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Published: Sunday, 12/30/2012

Dentist, Tiffin activist fought to save doomed courthouse

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OBJECTTIFFIN — Dr. Robert Yager, a dentist with a calming temperament who was a civic activist and chairman of the city’s architectural review board when that body denied Seneca County a certificate to tear down its historic courthouse, died Wednesday in Riverside Methodist Hospital, Columbus. He was 72.

He had surgery for lung cancer in June but only recently resigned from Tiffin’s city planning commission and zoning board of appeals after decades as a member.

“Bob was never a quitter, so you could tell something serious was going on with him,” said Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz. “The man practically ate, slept, and breathed Tiffin. He was a huge supporter of the community.”

Dr. Yager hadn’t retired from his practice either. His last day in the office was Dec. 13.

“He loved what he was doing,” his wife, Carol Ann, said. “He was a very devoted dentist. He would go night or day for his patients.”

Some were with him for much of his 45-year practice.

“He had a great quality of making people at ease in something most people do not like to have done,” his wife said. “So many people fear dentists. He wanted them to be able to feel comfortable.”

David Everhart, 65, was in his 20s when he first went to Dr. Yager, and his wife, Patricia, and their four children became patients.

“He made us feel calm,” Mr. Everhart said. “He was a very easygoing guy.”

For much of his practice, Dr. Yager also was a dentist for people with mental illness and with developmental disabilities at what is now the Tiffin Developmental Center. He also offered dental care to migrant farm workers through a clinic in Tiffin.

Dr. Yager was chairman of the Tiffin Architectural Board of Review in 2008 when Seneca County commissioners submitted an application to demolish the county's historic 1884 courthouse.

At a hearing, the board took testimony from a man whose firm the county had contracted to oversee demolition — he said renovation costs would far exceed construction costs of a courthouse — and from residents who’d fought to save the landmark and from representatives of Preservation Ohio and Heritage Ohio.

Dr. Yager at the hearing said he was concerned about what the county would build instead. He read aloud an assertion by commissioners, from a letter submitted with their application: “We will replace this structure with one that is aesthetically pleasing and appropriate for the downtown historic district architecture.”

Dr. Yager said: “The statement that they will replace it with a building that is aesthetically pleasing means nothing. What might be aesthetically pleasing to them might not be aesthetically pleasing to me.”

The board voted 5-0 to deny a certificate of appropriateness for the proposed demolition. The board also set a 90-day waiting period so that the architectural review board and county commissioners could explore alternatives. Commissioners in time did take preliminary steps toward restoration.

But in March, 2011, commissioners said that proposed state cuts in local government funds meant that they could no longer support courthouse renovation.

They sought legal guidance on whether the courthouse could be torn down without city approval. In July, 2011, a visiting judge said the county made reasonable efforts to comply with the city’s rules to protect the downtown historic district and ruled that the demolition could proceed without the blessing of the architectural review board.

By then, Dr. Yager’s tenure on the board had ended. The courthouse was demolished in January, 2012.

“If he could have saved the courthouse, he would have,” his wife said. “He felt it would be good for the community.

“I was so proud of him, because no matter what anybody said to him, he never wavered on how he felt, but he never let his personal beliefs interfere with him doing a good job.”

The Yagers were partners in Crystal Traditions of Tiffin, which features glass blowing, hand-cutting crystal, and sand carving.

Dr. Yager, by computer, designed graphics for glass awards, ornaments, and gifts.

One motivation for the business was to spur tourism to the hometown of the renowned Tiffin Glass Factory.

“He loved helping the town and seeing it develop,” his wife said.

Mr. Montz, who was elected mayor in November, 2011, recalled that Dr. Yager was among the first to greet him when he took office.

“He always had a nice joke to tell you, and he was warm and welcoming,” Mr. Montz said. “He was a really jolly guy.”

He was born April 23, 1940, in Bryan to Elaine and Dr. Carl Yager. His father after service in World War II established a dental practice in Tiffin and the family moved.

Dr. Yager was a 1958 graduate of Columbian High School. He was a 1962 graduate of Heidelberg College, from which he received a bachelor of science degree in biology. He was a 1967 graduate of Ohio State University’s dental school and decided to set up his practice in his hometown.

He helped found the Columbian High School athletic hall of fame and at Ohio State was a member of the Psi Omega dental fraternity.

He liked to golf and was a member of Mohawk Golf and Country Club.

Surviving are his wife, Carol Ann, whom he married June 25, 1966; daughters, Susan Smith and Angela Bennett; parents, Elaine and Carl Yager; sister, Sue Snavely; brothers, Jack and Tom Yager, and six grandchildren.

Visitation is to be from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. today in the Hoffmann-Gottfried-Mack Funeral Home, Tiffin, with a wake service at 8 p.m. in the mortuary. Funeral services are to be at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Joseph Church, Tiffin, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the Robert Yager predental scholarship fund at Heidelberg University.

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



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