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Published: Saturday, 7/2/2011

Edward J. Curilla, 1924-2011: Kelleys Island store owner was an artist


KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio -- Edward J. Curilla, a Kelleys Island property owner since the 1960s who made the island his year-round home when he retired from his Cleveland commercial art studio, died Wednesday in the Ohio Veterans Home, Sandusky, from complications of an infection.

He was 87 and suffered heart and kidney problems in recent years, but he was in declining health the last six months, said his son, Ronald, who took care of him the last six years.

Mr. Curilla as a child attended a religious retreat on the island. With children of his own in the 1960s, he took his children to visit the island. "He decided he kind of liked coming up here, and we liked coming up here," his son said. "At one point, he thought, 'Why not buy a house?' "

It took a $7,000 investment in 1966, his son said, and the family made instant and regular use of the house.

"Back then, the boats only ran from April 1 to Thanksgiving, but we would fly to the island for Christmas," his son said.

For about 20 years, starting in the 1970s, as a hobby, he ran a business on the island, Brown's General Store, which sold ice cream and souvenirs and had pinball games. He turned over the business, now Kelleys Island General Store, to his daughter, Cynthia Holmes.

He retired in 1987 and moved to Kelleys Island.

"It's so beautiful here, I couldn't seen him retiring anyplace else," his son said.

In the 1990s, he served a term on village council.

"He was fighting for the betterment of the people on the island who didn't own businesses, but who should have a voice," his son said.

He planted fruit trees and stocked a fish pond, but tending a garden and landscaping were more than pastimes.

"He loved applying his art talent to his landscaping," his son said.

Mr. Curilla was a member of VFW Post 9908. He played poker weekly with friends.

"He loved to talk and to tell stories about his life and his past and he loved to talk politics," his son said. "And he loved to socialize."

His health affected his demeanor, but "he was a very compassionate person," his son said. "He really would help well beyond what anyone could ever expect."

He was born Feb. 3, 1924, to Frances and Joseph Curilla. He joined the Navy at 18 and served in the Pacific during World War II. He was recalled to active duty in the Korean War.

He had drawing ability and, as a young man, became an apprentice at a commercial art studio in Cleveland. After a career with commercial art studios, he began his own, Curilla & Associates.

His studio did work for the big advertising agencies then in Cleveland, from photography and illustration to typesetting and assembling of ads, said his son, who worked for him. Mr. Curilla was production manager and lead salesman.

"It was always very fun and hectic," his son said.

He didn't have a high school diploma or a college degree. His apprenticeship and his work experience were his teachers.

"Back then, a 10th-grade education and a lot of aptitude did it," his son said.

Personal computers started to make inroads in the 1980s, a time when the corporations in Cleveland were shrinking -- or leaving.

"All of a sudden, ad agencies were closing; studios were closing," his son said. "He retired at the right time."

He was formerly married to the late Gertrude DeMuth VanDeVan and Donna Curilla.

Surviving are his daughter, Cynthia Holmes; son, Ronald Curilla; sister, Eleanore Chesnoff; and four grandchildren.

A military service will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Ohio Veterans Home, Sandusky, where the family will receive friends after 12:30 p.m. Arrangements are by the Toft Funeral Home, Sandusky.

The family suggests tributes to Stein Hospice Service, Sandusky.

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