March 1, 2019, marked 25 years since Marion native Mary Ellen Withrow was sworn in as the 40th Treasurer of the United States. She is the only person to have held the post of treasurer at all three levels of government–local, state, and national. Her career in public service began 50 years ago when she became the first woman elected to the Elgin School Board.
Withrow was elected Marion County Treasurer in 1976 and 1980. She served three terms as Treasurer of Ohio, elected in 1982, 1986, and 1990. Additionally, she served as a Presidential Elector for Ohio in 1992 and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2000 and 2004.
Withrow was the United States Treasurer from 1994-2001 under President Bill Clinton. During her tenure, U.S. currency was being redesigned, including the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes, all of which bear her signature. She holds the Guinness World Record for having the most currently with her signature on it–$1.1 trillion of it.
During her illustrious career, Withrow started two programs of which she is very proud, STAR Ohio and Linked Deposit. STAR Ohio—State Treasury Asset Reserve of Ohio—was launched after her first term in office. It is an investment fund that allows government subdivisions to invest funds in a public investment pool. The second, Linked Deposit, was pre-election and encourages lending to historically underutilized businesses by providing lenders and borrowers a lower cost of capital.
Active in the Marion community, Withrow is frequently asked to speak at events, such as school career days. Recently, she was delighted to tell Benjamin Harrison Elementary students about the importance of money, how money is made—literally—and about her role as Treasurer. She explained about the literal tons of ink the US Treasury goes through every day making currency, and that dollar bills are made from a blend of fine linen and cotton, not paper.
Having spent decades amassing an impressive collection of memorabilia from her time in office, Withrow has created a museum next to room 105 at Primrose of Marion. The collection includes a $20 bill given to John Glenn for good luck as he prepared himself for the journey into space and a framed signature stamp with her well-known signature script. Withrow describes the day she “signed” the stamp.
“I was at a busy event with lots of people, when I was asked to sign my signature for currency. There were so many people there that I kept getting bumped on the arm as I was trying to sign,” she said. “I took the paper into a small room and thought, ‘I’ve got to get this right,’ and signed my name 20 times. We selected the 12th signature as being the best one.”
The Withrow museum displays US Treasury Christmas ornaments, which are issued annually to honor each president. The first ornament was created in 1981 to honor George Washington and will, this year, honor Dwight Eisenhower.Withrow’s awards, personal papers, photographs, and documents are available for viewing by appointment.
Mary Ellen Withrow, honored at the 2017 Celebrate Marion Gala as Marion’s favorite daughter, has given a lifetime of service to her community and country and continues to do so. She has created a scholarship fund at Marion Community Foundation which supports female students pursuing careers in finance and political science. Now in its fourth year, her scholarship is awarded each spring.