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Published: Wednesday, 9/29/2010

Ashel G. Bryan, 1921-2010: Philanthropist cited as visionary

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Ashel G. Bryan, a retired bank executive and a former board chairman of Bowling Green State University and the Medical College of Ohio trustees who was a powerhouse in philanthropy, died of congestive heart failure Sunday in his Bowling Green home. He was 89.

"We lost a pillar in the community and a giant in northwest Ohio," said Marcia Latta, senior associate vice president for advancement at BGSU.

A club championship golfer, he played six holes 10 days before he died - his best golf of the summer, his son, David, said. On Oct. 18, in BGSU's Bryan Recital Hall - named for him and his wife, Dorothy - friends and associates recognized what he'd done for the arts and music in This Is Your Life fashion. Planning was under way for much of the year.

"It was basically a thank you," his son said. "I think it was wonderful.

After growing up in Cleveland, he met his wife, Dorothy Uber, at Ohio Wesleyan University. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and, stateside, trained as a B-24 pilot. The war ended before he had a chance to fly any missions.

Afterward, he and his wife moved to her hometown, Bowling Green, and he resumed his schooling at BGSU, from which he received a bachelor's degree in business.

His early jobs included a stint at Cook's newsstand in downtown Bowling Green, where he was noticed by the president of Bowling Green Banking Co. Mr. Bryan was hired by the bank in 1952 as an assistant to the cashier.

Mr. Bryan's rise was rapid and the bank's growth steady. He was elected a director in 1960 and president in 1961.

The institution became First National Bank of Bowling Green in 1964 and, later, Mid-American National Bank & Trust Co., later known as Mid Am.

"In those days, we just did what came next," Mr. Bryan told The Blade in 1998. "We did have a goal to grow, and we did that without selling our souls."

Ed Reiter, retired senior chairman of the former Sky Financial Group, Mid Am's successor, said that Mr. Bryan "was very innovative and aggressive, a visionary.

"He taught me the intricacies of banking," Mr. Reiter said.

Mr. Bryan retired in 1985 as Mid Am chief executive and, later, as chairman. In 2007, what had become Sky Financial was merged into Huntington Bancshares. By then, Mr. Bryan no longer had a financial interest in the bank.

He was a former chairman of the boards at BGSU and the former MCO. He was long a financial supporter of business and athletics. His wife was a painter, and together they were supporters of the arts.

He donated $850,000 toward aviation studies at BGSU. His first gift helped start the Bowling Green Community Foundation, and he was a former chairman and director emeritus of the BGSU Foundation, Ms. Latta said.

"He liked to think big," Ms. Latta said. "There's no question that the landscape of BGSU was very much influenced by Ashel Bryan's thoughts."

"Giving is happiness," Mr. Bryan said in 1994 as he and his wife accepted an award from the area chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.

His son said: "He was a very principled person. While he was a person of wealth, he lived modestly and used that wealth for philanthropic purposes, because that was part of his principles."

He and his wife married Sept. 17, 1943. She died Feb. 15, 2001.

Surviving are his daughters, Rebecca Bergert and Katherine Hollingsworth, son, David A. Bryan, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Services and a family remembrance are planned for 2:30 p.m. tomorrow at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Bowling Green, where he was a member. A reception will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Dorothy Uber Bryan Gallery in the BGSU school of art. Arrangements are by the Dunn Funeral Home, Bowling Green.

The family suggests tributes to the Ashel and Dorothy Bryan scholarship fund at the BGSU Foundation; the Ashel and Dorothy Bryan nurses fund at the University of Toledo Foundation, First Christian Church in Bowling Green, or a charity of the donor's choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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