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Published: Saturday, 4/8/2006

Canning firm's owner praised for his integrity

WALBRIDGE - Karl A. Hirzel, Jr., 69, president for nearly 30 years of Hirzel Canning Co. and Farms, the family tomato and sauerkraut canning company founded by his grandfather, died Wednesday in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

He battled glioblastoma - a type of brain tumor - the last 18 months and died after a related stroke, son Steve said.

"He managed the disease quite well," said Steve, who succeeded his father as the firm's president and CEO. "It was quite remarkable."

Mr. Hirzel was president, chief executive officer, and a board member of the Northwood canning company through last year. He also was a primary owner of the family business, in which his daughter, three sons, and two brothers are involved.

In addition to his family business responsibilities, Mr. Hirzel gave his time as a leader in trade industry groups and on behalf of community causes, from education to water service.

The company, now run by a fourth generation, grows tomatoes and cabbage and cans tomatoes and tomato products under the Dei Fratelli and Star Cross brands and sauerkraut under the Silver Floss brand. Hirzel Canning operates plants in Northwood, Pemberville, and Ottawa, Ohio. It also has farming operations in Wood County.

"He kept his nose to the grindstone," said his brother Joe, who is chairman of the board. "It was a family business. We worked closely together; he was only 13 months older than me.

"Being a family, we were always working together for the same purpose: to produce good wholesome food for people and to be honest," his brother said.

Mr. Hirzel was known for innovation in processing and packaging.

"The culture of the company was to take risks and experiment and move the company forward," son Steve said.

"Today, the results demonstrate what he was able to leave with all of us."

Mr. Hirzel also made sure the company donated food to local food banks and charities.

He was a former chairman of the National Food Processors Association and was a director and a former president of the Ohio Canners Association.

"His reputation was impeccable," son Steve said. "Competitors, suppliers, customers - anybody you would associate with in the industry, they all said Karl embodied integrity."

The firm was founded by Carl R. Hirzel in 1923. Prohibition closed his Buffalo brewery, and he moved to the Toledo area to be with his brothers. He began growing cabbage on farmland in what is now Northwood. Drawing on his expertise, he fermented the cabbage and sold it in wooden kegs and barrels. By the late 1920s, he and the family were canning tomatoes.

He died in 1933, and his son Karl took over. Karl, Jr., and his siblings worked in the business from childhood. Their father wasn't afraid to turn over responsibility to them, Joe said.

"We matured quite quickly," Joe said. Their father died in 1991.

Mr. Hirzel was a 20-year member - and a former president - of the Northwood school board, first serving at age 25.

"I never considered the school board a public office, but more of a public duty," Mr. Hirzel told The Blade in 1981, as his final term ended.

He was a former chairman and a founding member of the Wood County water and sewer district. Wood County commissioners in 1992 appointed him chairman of the county's solid waste committee.

He exuded a quiet calm, his son said, though some did not think him gregarious. Even so, his son remembered that his father would advise the company's sales staff with helpful truisms: "●'You can always learn more by listening' and, he'd say, 'You earn more respect that way,'●" his son said.

Mr. Hirzel was born in the former Ross Township and was a graduate of the former Olney High School. He received a bachelor of science degree in horticulture from Ohio State University and helped raise money to expand its food science and technology facilities.

For many years, he sang bass in the Toledo Swiss Singers. He was chairman of the 2006 North American Swiss Saengerfest, scheduled for June in Toledo.

Surviving are his wife, Barbara, whom he married June 15, 1957; daughter, Heidi Kopec; sons, Karl E., Eric, and Steve Hirzel; sisters, Marilyn Kozma and Rosalie Moore; brothers, Joe and William Hirzel, and 12 grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. John's United Church of Christ, Genoa, of which he was a member. Arrangements are by the Eggleston Meinert Pavley Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Karl and Rosalie Hirzel Education Fund at Penta Career Center; the Dardinger Cancer Research Center at the James Cancer Center of Ohio State University, or the Karl A. Hirzel Educational Foundation at Ohio State University.



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