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Published: 9/22/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

George L. Skip' Freeman III, 1927-2012: Civil engineer ran building supply firms

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

George L. "Skip" Freeman III, a civil engineer who took the reins of the contracting and building supply businesses his father founded, died Thursday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. He was 85.

He had cancer, his daughter, Julie, said.

Mr. Freeman, formerly of Ottawa Hills, had been president of the George L. Freeman Co, founded in 1935 by his father, George L. Freeman, Jr., and of Maumee Valley Supply Co., a wholesale distributor of specialty building materials that was founded in 1941 by his father.

He was a recent engineering graduate of Cornell University in 1949 when he was hired by the Freeman Co. The firm started as a sheet metal roofing business, his son, George L. "Rob" Freeman IV said, but became known for its interior remodeling.

His father assigned him to take over the firm's rapidly expanding acoustical department. He received special training from Armstrong Cork Co, one of the first in Toledo to install acoustical ceilings and movable office partitions, said George IV, a former company vice president.

By 1954, Mr. Freeman III was named company vice president and general manager and had overseen the company's expansion into acoustical contracting, industrial roofing, insulation, and sheet metal fabrication. A later specialty of the firm was Torginol seamless flooring.

He became president of his father's namesake company in 1960. The elder Mr. Freeman died in 1967.

The businesses "provided a real service to the community" through its commercial remodeling projects and by introducing new products to the Toledo market, his daughter said.

His son added: "He was a stickler for doing it right. He had many clients, particularly corporations like Champion Spark Plug, [that] called him up because they could trust him to get the work done properly."

He was an active volunteer for the Sertoma Club of Toledo and was a former president of the Toledo Area Small Business Administration.

"He liked giving back, and people naturally followed him," his son said. "He was a quiet guy in many respects, but he got a lot of respect."

His businesses were in North Toledo, and he teamed with neighborhood activist Rose Kennedy to promote building of what became the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway, his son said.

In the early 1980s, a sour economy and soaring interest rates led Mr. Freeman to close the businesses. "It was probably the hardest [decision] he had to make," his son said.

His great-grandfather Welcome Freeman settled in Lucas County from New England in the 1830s, George Freeman IV said, and his grandfather Sanford Freeman grew up on the family farm, located about where Sanford and Freeman streets intersect in West Toledo.

His father, George L. Freeman, Sr., was a senior executive with Toledo Steel Tube Co.; the sister of Mr. Freeman, Sr., Dorothy, was married to that company's founder, Henry McKisson.

The senior George Freeman also teamed with H. Reeve Kelsey, whose family had a lumber business dating to the 1850s, to form the Kelsey-Freeman Lumber Co. "He absolutely loved Toledo," his son George IV said.

He was born Jan. 24, 1927, to Mildred and George L. Freeman, Jr., and spent his early years in Ottawa Hills. His grandfather around the turn of the 20th Century helped complete a house at 2228 Robinwood Ave. in the Old West End -- three levels, 14 rooms, 6,700 square feet -- influenced by the architecture of Stanford White. He was an elementary student when his parents moved to the Robinwood house. He was a 1944 graduate of Scott High School.

In 2000, when the Freeman House was on the annual Old West End holiday home tour, he and his daughter went. The guide mused aloud over the origin of a tiny hole in the big stained glass window at the top of a two-tiered staircase.

"'I know how it got there. I shot my B-B gun at it,'" his daughter recalled her father saying.

He was a Navy veteran and served at an air station in Corpus Christi, Texas, at the end of World War II.

He received his engineering degree in 1949 from Cornell, where he'd been a competitive swimmer. Years later, he was supportive as his children became competitive swimmers at the Inverness Club. He and his wife organized meets; he was the starter; she was the timer.

He swam until early this year at the St. James Club.

"He had a beautiful freestyle stroke, long and smooth," his daughter said.

He was a golfer for years at Inverness, where he was a member, and most recently at Ottawa Park. He last played two months ago.

In the early 1980s, he and his wife, Lee, took in an exchange student from Spain, Emilio Duran — who settled in Toledo and became like a member of the Freeman family.

"He and his wife were very generous in doing things for the community," said Ben Dansard, a friend of more than 70 years. "The friends he had here in Toledo he knew for years and was loyal to them. That meant a lot to all of us.’’

He married the former Mary Elise "Lee" Underhill on June 15, 1949. She died June 12, 2009. Surviving are his sons, George L. "Rob" Freeman IV, William Freeman, and David Freeman; daughter, Julia Weidner; sister, Marianne Bartlett-Bell, and nine grandchildren.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in Epworth United Methodist Church, Ottawa Hills, where he was a member. Arrangements are by the Ansberg-West Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the church or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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