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Published: Sunday, 10/8/2006

Ex-Findlay mayor founded steel firm

FINDLAY - John C. Sausser, 95, an elected official in his hometown each decade from the 1960s on, who was outspoken and at times controversial during terms as mayor and councilman, died of bone cancer Friday in his home.

Mr. Sausser, who became a lawyer at 50, was chairman and chief executive officer of Sausser Steel Co., a steel fabricating business he founded in 1949. He worked - most often, seven days a week - until a month ago. Though ill, he still oversaw the company from home.

"He has his whole life been a steady worker and very enthusiastic and enjoyed work," said his daughter, Sondra Scoby, the firm's assistant secretary-treasurer.

Mr. Sausser once was called the best-known Democrat in Hancock County, typically a Republican stronghold. He was elected in 1963 to the first of two successive two-year terms as mayor of Findlay, then becoming the city's first Democratic mayor since 1946.

He was elected to a four-year term as mayor in 1971. He later was elected to three terms on City Council - in 1985, 1991, and in 2001 at age 90. He marked his 92nd birthday in 2003 by filing petitions to run for mayor as an independent. He finished second among four candidates.

Republican Mayor Tony Iriti called Mr. Sausser's contribution to the city "immeasurable," citing the former mayor's support of a city income tax in the 1960s and the expansion of the city's water system.

"Those were two pretty major pieces of history," Mr. Iriti said.

Mr. Sausser was proud that he helped attract two major employers to Findlay, Whirlpool Corp. and Ball Corp., his daughter said.

His views, freely offered, and his actions - advocating an income tax; hiring a woman as safety-service director; challenging the city auditor on tax collections - raised the ire of some.

"I think that's what people are elected for - to speak their minds, and if the public doesn't like what they hear, they can vote them out," Mr. Sausser told The Blade in 2001, as he announced his council candidacy.

Mr. Iriti, who served on council with Mr. Sausser in the 1980s, said: "He was very good to work with. You always knew where he was coming from and where he stood on the issues. You didn't have to guess.

"John always tried to look for what the fairest solution to a problem was, regardless of politics or anything," Mr. Iriti said.

Mr. Sausser lost races for state representative, county commissioner, and judge - of common pleas court, juvenile court, and probate court.

"I've been beat more than any two people," he said in 2001.

His daughter said: "He never looked at himself as wanting to be out in the public and getting a lot of publicity. But he was willing to try to better the town."

Born in New Mexico, where his family had moved during a gold rush, he grew up in Findlay and was a 1929 graduate of Findlay High School. He studied electrical engineering at Ohio State University, but money ran out during the Great Depression.

He had various jobs until he bought a machine shop, which won contracts for defense work during World War II. He was owner of Concrete Block & Supply from 1946 to 1949 and John Sausser Dodge in the 1960s.

His most enduring business was the steel company. Interested in personal growth, he went back to school and received a bachelor's degree in 1958 from what is now the University of Findlay.

The needs of his business - "lawyers are expensive," his daughter said - led him to become a law student at Ohio Northern University, from which he received his law degree in 1961.

His classmates, decades younger, noticed a generation gap: "He got A's, and we got B's," said John Noble, 25 years Mr. Sausser's junior. "He was one of the top three students in the class."

Mr. Sausser had no time for hobbies or travel. His last vacation was in 1989.

"He normally worked from 8 in the morning to 10 at night," his daughter said. "He'd take the time to visit whoever came in. And he still did that until a week ago. Politicians came in. Friends came in. And he'd talk to them from bed."

Mr. Sausser was an inaugural inductee by Junior Achievement of Hancock County into its Business Hall of Fame.

A room at the Black Heritage Library and Cultural Center in Findlay is named in his honor.

Mr. Sausser and his wife, Winona, married May 16, 1937. She died Dec. 9, 1986.

Surviving are his son, Joe W. Sausser; daughter, Sondra K. Scoby, and two granddaughters.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Kirkpatrick-Behnke Funeral Home, Findlay, where the body will be after 6 p.m. tomorrow.



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