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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

Sylvania's ex-`boy mayor' was elected at 28

Donald Burnard, who was Sylvania's “boy mayor” in the 1960s during a period of rapid growth, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack in the Hillsdale Community Health Center in Michigan. He was 72.

Mr. Burnard was just 28 when he was elected mayor of Sylvania in late 1959.

In the decade that followed, the city's population tripled to nearly 13,000 residents. He left in 1969 to pursue business interests.

“The two of them [elected office and operating a business] got to be too much for him,” Donald Burnard, his son, said. “I think he had had enough of politics and wanted to put his time into building a business. And he wanted to get out into the country.”

A Democrat, he often faced a Republican-dominated city council on issues that could be contentious.

When he was elected mayor, he was an apprentice electrician who never had run for office, delivered a speech, or attended a political meeting.

But he attracted notice and was asked to run after he attended a council meeting with others to question the merits of a sewer fee for residents, even though the sewer service was not available to his neighborhood.

Mr. Burnard was most proud of steering Sylvania through early growing pains to become a city, his son said. “I think it was seeing the city grow to be a city and also to be able to bring them into city status,” his son said.

He succeeded in getting the city to build a new municipal building, but objected to it being located behind other buildings on Main Street, hemmed in along railroad tracks. He wanted it on Monroe Street. Years later, a new municipal building was erected on Monroe.

Mr. Burnard fought a losing battle to get council to consider a contract with the Lucas County water district, rather than negotiate with Toledo water officials, as council wanted.

After stepping down as mayor in 1969, Mr. Burnard concentrated on expanding Burnard Electric, a contracting firm with about 10 employees that did commercial and residential work in Ohio and Michigan.

He retired in 1988 and soon thereafter divided his time between residences at Little Long Lake near Montgomery, Mich., and Naples, Fla.

Mr. Burnard enjoyed tackling a variety of small building projects in his spare time.

“He was the ultimate putzer,” his son said. “He would say, `I am going on vacation for the next two weeks. We are going to build a garage.' He always liked to have a little building project going. If anybody was building something, he would pretty much help keep it going.”

Mr. Burnard was a member of the Toledo branch of the National Electrical Contractors Association, a former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, a 32nd Degree Mason, and a member of the Coldwater Masonic Lodge.

He was an Air Force veteran of the Korean War.

Surviving are his wife, Sue; daughter, Karen Wack; sons, Donald and Douglas; sister, Barbara May Sowers; stepsons, Brian and Chris Cornelius; 14 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Reeb Funeral Home, where the body will be after 4 p.m. today.

The family suggests tributes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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