Campus mourns passing of Dr. Ferris Ohl

The Heidelberg community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a Music Department legend, Dr. Ferris Ohl, who died on Friday, Oct. 6, at the age of 103.

The Ohl family has announced that a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at Trinity United Church of Christ in downtown Tiffin. A reception will follow the service in Wickham Great Call. Calling hours for Dr. Ohl will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Engle-Shook Funeral Home in Tiffin.

Here is President Rob Huntington’s announcement to inform the campus community about Dr. Ohl’s passing.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

With profound sadness, I am writing to inform you that Heidelberg has lost one of its iconic and beloved retired professors.  Dr. Ferris Ohl, who was the heart and soul of the Music Department for 39 years, passed away Friday, October 6, 2017, at the age of 103.

A proud alumnus from the Class of 1936, Dr. Ohl earned two master’s degrees, from the Cincinnati Conservatory and from Columbia University, and his doctoral degree from Columbia University Teacher’s College.  He began his teaching career in the Pioneer (Ohio) Schools, where he met his future wife, Dorothy.  They married in 1942 while he was on leave from the U.S. Army and celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last spring.

At the end of World War II, Dr. Ohl returned to Heidelberg to begin his illustrious career.  For the next nearly four decades, through 1985, he taught voice and directed the Concert Choir, which distinguished itself as one of the premier vocal ensembles in the Midwest.  While he was at the helm, the choir was revered by audiences wherever they performed for their excellent choral presentation and meticulous appearance.  Many students enrolled at Heidelberg just for the opportunity to sing for Ferris Ohl.  He formed lifelong and meaningful bonds with his students, many of whom went on to careers in music education or music performance.  For some, he was more than a professor and choir director; he was a father figure whose firm hand provided just the right amount of guidance they needed during their formative years.  Through the years, he stayed in touch with many of his former students who have expressed their admiration and gratitude upon his passing.

Dr. Ohl led the Concert Choir on five memorable European tours and conducted more than 50 performances of Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime. He was the longtime chair of Music Department and oversaw the construction of Brenneman Music Hall in 1949 and the three-story addition in 1971.

In the community, Dr. Ohl directed the Chancel Choir at Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years, the Tiffinian Male Chorus for 15 years and numerous choral festivals for area high schools over many years.  He enjoyed gardening and golfing and was a member of the Tiffin Rotary and Mohawk Golf Club.

In addition to all of the significant ways Dr. Ohl touched the lives of his students, he was also a member of a Heidelberg legacy family.  In addition to his wife, Dorothy (Doolittle), ’44, three siblings, Kermit Ohl, ’25, Gladys Ohl, ’28, and Violet (Ohl) Snyder, ’33, graduated from Heidelberg.  Surviving in addition to Dorothy are daughters Vicki Ohl, ’72, and Laura (Ohl) Ross, ‘80, and her husband, Jerry Ross, ‘80.  Also surviving are grandchildren Susan Stetz, Ben Braley and Kevin Ross, and four great-grandchildren.

A memorable part of his Heidelberg legacy, we will never forget Dr. Ohl’s commanding presence as he directed the singing of “Sweet Alma Home” at many, many campus events, long after his retirement.  For at least 15 years, former Concert Choir members returned in large numbers for the chance to sing again for their cherished director during Alumni Weekend.

On a personal note, I feel extremely fortunate to have known Dr. Ohl and Mrs. Ohl over the past eight years.  I remember acutely his sense of humor when I called to say “Happy 100th Birthday!” a few years ago.  After Dr. Ohl pointed out it was only his 99th birthday on that September 10th, I sheepishly said that I would call again a year later.  Dr. Ohl’s response was something like, “Great, if I’m still here, I look forward to it.”  Perfect.

The family is planning a memorial service at a later date on Sunday, November 12, 2017.  If you would like to make a memorial contribution in Dr. Ohl’s honor, you can direct those to Heidelberg University or to Trinity United Church of Christ.

Ferris Ohl’s life was well lived and extraordinary.  I know you will join me in extending our most sincere sympathy to Dorothy, Vicki, Laura and Jerry and the extended Ohl family during this time of loss and sadness.  


Rob Huntington

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