Robert W. Kirk; 1923-2014: Believer in 2nd chances began hazmat cleanup firm with sons


FINDLAY — Robert W. Kirk, who in the late 1960s founded a construction firm with his sons that in time led to a family of companies that employed thousands, died Thursday in Birchaven Village, where he and his wife, Theresa, lived the last five years. He was 90.

He’d been ill a short time, his son Jim said. Before the Kirks moved to the retirement community, they lived in the Pheasant Run subdivision that their late son William helped establish.

Mr. Kirk had been an engineer with the Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. and for a Findlay-area architect when he and his sons started Kirk Bros. Co. as a construction business with a specialty in municipal water treatment systems. A call for help to take care of a diesel tanker spill in Bucyrus, Ohio, in 1972 led the Kirks to concentrate in hazardous waste cleanups when few others saw a future in such work.

“He was a real visionary. That was his strength,” said his son, Jim, who became president and chairman of the resulting firm, OHM Corp. The business, when it was sold in 1998, had a national reputation for handling hazardous waste emergencies and on-site remediation.

Mr. Kirk continued to be an adviser of such Kirk family firms as Findlay Machine and Tool, which fabricates environmental cleaning systems; H&O Trucking, a recycling and trash hauling business, and Alvada Construction, founded by son William.

He served on boards of charities and was a supporter of Ohio Northern University, the University of Findlay, and his parish, St. Michael the Archangel.

He believed in early guidance for young people and volunteered with the former St. Anthony Villa in Toledo. As an employer, he also saw the need for rehabilitating inmates, family members said, and supported prison reform efforts.

“He believed in giving people second chances,” his daughter Becky said. “If you made a mistake, OK, what did you learn from it?”

He was happy and optimistic, and liked to discuss politics, religion, and current events.

“Dad believed in charity and giving all the time,” his daughter said. “He felt very fortunate when the boys started the company and became very successful with it. A lot of people don’t know all he gave.”

He was born Aug. 21, 1923, in Fostoria to Beckham and Roland Kirk. He was a graduate of Fostoria High School and studied engineering at the University of Toledo.

He was a Navy veteran of World War II and served aboard the USS Mitchell, a destroyer escort, in the Pacific Theater.

The Kirk family lived on Seventh Street in Perrysburg when he worked at Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. In the early 1960s, to accommodate the growing and energetic Kirk boys, the family moved to Hancock County’s Marion Township, where they raised horses and cows, daughter Becky said.

A golfer, he’d played courses from historic St. Andrews in Scotland to Pebble Beach, son Jim said.

Mr. Kirk’s son, William, died Feb. 14, 2001.

Surviving are his wife, Theresa, whom he married Dec. 28, 1946; sons, James, Joseph, and Richard Kirk; daughters Rebecca Sue Ewing and Catherine Smith; 23 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be 1-3 and 5-7 p.m. today in the Coldren-Crates Funeral Home, Findlay, with a recitation of the Rosary at 6:30 p.m. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in St. Michael the Archangel Church on Bright Road. The family suggests tributes to the St. Michael parish fund.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.