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Published: Thursday, 6/24/2010

Store-chain owner had over 1,000 employees

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Robert M. Uhlman, 84, who had a 44-year career with his family's department store business, died of congestive heart failure Saturday in Wood Haven Health Care Senior Living and Rehabilitation here.

In 1978, Mr. Uhlman became chairman and chief executive of the Uhlman Co., a family-owned business headquartered in Bowling Green that at one time had more than 40 stores in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana and more than 1,000 employees.

The firm traced its lineage to 1867, when Mr. Uhlman's grandfather, H.C. Uhlman, became a partner in a general store in Weston, Ohio.

Its properties included an Uhlman's store in downtown Bowling Green and a Plaza U, a women's specialty store, in the former Southwyck Shopping Center in Toledo.

Mr. Uhlman retired in 1992 and the company was sold to Roger Vail, its president and chief operating officer.

In 1996, the firm was then sold to Stage Stores, which shuttered many of the Uhlman outlets.

Mr. Uhlman began his retail career as a manager trainee in Findlay and was promoted to manager of an Uhlman outlet in Delaware, Ohio, his daughter, Melissa Uhlman, said.

He then transferred to the main office in Bowling Green and became a buyer.

He stayed busy in the 1970s, during which the company opened 12 new Plaza U stores in malls.

The new division's stores had colorful decor and offered apparel for misses and juniors.

The stores were eventually given the Uhlman name.

Mr. Uhlman's favorite part of the retail business was merchandising, according to a company newsletter.

He described this aspect of the business as "dealing with manufacturers and finding ways to make the merchandise move out the front door."

Asked what part of his job he liked least, he was at a loss for words. He laughed and said "Retailing is the greatest. I love all aspects of it."

Mr. Uhlman graduated from Bowling Green High School after attending Western Reserve Academy and Cranbrook Academy. He played varsity football.

The war year of 1944 loomed large in his young life: He enlisted in the Marine Corps and married Patty Jackson, his high school sweetheart, four days before being deployed to the Pacific.

As a Marine, rose the rank of corporal and participated in the Guam and Iwo Jima campaigns.

After the war, instead of being demobilized, he served in China. Once discharged, he and Mrs. Uhlman moved to Miami, Fla., where he enrolled in the University of Miami and studied business. They returned to Bowling Green in 1948.

He and his wife met at the former Roger's drug store in Bowling Green, where she worked at the soda fountain. They were happily married until her death in 2002.

Melissa Uhlman said her father loved fishing and being on the water and engaged in both on Catawba Island and in the Bahamas, where he had a home on Eleuthera.

Surviving are his daughters, Melissa Uhlman, June Uhlman, and Linda Whiting; son, Jeff, and nine grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday in Dunn Funeral Home, Bowling Green, followed by a memorial service.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Carl Ryan at:

carlryan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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