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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

James G. Mitchell, 1917-2010: Company co-founder known for his 'mile-deep' character

James G. Mitchell, 93, who with his wife, Lee, founded a firm that makes foam slippers and expanded into personal and health-care absorbent products, died Friday in his Perrysburg home.

The cause was not reported.

"He just kind of wore out," his son-in-law, Chuck Stocking, said.

Mr. Mitchell retired in 1994 as board chairman of Principle Business Enterprises Inc., in the Dunbridge community of Wood County's Middleton Township. The company is known for its Pillow Paws footwear and for its incontinence products that go by the names Tranquility and Select.

His wife was president and chief executive officer. After all, an idea of hers about 33 years earlier helped spark the business.

They worked together, and well, as business and marriage partners, said Mr. Stocking, now president of the firm. His wife - the Mitchells' daughter - Carol is chief executive.

"They demonstrated it's very possible for people to do that," Mr. Stocking said. "They just had great compatibility.

"Jim was the operational kind of guy, and Lee was very creative. It was a good match. Their relationship was a good balance."

Mr. Mitchell was a 15-year veteran and an executive of his father-in-law's firm, H.L. Gentry Construction, which specialized in pipelines, when his wife told her father - H.L. - that she was starting a business.

She'd figured out how to make a house slipper out of the type of foam material found on dry cleaners' hangers.

Her father, in turn, demanded that his son-in-law quit this new venture or leave his employ. Mr. Mitchell chose to leave the pipeline business.

"It took courage to do that," Mr. Stocking said. "She had the idea, and Jim was able to supply the engineering know-how."

They began small in Waterville, but moved to Dunbridge after a heavy snow collapsed part of their original building. They expanded into incontinence products at the suggestion of a European distributor.

"He was a good guy, and he trusted people, and they trusted him," Mr. Stocking said. "He was not a command-and-control guy. He was more of a consensus leader. He would get people to work together.

"His character was a mile deep. They talk about the 'greatest generation' and, while he didn't go to war, he was a part of that generation that had bedrock values."

He was born April 20, 1917, on a sheep farm near Holly, Mich. He was a 1939 graduate of Michigan State University, from which he received a degree in agricultural engineering.

He worked on the farm and during the war made armaments at Buick Motor in Flint, Mich. After the war, his father-in-law offered him a job.

He had a keen mechanical sense and, in later years, taught his grandchildren all about motors. After a big snow, he bought adult and grandchild-sized snowmobiles for jaunts through the snow.

"He loved being with them. He was a perfect grandfather," Mr. Stocking said.

Mr. Mitchell was a longtime member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Maumee, where he had been a reader and an usher.

His wife of more than 50 years, the former Winnalee "Lee" Gentry, died Dec. 14, 1994. His second wife, Dorothy Coulson Mitchell, died about four years ago.

Surviving are his son, William Mitchell, daughter, Carol Stocking, sister, Lorraine Jensen; brother, Leonard "Sandy" Mitchell, five grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

A memorial service is pending. Arrangements are by the Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg.

The family suggests tributes to the Christian Science Monitor fund at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Maumee, or the Michigan State University school of agriculture.



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