•FREDERIC DANIEL WOLFE
Frederic Daniel Wolfe, a longtime resident of Perrysburg, died on Sunday, April 5, 2020, in Perrysburg, from a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which are unrelated to the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Frederic—known as “Fritz” — was born on October 21, 1929, in Toledo, Ohio, at Flower Hospital, to Cletus V. Wolfe and Vera May Smith Wolfe. He was the youngest of four and the only boy. The Wolfe family lived in Toledo, and Fritz attended Nathan Hale Elementary School, Maumee Valley Country Day School for middle school and then Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, for high school. When Fritz entered the ninth grade, his family moved to Lima, Ohio. There, his father, a lawyer, became the owner of the Lima Lumber Company, which specialized in building materials.
Fritz received his BS in engineering at Yale in 1951, and served as a lieutenant at Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, and Laon Air Force Base near Reims, France, for two years during the Korean War. To round out his education, Fritz earned his MBA at Harvard Business School in 1955.
As an adolescent, several experiences set Fritz on his trajectory of hard work and perseverance. During his eighth grade summer and throughout every high school summer, he was employed. When he was 13, he helped his Uncle Cecil, a Methodist minister, work on his camp on Long Lake, Ontario. Together, they built a chimney and chinked between the logs of the log cabin; they also fished for most of their dinners and walked five miles to church.
This allowed for long conversations on ethics, spirituality and self-sufficiency. During his high school summers, he worked at the Gramm Trailer Company, on the factory floor, as a draftsman, and then as a salesman. He also worked unloading lumber from train boxcars and trucks, and helped with the construction of a house at the Lima Lumber Company. He was equally serious about his studies at Culver, and he was admitted to MIT and Yale; this was especially noteworthy, because he finally pleased his father.
During his first year at HBS, Fritz went on a fateful blind date to meet a senior at Wellesley College; he was set up with Mary Tebbetts and the two fell in love. They wed on August 7, 1954, in Bedford, New Hampshire, and were married for 60 years, until Mary passed away in 2014. Fritz wrote in his memoir titled “It Takes Hard Work and Good Luck... and the Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get,” that his greatest stroke of good fortune was to wed Mary and have so many years together with her. Mary was a talented art historian, lecturer, art collector, as well as community-oriented and socially inclined; she complimented Fritz’s sharper edges, and together, they became a prominent couple in the Toledo area.
The newlyweds moved to Lima, where Fritz worked for his father as treasurer and secretary of the Lima Lumber Company. They also started their family in Lima: their three daughters, Elizabeth, Frederica and Christine were born there.
Fritz had a great sense of humor, and loved to sing and dance. He had a lovely singing voice: he sang with the Yale Glee Club in college, with St. Timothy’s Church choir for five decades in Perrysburg, and sang all three of his daughters to sleep when they were young. He also loved drama, and held several lead roles with the Amil Teller’s Encore Theater Group in Lima, including El Gallo in “The Fantasticks,” which was excellent training for him later in life for his business presentations. He had a twinkle in his eye when telling a joke, and loved sports; he enjoyed playing golf, tennis and squash.
He and Mary traveled around the world with the Young President’s Organization, World Business Council and Chief Executives Organization, and genuinely enjoyed meeting with heads of state and industries in various countries and the United States.
Fritz was an amazing provider for his family and community, and ruled his home—he liked to think— with an iron fist. Fritz, like both of his parents who earned college degrees, believed in the importance of a good education, which is why so many of his philanthropic efforts went to supporting education and the arts and sciences.
Fritz eventually took over as president of Lima Lumber Company, when his father passed away in 1967. Fritz’s good friend and college roommate, Bruce Thompson, joined him in his business ventures, and the two of them went on to found many companies together, with Bruce often serving as chairman and Fritz as president. In 1970, when Fritz and his family moved to Perrysburg, a suburb of Toledo, Fritz and Bruce founded Wolfe Industries, Inc., which held lumber companies, stone quarries, building materials, coal production, truck dealerships and several nursing homes. In 1980, after spinning off the non-health care companies, Wolfe Industries, Inc., became Health Care and Retirement Corporation of America (HCR) and went public in 1981. In 1984, HCR was sold to Owens-Illinois Corporation, which later became a major public corporation called HCR Manor Care. Fritz enjoyed being on the board of directors of Owens-Illinois for two years, until it was bought by Kohlberg KKR Co. Inc.
Fritz and Bruce also founded Health Care Fund in 1970, which became Health Care REIT (HCN), a real estate investment trust, which was an innovative way to structure continuing health care operations at the time. Health Care REIT, headquartered in Toledo, was originally listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1992, and is a member of the Standard and Poor 500 Index. Health Care REIT was renamed Welltower Inc. in September 2015 (WELL). Today, Well-tower owns interests in properties concentrated in major, high-growth markets in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, consisting of senior housing, post-acute rehabilitation communities, and outpatient medical properties. It has become one of the biggest market capitalization companies in the state of Ohio. Fritz was pleased that he helped start a company that employed so many people. He retired from this company in 1995. George Chapman, who succeeded Fritz at HCN/Well-tower said, “I had the opportunity to work with, and be mentored by, Fritz for over three decades. Although a tough taskmaster with a laser-focused mind and a driven work ethic, he was also a gracious, erudite friend. I am thankful for the key role that Fritz played in my life.”
