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Published: Thursday, 5/31/2007

Union leader served many as negotiator

ARCHBOLD, Ohio - David W. Gelios, 70, a former president of Local 911 of the United Food & Commercial Workers, died in his sleep Sunday at his Hamilton Lake condo in Hamilton, Ind.

The family did not know the cause of death.

Mr. Gelios was the Local 911 president from its inception in 1995 until retiring in 2001.

Before heading Local 911, Mr. Gelios was president of UFCW Local 626 in Monclova.

He also was a former president of the Ohio conference of the UFCW International Union, the result of a 1979 merger of the meat cutters' and retail clerks' unions.

He was elected in 1979, when he was the chief executive officer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America Local 626. He was also a former international vice-president of the UFCW.

"He was very unselfish and he was very, very shrewd when it came to negotiating contracts," said his son, Steven Gelios, an assistant to the director of UFCW Region 5 in Dallas. "He was a very, very honest man. His word was his bond. He lived by that."

A native of Detroit and a U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Gelios was 58 when he became one of the most important labor leaders in Toledo in October, 1995, with the merger of two large UFCW locals.

The 13,800 members at the time on the roster of UFCW Local 911 - formerly Locals 626 and 954 - made the union local the biggest in the area. Local 911 - a number that leaders chose because of its association with rescue services - included a cross-section of food-industry workers throughout northwestern Ohio.

A 1995 Blade story described Mr. Gelios as a "frank, powerful negotiator."

He was "big, affable, and frank - some would say cocky," and possessed "a working-class style of speech sprinkled with tame obscenities uttered not in anger but as a theatrical form of punctuation," the story said.

Mr. Gelios was born in 1936, the third of seven children of Peter Gelios, who had immigrated from Greece in 1916 at the age of 16, and his wife, Florence, a homemaker, whose heritage was German, English, and Native American.

He attended school in Detroit through the eighth grade and served with the Army in Korea from 1956, when he enlisted, until his honorable discharge in 1958.

In 1958, Mr. Gelios married Christine Juzwiak, who immigrated with her family at the age of 13 from Ukraine, then a republic of the Soviet Union. Steve, the first of four children, was born a year later.

As a young man, David Gelios tried to organize a United Auto Workers local in a Detroit factory where he was working. When the effort failed, he was laid off. He attributed it to his union activities and was angry when the UAW refused to help him.

The Gelios family moved to northwest Ohio in 1961 after David Gelios lost his job in Detroit. He soon found work in a slaughterhouse hide room at the Dinner Bell meat-packing plant in Defiance.

"It's the dirtiest, stinkiest job you could have," he said in 1995.

Soured by his union experience in Detroit, he initially was hostile toward his new plant's union, meat cutters' Local 626.

Union leaders persuaded him to give organized labor a second chance. In 1962 he was elected a shop steward and went to work full time for Local 626 in 1965. He was elected chief executive of the union in 1972. The union later merged with the Retail Clerks International Union to become the UFCW.

A resident of Archbold, he spent much time in those early years organizing workers in rural northwest Ohio, where unions were often viewed with hostility and suspicion. Only the 1991 diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat slowed him down.

"He was so busy being a union leader that he forgot to be a husband and father," his wife, Christine Gelios said in 1995. "He's catching up now, though."

"He's a good negotiator," Roger Williamson, a meat cutter at Chief Supermarket in Napoleon and a member of the union's executive board at the time, told The Blade in 1995. "With Dave, there is no pussy-footing around. He states his mind and is firm with it."

Mr. Gelios was a member of St. Peter Catholic Church, Archbold.

Surviving are his wife, Christine; sons, Steven, David, and Mark; daughter, Roxanne Masi; brother, James; sisters, Dolores McDole, Mary Lou Kogelschatz, and Patricia Gelios, and five grandchildren.

Services will be 11 a.m. today at St. Peter Catholic Church, Archbold.

Arrangements are by the Short Funeral Home, Archbold.

The family suggests tributes to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis or the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

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