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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Utility leader enjoyed giving back to others

MONROE - Sidney N. Wellborn, Jr., 83, a retired president of a natural gas utility with customers in Monroe, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties and a leader in community groups, died of pneumonia in Mercy Memorial Hospital, Monroe.

Though he retired Jan. 1, 1983 as president of Michigan Gas Utilities Co., Mr. Wellborn continued his community work until early this decade.

"He was very business-like. He was raised to be very much a gentleman," his wife, Eleanor, said. "He said God had been good to him all his life. He wanted to give what he could."

Mr. Wellborn became president of Michigan Gas Utilities in the mid-1970s. He also was a director and officer of Michigan Energy Resources Co., an intrastate public utility holding company. Holdings included Michigan Gas Utilities and Communications and CableVision Inc.

The natural gas utility primarily serves customers along the southern edge and on the west side of Michigan's lower peninsula. He was hired in 1955 and, based in Benton Harbor, Mich., was a vice president of engineering for the firm's western division.

He moved to the firm's Monroe headquarters in 1962 when he became companywide vice president of engineering. He later became an executive vice president.

His time with the company coincided with the post-World War II home-building boom. Many new homes were heated with natural gas, and many homes converted from coal or oil.

Industry boomed as well, and the company grew. According to the company's Web site, 30,000 customers were added to the system in the 1960s alone.

"He was very satisfied," his wife said. "He had a lot of good people under him. The people knew what their jobs were. He wouldn't hang over anybody's shoulders.

"He just made it a good place for people to work, and they really appreciated him," she said. "All he wanted to do was give, give, give. That's what he did with the company was give, and that's what he did with the community."

He was on the board of the Salvation Army for more than 30 years. He served as one of the first elected chairmen of the Mercy Memorial Hospital Foundation, another longtime affiliation. He was a past president of the Monroe County Building Authority.

He was a former board member of First of America Bank and of Security Bank.

Born in New Orleans, Mr. Wellborn grew up in Arlington, Va.

During Navy service in World War II, he was on the USS Bergall, a submarine, in the Pacific Theater.

"What interested him was the Navy and submarine service. He went there immediately after he graduated from high school," his wife said.

Afterward, he went year-round to the University of Alabama and received a bachelor of commerce and business administration degree in three years, his wife said. He also studied engineering at Auburn University.

"He was very good at business, but especially at engineering. He could fix anything," his wife said.

He had a variety of assignments when he went to New York City to work for Stone & Webster, an established engineering services firm.

"He was kind of an adventurer and wanted to try different things until he found something that really fit," his wife said. That turned out to be Michigan Gas Utilities, she added.

Mr. Wellborn liked to golf and was a former member of the Monroe Golf and Country Club. From the age of 5, he swam in the Gulf of Mexico on family vacations to the Florida panhandle.

He and his wife and children continued that tradition.

One of his favorite retirement pastimes was working in his yard - pulling the weeds; hoeing around and fertilizing the roses.

"I can sum it up in one thing: He liked, he wanted to accomplish things," his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, Eleanor, whom he married June 22, 1957; sons, Sidney III and Michael Wellborn; daughters, Rebecca Dennis and Priscilla Stegenga, and four grandchildren.

The body will be in the Bacarella Funeral Home, Monroe, after 3 p.m. today. Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Rapha Christian Center, Erie, where he was a deacon.

The family suggests tributes to Rapha Christian Center; Mercy Memorial Hospital, or the Salvation Army.



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