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Published: Saturday, 10/6/2012

Marilyn Wilson Kehl, 1944-2012: Ex-Toledoan helped save lithophane collection

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Marilyn Wilson Kehl, who with a longtime friend helped find a home for a collection of rare porcelain objects, died last month in Riverside Hospital, Columbus. She was 68.

Ms. Kehl had respiratory problems for years and was hospitalized several times over the summer, said Steve "Skiboy" Witker, a friend.

Ms. Kehl was a secretary for the late Laurel Blair at Blair Realty. For years, Mr. Blair collected lithophanes, molded porcelain objects, and created a museum for them at his Old West End home. She and her friend Gregory Knott, who was a sales manager for Mr Blair's business, became champions of preserving the collection intact after his death in 1993.

Their work helped lead to the 2002 opening of the Blair Museum of Lithophanes at the Toledo Botanical Garden.

She was regarded as Mr. Knott's assistant at Bretz, the near-downtown venue he created in 1987 as a haven for gay young people. On occasion, she referred to herself as "Mama Bretz," said Mr. Witker, who worked at Bretz.

And Ms. Kehl was a surrogate mother to some of the young men whose parents wouldn't talk to them, said Michele Gagen, whose husband, Ken, was a longtime friend.

"She and Greg became Mama and Papa to some of these boys," she said. "They saw it as a mission. That was the work of their lifetime to provide a place where they could feel welcome."

Most of the time, she was low key and helped out behind the scenes, Mr. Witker said.

"She was respected as the No. 2 person. There was no question about that," Mr. Witker said. Mr. Knott sold Bretz in 2007.

Her primary employment for much of her time in Toledo was at National Family Opinion, Mrs. Gagen said.

Ms. Kehl was born in 1944 in Columbus and attended Ohio State University. She was part of a group that started recycling and a community center in Columbus' north end and a community festival.

She formerly worked in Columbus for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She and Mr. Knott met in Columbus, and she followed him when he moved to Toledo. "He was gay, but they developed a strong bond that wasn't going to be broken by anything," Ms. Gagen said.

Surviving are her sons, Sean, Christopher, and Morgan Kehl, and two granddaughters.

Ms. Kehl died Sept. 5 in her native Columbus. Friends are to gather at noon today to scatter her ashes at Historic Woodlawn Cemetery.

A memorial service is pending in Columbus. Arrangements are by the Rutherford Funeral Home, Columbus. Tributes are suggested to the Gregory A. Knott memorial acquisition fund at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes or Paws and Whiskers Cat Shelter.



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