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Published: Tuesday, 5/17/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Leslie J. Johnson, 1920-2011: Gas station owner noted for pleasing customers

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Leslie J. Johnson, 91, a Toledo businessman who raised 10 children while owning a gas station in the University of Toledo and Old Orchard neighborhoods, died of heart-related problems Monday at The Manor at Perrysburg.

Mr. Johnson closed the BP station in 1994 when he was 74. He worked at the station since 1943, when it was Sohio, and owned it since 1956. Along the way, he raised four sons and six daughters in a small West Toledo home with his wife of 62 years, Phyllis.

"I wonder how he did it," said daughter Joan Channell. "My mother was a stay-at-home mom who was very thrifty."

Mr. Johnson was born in Toledo in 1920 and graduated from DeVilbiss High School. In an interview in 1994, Mr. Johnson said his formula for staying in business was based on giving people good, pleasant service, working for a good company, and treating employees well.

Each son worked for his father and was richer for the experience, son Tom said.

"He was not a boss who would sit in a chair; he led by example," Tom said. "He taught us all of the important life skills."

In 1985, he opened a stand-alone garage on Dorr Street near Secor Road but closed it six months later when he found he couldn't control two places.

Early in his career, he did most of his mechanical work, but later let his sons and others handle that part of the business while he focused on customer service, Tom said.

The death of his son Larry, of a heart attack at age 36 in 1993, prompted him to consider retiring.

"What he really taught us was business and business fundamentals," said son John, who left his father's employ to pursue a 30-year career with Owens-Illinois Inc., rising to the position of vice president.

"He used a spiral notebook to keep track of all the numbers," John said. "It's funny because today we call that management information systems" that require computers and software to track.

Jack Jones, another employee, worked for Mr. Johnson while attending the University of Toledo.

"As a boss, he always had fun" while instilling the value of providing customers with the best service possible, said Mr. Jones, who's now chairman and a managing partner of Poggemeyer Design Group, the Bowling Green engineering firm.

Mr. Jones said he started working for Mr. Johnson at $1.25 an hour, about 15 cents an hour more than he earned at his grandfather's gas station. "He was one of the best bosses I ever had," Mr. Jones said.

Vacations for the Johnson family consisted of day trips, with the exception of Niagara Falls, his daughter Joan recalled. For that trip, Mr. Johnson rented a pop-up trailer to cut lodging costs. But a mechanical failure outside Windsor, Ont., sent them back home.

"When we returned to Toledo, he sat at the kitchen table and said, 'I promised my kids we were going to Niagara Falls,' " she said. Determined not to disappoint his family, he piled everyone back into the station wagon and drove to the falls and rented two hotel rooms.

He is survived by his wife Phyllis, daughters Jean Smith, Joan Channell, Kim Johnson, Mary Ann Ramm, Jackie Heldt, and Linda Taro; sons William, John, and Tom; 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Visitation is from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Coyle Funeral Home and at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in Christ the King Catholic Church, where a funeral Mass is scheduled for noon.



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