FOSTORIA - Michael Kovach, who developed the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and owned up to five KFC restaurants in nearby northwest Ohio communities over the years, died Thursday in Independence House here. He was 83.
Mr. Kovach's official cause of death was liver cancer, his wife, Cheryl Kovach, said. But Mrs. Kovach said she suspects several infections, from which her husband had been suffering since March, may have been at least partly responsible.
A Fredericktown, Pa., native, Mr. Kovach was living in Michigan when one of his daughters brought home a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mr. Kovach was so impressed with the product that he inquired about franchise opportunities, and was told that the nearest available openings were in the Fostoria area.
“He liked the area, and he's been here ever since,” said Mrs. Kovach, who married Mr. Kovach in 1986, two years after the death of his first wife, Julia. Mrs. Kovach said both she and Julia Kovach worked in the restaurants with Mr. Kovach.
Mr. Kovach opened the Fostoria KFC in 1967, and within a few years “got the itch” to start another one, Mrs. Kovach said. He opened outlets in Ottawa, O., in 1972 and Bellevue, O., in 1979, and later bought KFCs in Ada and Upper Sandusky while building a new one in Bluffton.
Mrs. Kovach said her husband rarely took vacations until later in his career, when he was confident that he had skilled managers running his enterprises.
“He was a KFC man. He believed in his job and his products,” she said.
In 1976 at a franchisees convention in Las Vegas, Mr. Kovach met Col. Harlan Sanders, the restaurant chain's founder. Mr. Kovach found the Colonel to be a very pleasant man and the overall experience “very enjoyable,” even though the white-haired Southern gentleman was ill at the time and had to be propped up for a photograph that Mrs. Kovach still has.
Mr. Kovach owned his flagship restaurant in Fostoria, plus those in Ada and Bluffton, when he died. The Bellevue outlet was sold to another KFC franchisee, while the others were passed along to relatives, Mrs. Kovach said.
Surviving are his wife, Cheryl Kovach; daughter, Judith Ann Giblin; brothers, George and John; sisters, June Zeisel, Helen Grabowski, and Elizabeth Wendling; two grandsons, and three great-grandchildren.
The body will be in the Manns-Ferguson Funeral Home, Livonia, Mich., after 2 p.m. today, with a Parastas service at 4 p.m. tomorrow. A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Monday in Sacred Heart Byzantine Church, Livonia.
The Hoening Funeral Home, Fostoria, is handling local arrangements.
The family requests tributes to the Bridge Hospice Care Center, in the care of the Hoening Funeral Home, or a charity of the donor's choice.