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Donald A. St. John; 1924-2014: WWII Navy vet became L-O-F plant manager

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St. John

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Donald A. St. John, an engineer who became manager of the vast Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. Rossford glass manufacturing plant, died Monday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township. He was 90.

He died in his sleep of kidney failure, his son, Robert, said.

Mr. St. John of Perrysburg, a civil engineering graduate of the University of Toledo, retired from L-O-F in 1983.

“He was really a great plant manager,” said Elmer Hermes, a former L-O-F manager of human resources. “Back then, it was just a great organization to be with, and it was people like Don that made it that way.”

Mr. St. John started in the engineering department and through the years was promoted to jobs of increasing responsibility over plant maintenance.

“He was very good with people,” said his son, who worked at L-O-F for 22 years. “He had a way of getting you to do something without your having the idea you were being ordered to do it.”

His favorite roles were in plant maintenance mechanics and maintenance engineering. Colleagues at all levels who worked together often helped on each other’s home maintenance projects too.

“They were friends. It was a unique situation,” his son said. “It was a real close-knit community.”

Moving into plant management seemed “a natural progression,” his son said. Mr. St. John was promoted from production manager to assistant plant manager in 1970 and in 1978 was named plant manager.

“He never thought of himself as a manager. He was an equal,” his son said. “And I think a lot of that was his East Toledo roots.”

After L-O-F, he worked with the Ohio Department of Development and what is now Owens Community College for several years to encourage small businesses to use state colleges and universities as resources.

He was born June 11, 1924, to Rose and Albert St. John and grew up on Thurston Street in East Toledo. His father was a longtime furrier for the former A.F. Schwalbe Furs on Erie Street. Young Donald was 13 when he started driving a Schwalbe truck, delivering furs to customers in the Old West End, his son said.

“He had to sit on two phone books,” his son said.

He was a 1942 graduate of Waite High School and was an ensign in the Navy during World War II, serving stateside as a flight instructor.

During his working years at L-O-F, he and his family lived in Lake Township, In retirement, he and his wife lived in central Florida. They returned about 10 years ago, their son said.

He was a former member of Chippewa Golf Club and a former director of Farmer’‍s Savings Bank.

He’d been a member of St. Mark’‍s Lutheran Church and Calvary Lutheran Church.

Surviving are his wife, Mary Jane, whom he married April 16, 1948; son, Robert; daughter, Susan Brown; four grandchildren, and three great-granddaughters.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. today in Zoar Lutheran Church, Perrysburg, where he was a member. Arrangements are by the Witzler-Shank 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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