many thanks again for your help!


  1. An enjoyable read. Thanks for posting.
    "G.G.O.", as he was generally called, was my paternal great grandfather.

    Pence genealogical records in the US date back to 1689 and most family names, like mine, have been recycled for generations, however both 'General' and 'Olander' are anomalous, with no connection to any other family names.

    G.G.O. supposedly led a double-life of sorts and exploited his name-title and role in the legislature. According to my father, he was something of a 'dandy', whose attire (bespoke suits, spats, diamond tipped cane) was garish by small town standards and implied some level of corruption while in government. It was believed he had interests in gambling operations throughout Ohio and other questionable enterprises of the day.

    In addition to legislative duties and (scientific!) farming, I believe he also practiced law, as did his son W. Ralph, who was (and probably remains) the youngest prosecuting attorney ever elected in Ohio (and purportedly not corrupt!).

    -Wesley P. Pence

    1. Hello Wesley! Glad to see you enjoyed the rather brief profile on your great grandfather, and I'd like to invite you to contact me via this site's Facebook page link below.

      It's always nice to see a comment from a relative/descendant in the section below the article and I'd be interested in hearing more on "G.G.O" and his supposed double life while serving in the legislature. Due to the fact that I could find only one biographical resource on him (from the Ohio Legislative Manual), the interesting tidbits you provided in the above message will lend a bit more color to his article!

      You might also be able to clear up a question I have on Pence's 2nd middle name "Oleander". I've seen one or two mentions of it on genealogical websites likle Rootsweb or as "Olander (like you wrote above) whilst others spell it as "Oleander".

      Here's our Facebook page link and with that being said, I greatly look forward to hearing from you!