Ohio’s leader through coronavirus crisis grew up in Mahoning Valley

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Dr. Amy Acton, then Amy Stearns, graduated from Liberty High School

LIBERTY TWP., Ohio (WKBN) – You know Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio’s Department of Health director, from the daily press conferences Gov. Mike DeWine has been holding through this COVID-19 outbreak. But maybe you didn’t know that she grew up in the Youngstown area.

Acton, who has become a folk hero for her calm demeanor, graduated from Liberty High School in 1984.

WATCH: “Coronavirus in Ohio” — Gov. DeWine, Dr. Amy Acton answer your questions

Back then, she was Amy Stearns — a homecoming queen, cheerleader and member of National Honor Society.

“She was extremely affable,” said David Riberi, one of Acton’s high school classmates. “Very warm, friends with everybody.”

“Didn’t try hard or anything, was just a really friendly person to be around,” said Elaine Jacobs, one of Acton’s high school friends.

There are reports her parents met at a Youngstown State University theater party. They married, but then divorced when Amy was 3.

Before she enrolled in Liberty, Acton lived a nomadic life with her mother. Published reports say she lived in 18 or so homes in her first 12 years, even spending one winter in a tent at a campground.

“I didn’t know about all the trials she went through, her childhood, during high school,” Jacobs said. “It’s not something she’s embarrassed, by any stretch, but it wasn’t something she wanted to focus on either.”

PHOTOS: Dr. Amy Acton’s early life in the Mahoning Valley

Acton later moved in with her father and started going to Liberty Schools.

Jacobs, who lives in Canfield, graduated with her.

“She’s clearly a beautiful woman today,” Jacobs said. “She was a beautiful woman back then, young girl, I should say. She was beautiful inside and out. She did not get those types of accolades, if you will, just because of her beauty. She was just so genuine and I think that’s why she’s become kind of — quote — the ‘rock star’ she was referred to by somebody else because you can tell she’s very genuine.”

“I think she was my girlfriend in 10th grade for a year or something like that,” Riberi said.

Riberi, who now lives in California, remembers Acton was tight with her father. He said her father wanted to drive with him before she could drive with him.

“He tried to throw all the tricks at me, like, ‘What do you do in this circumstance?’ It wasn’t enough that the state said I was ready. I wasn’t ready until he thought I was ready.”

In September of last year, Acton was part of the first class of the Liberty Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame and she proudly showed up to accept the honor.

She has not forgotten where she came from.

“She loves Youngstown, she loves Youngstown State,” Jacobs said. “She is not far from our hearts. She’s always wondering what’s going on with people. She’s definitely a leopard at heart for sure.”

Acton uses simple, common language to help us understand the coronavirus situation.

“We need leaders doing the kind of work she’s doing that are competent, and that are empathetic and warm,” Riberi said. “I feel like she’s the perfect person for the times that we’re in and I’ve just been so proud to see her get the recognition.”

After Liberty High School, Acton graduated from Youngstown State, then the Northeast Ohio College of Medicine. Before being hired by the governor, she taught at Ohio State.

We tried contacting Acton for an interview but haven’t heard back. We understand. She’s a little busy right now.

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