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John G. Saalfield; 1915-2014: Executive remembered for dedication to hard work

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Saalfield

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John G. Saalfield, a civil engineer and retired Lathrop Co. executive respected for his business sense and professional skill, died Sunday in a Dallas hospital. He was 99.

He'd broken his hip, and his heart and lungs couldn't handle the surgery that followed, said his son Jim, a physician. Mr. Saalfield and his late wife, Anne, moved in 2009 from Ottawa Hills to Edgemere, a Dallas retirement community.

Mr. Saalfield retired from Lathrop in 1980 as an executive vice president. He was a consultant for the general-contracting firm until 1992.

“He said, ‘You can only play so much golf,’ and ‘You have to keep yourself busy, otherwise you end up in in the obits,’ ” his son recalled. “He was very persistent and disciplined and dedicated to doing hard work.”

Mr. Saalfield became a Lathrop executive after it acquired his Service Products Building Inc. in 1967. He and a friend from Ohio State University started their firm 19 years earlier to offer pre-engineered steel buildings. His Lathrop duties included oversight of retail construction projects such as Franklin Park Mall.

“I considered him to be a mentor to me,” said Robert Maxwell, a retired Lathrop chief executive. “He was a good businessman: tough, yet soft when he needed to be.

“The world lost part of its spirit when John passed, I'll tell you,” Mr. Maxwell said.

The son of Gertrude and John Sliny Saalfield, a well-known lawyer, Mr. Saalfield was born Jan. 7, 1915, in the family’s River Road home, built by his maternal grandfather, George Williamson, a master carpenter. Mr. Saalfield was a 1932 graduate of Libbey High School, where at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he played on the basketball team. He was a Libbey Hall of Fame inductee.

“He was such a Toledoan,” daughter-in-law Sandy Saalfield said. “That was home. He had history there.”

He graduated from Ohio State in 1936 with a degree in engineering and remained a loyal and involved alumnus. He was on the civil engineering department’s advisory committee and was chairman of a special dean’s committee. He received an engineering meritorious service award.

His first employer was Owens Corning Fiberglas, and in the first decade of his career, he and his family moved 10 times, his son said.

He began to play golf in earnest in the 1940s as a way to cultivate friends and do business, his son said. He and his wife were long active in the golf associations at Sylvania Country Club and the Inverness Club, where he’d been a marshal during the U.S. Open.

Mr. Saalfield was an American Red Cross and United Way volunteer and a Rotary Club member. He was a director of the former Lucas County State Bank and then Huntington Bank of Toledo and was on the board of Maumee Valley Country Day School.

He was a veteran of the Ohio National Guard.

He married the former Anne Meier on Feb. 24, 1940; she died Aug. 23, 2011. They'd been members of Epworth United Methodist Church.

Surviving are his sons, John R. and Dr. James G. Saalfield; six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

A family service is to be held today in St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Dallas. The family suggests tributes to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital; Ohio State's scholarship fund, or a charity of the donor's choice.

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

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