David Kelley (1948-2018)

Vietnam War veteran called 'self-made' man


David Kelley, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who owned and operated a Toledo-based steel company for decades, died Saturday at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 69.

The family declined to provide a cause of death.

“Dave was very intelligent and well-spoken,” said his wife, Susie. “He had a wonderful sense of humor. He adored his daughter and stepson. He was a family man.”


Mr. Kelley was born April 24, 1948, in Toledo to Quinton R. and Betty Kelley. He graduated from Whitmer High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after, and was soon sent to fight in the Vietnam War.

In January, 1968, Mr. Kelley was wounded in the leg and head by an explosive device from enemy forces in the vicinity of Quang Tri. He was treated at the station hospital in Da Nang and was evacuated to the 12th U.S. Air Force Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Mr. Kelley was awarded two Purple Hearts for his service.

Ms. Kelley said her husband didn’t talk much about his war experiences.

“He did his service and he was a very private man,” Ms. Kelley said. “He never really bragged that he had a Purple Heart or anything like that. He felt it was his duty to serve his country, and he went on from there. We do have the Semper Fi on our cars and license plates, so he was a proud Marine.”

Mr. Kelley was honorably discharged June 14, 1972. He started Precision Steel in Toledo in 1974, incorporating in 1978. Mr. Kelley continued to be heavily involved as CEO until his death.

Ms. Kelley said the company was her husband’s life. Mr. Kelley refused to accept a nomination for entrepreneur of the year multiple times because he didn’t seek affirmation from others.

“He was very dedicated to the company, and he started it from nothing,” Ms. Kelley said. “I think he had a Pinto and he was delivering steel on his own in the beginning. He literally started it from nothing.”

Ms. Kelley said her husband was a “self-made” man, a moniker he wore with pride. After working for a pair of steel companies early on, Mr. Kelley decided he wanted to be his own boss. Ms. Kelley said he had a wonderful life, but he created it.

The couple married May 15, 2004. For one of his birthdays, Ms. Kelley bought a gift to symbolize what she thought of her husband: a bronze self-made man sculpture crafted by Bobbie Carlyle.

“Dave had everything and I was always looking for the most special thing to give him,” Ms. Kelley said. “When he opened it, he was very emotional. He said it was the finest gift anyone had ever given him.”

The Kelleys bought a house in Florida in the early 2000s and eventually became residents of Palm Beach. Mr. Kelley enjoyed deep sea fishing, golfing, and boating. At one point, he owned a boat in the Bahamas.

Mr. Kelley is survived by his wife, Susie; brother, Rick; and stepson, Austin Nowakowski.

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Thomas I. Wisniewski Funeral Home, 2426 N. Reynolds Road in Toledo. The service will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Donations can be made in Mr. Kelley’s name to the Toledo Area Humane Society. 

Contact Jay Skebba at jskebba@theblade.com, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebbaBlade.