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Published: Wednesday, 10/24/2001

Ex-farmhand grew seed company into big business

FREMONT - B.J. “Jack” Gries, 94, a farmhand who parlayed a two-week course at Ohio State University into a business selling agricultural seed in more than a half-dozen states, died of apparent pneumonia yesterday in Countryside Continuing Care Center.

Mr. Gries was president of Gries Seed Farms, Inc., a business he founded in 1945 on U.S. 6 just east of here, Georgena Edmonds, his daughter, said. The company has offices and processing plants here and in Green Springs, Ohio, plus about 17 farms in Sandusky and Seneca counties that grow seed for the firm, she said.

Mr. Gries once told a reporter: “I have a fancy office in the back, but I once knew a businessman who kept his office up front and said, `I want to see them coming and going.' I feel the same way, so I sit out here.”

Until recently, he still went to the office daily.

Mr. Gries was a farmhand in 1934 when his employer, a Fremont high school teacher named George Bloom, offered to send him to OSU for a short course on hybrid corn. He jumped at the chance and, in 1935, went into the seed business with Mr. Bloom. Mr. Gries planted an eighth of an acre of certified seed corn developed by researchers at OSU to get the business under way.

But farmers were skeptical of the quality of the university seed, Mrs. Edmonds said. For the first year or so, her father gave away seed to farmers. “They found it yielded more corn, so they started buying it.”

In 1942, the firm of Gries and Bloom moved to the present headquarters on 160 acres. Three years later, Mr. Gries formed his own company. In 1957, the firm bought Fangboner Seed Co. of Fremont, and two years after that, he bought Ohio & Michigan Seed Co. of Green Springs.

His first wife, Gladys, whom he married in 1928, died in 1971.

Surviving are his second wife, Gladys, whom he married in 1972; daughters, Virginia Biehler, Geraldine Hahn, and Georgena Edmonds; stepdaughter, Barbara Barrows; eight grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; a great-great-grandchild; two step-grandchildren, and two-step-great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday in Grace Community Church. The body will be in the Keller-Ochs-Koch Funeral Home after 7 tonight. The family requests tributes to Gideon International or Countryside Continuing Care Center.

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