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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2005

Successful fabrication firm began with handshake deal

Douglas Huff, who set up a Toledo steel fabricating business with what would be its largest client even before the company had a name, died yesterday in his home in Jerome, Mich. He was 63.

Mr. Huff died of cancer, family members said.

After working for two Toledo steel fabricators that both shut down, Mr. Huff branched out on his own with the help of a hymn book.

"It was a simple way, the way it all started," his wife, Jackie, said.

While driving to lunch with an agent of Westinghouse Electric Co., the man saw a hymn book on Mr. Huff's dashboard. The two began talking that day in the late 1980s, and Mr. Huff had his first deal.

"This gentleman gave him his first order, without even a name for the company," his wife said. "Just on his faith in my husband."

The order was a big one: gigantic, truck-sized transformers for Westinghouse that grew into the bulk of Mr. Huff's business.

It was good news after Mr. Huff's prior two Toledo employers - Keegan Steel Fabricating and Merce Industries Inc., a boat manufacturer - both closed.

Mr. Huff, a Toledo native, started out by following in the footsteps of his father.

A 1960 DeVilbiss High School graduate, Mr. Huff finished two years of a University of Toledo football scholarship before joining his father at Keegan full-time.

There, he learned the steel fabricating trade, starting with "the low jobs" - sandblasting, truck driving - before working his way up to foreman, his wife said.

When Keegan closed in the late 1980s, he did a short stint running a fabricating shop at Merce, before branching out on his own, using connections he made in the trade.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Huff got financial backing from a friend, Tom Gray. The new company was named Yargo Industries after Mr. Gray's last name spelled backward with an "o" on the end. Mr. Gray owned the company, while Mr. Huff served as president.

The company survived until the late 1990s when Westinghouse was bought out and closed its local businesses. Mr. Huff hung on for a few years making various stainless steel and railroad parts, but retired in 1998 and moved to Lake LeAnn in Jerome.

While living in Bedford Township for more than two decades, he coached several youth baseball teams.

Mr. Huff was known as a family man, his wife said, and had a special relationship with co-workers.

"He had such respect. He was so honest. He had a special thing with people he worked with, and they never forgot it."

Mr. Huff was a member of Skiff Lake Bible Church in Clarklake, Mich.

Surviving are his wife, Jackie; sons, Doug, Bob, Matt, and Mark; daughter, Stefani Lennard, and five grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Skiff Lake Bible Church, where visitation will be after 3 p.m. tomorrow. The Nichols-Arthur Funeral Home, Michigan Center, Mich., is handling arrangements.

The family suggests tributes to the Hospice of Jackson and Oaklawn in Jackson, Mich.



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