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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Therma-Tru's founder chaired museum board

Welles Welles
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HASKINS, Ohio - David K. Welles, Sr., 78, founder of Therma-Tru Corp. and a former chairman of the board of trustees of the Toledo Museum of Art, died Monday in his home in Wood County's Middleton Township.

He suffered complications from cancer first diagnosed 27 years ago, his son David "Deke" Welles, Jr., said.

Deke Welles said his father would be remembered not only for turning Maumee-based Therma-Tru from nothing into a "substantial entrepreneur" in the residential front-door industry, but for his dedication to the museum.

Involved with the museum since the 1980s, he served as chairman of its board from 1991-95. He raised millions of dollars for museum expansions and renovations, was a driving force behind its long-range space plan, and with his wife, Georgia, donated sculptures from the family's collection.

David Steadman, the art museum's director from 1989 through 1999, said Mr. Welles was a "tremendous force of change and growth" for the museum. "Everything that's happened at the museum over the last 20 years, he's been directly involved with," Mr. Steadman said. "He and Georgia played a role very similar to that of Edward Drummond Libbey and Florence Scott Libbey, who founded the museum."

Another former museum director, Roger Berkowitz, said Mr. Welles was chairman or co-chairman of the only two capital campaigns the museum has had since opening in 1901, raising more than $80 million.

The most recent fund-raising campaign he led, co-chaired with his wife, raised more than $60 million and funded the Glass Pavilion, which opened in 2006. Mr. and Mrs. Welles received an Ohio Governor's Award for the Arts that year.

Mr. Berkowitz said some of the money from that second campaign also went toward the development of the Georgia and David K. Welles Sculpture Garden, which abuts the museum's entrance along Monroe Street.

"The arts, especially visual arts, are a longtime passion for both my parents," Deke Welles said.

Mr. Berkowitz, who was employed at the museum from 1974 through 2004 and spent his last five years as director, said Mr. Welles led the museum's first capital campaign in the 1980s in conjunction with the University of Toledo and raised well over $20 million for the university's Center for the Visual Arts.

Mr. Berkowitz described Mr. Welles as someone who "worked incredibly hard" and was "very entrepreneurial" as a board chairman.

"He could be very challenging, but he did it in a gentlemanly way," Mr. Berkowitz said. "He added to the spirit of the place. He was always very encouraging to the museum, and his contributions went well beyond his stream of resources."

He was also conscious of humility and seldom let on to all his efforts for the museum, his son Deke said.

Mr. Welles was born in Lake Forest, Ill., and attended boarding schools in New Hampshire and New Jersey. He received a bachelor's degree from Yale in 1952 and joined Owens Corning, which transferred him to the Toledo area in 1955.

A friend told him about a lumber company in bankruptcy that supplied Scholz Homes, Inc. Knowing that Scholz constructed thousands of homes, Mr. Welles purchased the company in 1962 and brought it out of bankruptcy. It began making prehung doors and in 1968, fiber-glass exterior doors.

With its name changed to Therma-Tru Corp., it became the largest maker of residential entry doors in the country. The Welles family and an equity partner sold Therma-Tru to Fortune Brands in 2004 for $925 million.

"Basically, my father wanted some liquidity so he could make a difference in the community with the cash from the sale," said Deke Welles, a former Therma-Tru chief executive officer. "He also wanted the enterprise he created to survive. My father looked at the company as extended family."

Despite lending himself to his business, the arts, and his numerous philanthropic endeavors, Mr. Welles made time for his wife of 57 years and five children.

"He was probably the best father anyone could hope for," Deke Welles said. "He had a real sense of family. If push ever came to shove, he always put his family first."

Mr. Welles is survived by his wife, Georgia; daughter, Ginny Jordan; sons, David, Jeff, Peter, and Chris Welles; sister, Emilie Welles, and 14 grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Perrysburg, at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 10.

The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Museum of Art, Assistance Dogs of America. Inc., or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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