Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jerry Osborne built a legacy that will live on

One thing I know for sure – there will never again be anyone exactly like Jerry Osborne.

The man they called “Ace” passed away June 21 after living a remarkable life, creating a legacy which will endure for all time in the history of Mentor and Lake County.

In his 92 years, after a most humble beginning, he built one corporation after another, amassed a fortune, gave much of his wealth to charity and non-profits, raised a family rooted in devotion to him and to each other, and received a multitude of tributes the like of which I have never seen around here.

It is impossible to summarize his achievements without writing at least a volume or two.

All I can do in this meager space is to say that I knew him virtually since I was a kid, I always found him to be a remarkable person as well as a good friend, and never met anyone with his great sense of business judgment, clarity of thinking or singularity of purpose.

For more than two hours, family and friends poured out their thoughts in a memorial service at Andrews Osborne Academy on June 28, that said so very much about the man who left such a large imprint on the area.

And yet, the dozen or so speakers barely scratched the surface of his unique life as they regaled the packed auditorium with anecdotes, words of remembrance and expressions of love.

His obituary in the paper was so beautifully written that I immediately guessed it was created by his youngest daughter, Jackie. I asked her at the memorial service if it was her handiwork. She gave the credit to her two daughters. Well, it’s all in the DNA.

Jerry’s empire included 19 corporations in the concrete and building supply industry. The program listed 22 organizations near and dear to his heart.

So many institutions bear the Osborne name. We already mentioned the exquisite academy on Mentor Avenue in Willoughby. If Ace hadn’t poured $12 million into the school, because of his love of education, learning and kids, today the former Andrews School would be a shopping center or a housing development.

Trust me. I was on the Andrews board of trustees when it merged with Phillips-Osborne Academy in Painesville. Without Jerry’s input, Andrews would no longer be a school.

You will also find the family’s name on the Jerome T. Osborne Sr. football stadium in Mentor, the new fitness center at Lake Erie College in Painesville, one of the buildings at Breckenridge Village in Willoughby and other facilities that do not come to mind.

It was a thrill for me to speak on the memorial program. I think it was Jackie and Rick Osborne Sr. who suggested I be included in the program. I can’t thank them enough for the honor.

One of the things I pointed out was the role of Jerry in the banking community. The award-winning Lake National Bank in Mentor is Jerry’s bank. He started it. He built it. It is an important part of his legacy.

And, as I noted in my comments, you can judge Ace by the quality of people he hired to run his endeavors.

I specifically mentioned Dick Flenner, the original president of the bank, and Andy Meinhold, the current president. They are superstars in the local banking industry.

Another example of Jerry’s skill in picking winners: As soon as Andrews Osborne Academy was created, Ace placed Chuck Roman in charge as head of school. An inspired move? Absolutely!

There are so many great stories about Jerry, but I would like to repeat one I told at the memorial service to illustrate Jerry the Common Man.

When Clodus Smith was president of Lake Erie College, he liked to pack his board of trustees with titans of industry, for example, Bob Evans – yes, the Bob Evans.

He also brought on board Jerry Osborne and Harry Figgie of the Figgie empire. If you never met Harry, he always wore a navy blue suit, a starched white shirt and a power necktie.

When Clodus introduced them, Jerry was wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt, which was his customary attire. As they shook hands, Jerry said, “We have something in common.”

“And what’s that?” Harry asked, looking Jerry over and not being able to think of anything at the moment that they had in common. Jerry responded: “Neither of us can get into Kirtland Country Club.”

I’m sure Jerry had a twinkle in his eye. I doubt if Harry did.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah right, I am sure most Mentor residents also appreciate the fact that there are no more wooded areas left in Mentor. I am sure that the deer and other animals living in Mentor also appreciate what he helped create. Mentor has gone downhill and will continue this decline as long as there is Osborne greed to fuel it.

July 2, 2014 at 3:21 PM 
Anonymous biggerjohn said...

I relocated to Mentor in 1980 and it wasn't long before I met Jerry, he was a gentleman and an honorable businessman. I did business with three of his sons and one grandson over the years, unfortunately he didn't pass on his better traits to all of his offspring. The legacy that Jerry left is a good one though and I believe his time on the planet was well spent.

August 8, 2014 at 3:48 PM 

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