In the late 1980’s, Fritz, Bruce Thompson and George Rumman started a new company that became Kingston HealthCare Company in 1993. Kingston operates healthcare facilities in four states and has more than 2,000 employees. Over the years, Fritz gradually stepped down from his responsibilities at Kingston and spent more time with Mary at their homes in Perrysburg, Lost Tree Village in North Palm Beach, Florida and Harbor Springs, Michigan.
George Rumman, president and CEO of Kingston, recalls, “I met Fritz in 1978, and we immediately had a deep connection. Over the years he taught me a great deal through his unique, concise perspective on business and personally on the challenges and joys of raising three daughters. What helped us succeed in business together was total transparency and trust. After years of working together, no matter how intense our business dealings got, we still enjoyed lunch afterward. One of the most endearing memories I have of Fritz happened at lunch. He had just made a very generous donation to the Toledo Museum of Art, and as we stood in line to pay at the cafeteria, Fritz took a few minutes to dig into his pocket to find his ‘Buy 9, get the 10th lunch free’ card—no matter how successful, he was very grounded. Fritz Wolfe’s impact on and commitment to the community through business and philanthropy will last for years to come. For myself, I will miss his advice, his friendship and those lunches.”
Fritz was always a creative thinker with his businesses, as is evidenced by the early papers he wrote at the Harvard Business School and shared with his father. He was very excited when Howard Stevenson, the Sarofim-Rock Baker Foundation professor at Harvard Business School, contacted him in 1977 so that HBS could do case studies on his companies, over time (the SRB Foundation was established to provide a base for research and teaching in the field of entrepreneurship). Howard became a good friend, and joined the board of directors of Wolfe Industries, Inc. Fritz was proud of his achievements, but always noted that he had excellent, talented people around him to help guide him. One lesson that he said he wished that he had adhered to earlier on in his life, was that if something wasn’t working to not be afraid to make changes.
Fritz will be remembered for not only being a successful business entrepreneur, but also, with his family, as generous benefactors to many civic and cultural organizations in their communities. For 14 years, Fritz served on the board of Wilberforce University, which is the nation’s oldest private, historically black university owned and operated by African Americans. Fritz and Mary donated the funds and design for the administration building there, and were welcomed by Bill and Hillary Clinton to dinner at the White House for making a significant donation to the United Negro College Fund in 1996. Fritz received an honorary doctorate from Wilberforce in 2007. He also served as a trustee to the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo Symphony and Orchestra Foundation, and Maumee Valley Country Day School’s endowment fund, among others, and served on the vestry at St. Timothy’s Church. He and his family, through their charitable foundation, have made major gifts to Bowling Green State University (the Wolfe Center for the Arts at BGSU was designed by Snohetta, an architecture firm based in Oslo and New York City; this was Snohetta’s first building in the United States and was completed in 2011 before their National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at Ground Zero in New York City); the Norton Museum in Palm Beach, Florida; the Toledo Museum of Art; Maumee Valley Country Day School; the University of Toledo, which awarded him a second honorary degree in 2009 at the Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences School; Wellesley College; the Toledo Symphony, and at the Yale School of Management, where he endowed a permanent chair of entrepreneurship. The current dean of the school, Kerwin Charles, holds the Frederic D. Wolfe endowed chair. With his three older sisters, Fritz established various scholarships at the University of Toledo (in honor of their father); Ohio Wesleyan University (in honor of their mother), among others on his own.
For Frederic Wolfe, each day was an opportunity to learn and help other people. He had a feisty personality, always made his opinions clear and one never wondered what he thought about business, politics or the Ohio State football team. He was deeply loved and is missed by his family, friends and colleagues.
He is survived by his three daughters, Elizabeth of Perrysburg, Frederica of Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, and Christine (and William) of Greenwich, Connecticut; six grandchildren, John Held (and wife Nishma), Christopher Patz, Caroline Patz, Macallaster Wolfe, Olivia Nichols and Mary Nichols, and one great-grandson, Shaan Held. He was predeceased by Mary; his sisters, Helen, Marilyn and Martha, and his parents.
A memorial service will be held in the future, when it is safe to travel again. Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg (419-874-3133). In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Frederic D. Wolfe’s memory to Fort Meigs YMCA (13415 Eckel Junction Road, Perrysburg, Ohio 43551, 419-251-9622) or Cherry Street Mission Ministries (1501 Monroe Street, Toledo, Ohio 43604, 419242-5141). Condolences may be made online the family at witzlershank.com.