James R. Stapleton, 68, chairman of the Stapleton Insurance Group in Sylvania, died Friday at Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township.
Death was caused by complications from choking Dec. 12 in a restaurant in Hillsdale County, Michigan, near Round Lake. He suffered the loss of oxygen to his brain for several minutes, his son, Byrne Stapleton, said.
"It was kind of a shock. He was in great health, very active," his son said.
The late Mr. Stapleton, a lifelong Swanton resident, built the company into one of the area's largest family-owned insurance firms. He acquired more than a dozen local competing firms to expand the business into four offices in Sylvania Township, Swanton, Perrysburg, and Metamora. The firm offers property, casualty, and health insurance policies.
"I always thought he had a real good vision of what the insurance business would be," said Stan Multhauf, chief executive officer of Stapleton Insurance Group with 24 years at the company. "He knew the small agency of the past was not going to be able to survive. He knew we were going to have to help our agency grow."
Mr. Stapleton was 25 years old when he took the helm of the insurance company after his father's sudden death in 1967. He quickly assembled financing for the purchase of the business from his mother, his son said.
"The only way you're truly going to be a success is you have to work hard. That was, in essence, his motto," his son said. "He was always looking for the next way to grow the agency."
He turned the business over to his two sons and went into semiretirement in 2003, the younger Mr. Stapleton said.
His elder son, James Patrick Stapleton, died of cancer soon afterward.
Until his death, Mr. Stapleton was a mentor and business adviser and the staff continued to think of him as "the chief," his son said.
"To see it go on to a third generation was something that he was very excited about," the son said.
Mr. Stapleton studied business at Bowling Green State University and enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve after college. He married his wife, Oddlyn, in 1963.
He had previously served as chairman of the Fulton County Economic Development Committee, director of the former State Home Savings Bank of Bowling Green, member of the Swanton Exchange Club and Chamber of Commerce.
In his spare time, Mr. Stapleton enjoyed boating with his family and vacationing at Round Lake and Fort Myers, Fla.
Mr. Multhauf described him as a charismatic personality.
"Everywhere you went, Jim knew somebody," said Mr. Multhauf. "He was a real personality. Just very outgoing. He could walk up to anybody and talk to them and ask them questions. There was nobody he couldn't talk to."
Mr. Stapleton is survived by his wife, Oddlyn, his son, Byrne Stapleton, sister, Joan Stapleton McKenna, and three granddaughters.
Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Weigel Funeral Home in Swanton. Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Richard's Catholic Church in Swanton.
The family suggests memorial contributions to St. Richard's School or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.