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1980-1990: Findlay overcomes adversity

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF

STAFF WRITER

The 1980s were memorable years in the Findlay area.

Local happenings on several oc­casions drew national attention. Perhaps best remembered is 1981, when a flood hit the area in June, and a corporate takeover battle for Marathon Oil Co. began in Oc­tober.

When rain began to fall in early June 1981, few would have pre­dicted that floodwaters would en­gulf Findlay over the weekend of June 13, causing more than $13 million in damage to 2,200 homes and 500 businesses. Ohio National Guardsmen were activated to help secure the flooded area.

The flooding surpassed the level reached by the last major flood in 1959. But it was not worse than the 1913 flood when the entire city was inundated.

The floodwaters also hit Ottawa and Carey. Hancock, Putnam and Wyandot counties were declared major disaster areas by President Ronald Reagan.

Later that year, a serious eco­nomic threat made headlines.

On Oct. 30, Mobil Corp., the na­tion’s second-largest oil company, started a hostile takeover attempt of Marathon Oil Co. Mobil said if it was successful in acquiring 40 million Marathon shares at $85 apiece, it would try to obtain all remaining shares through a merg­er, an exchange offer, or both.

Community leaders feared that if Mobil succeeded, the takeover would mean the end of Marathon Oil in Findlay.

What followed was a flurry of board of director activity and community action. Marathon’s board of directors rejected Mobil’s takeover bid in November and filed an antitrust suit against Mo­bil. An estimated 5,000 peo­ple turned out for a pro-Marathon rally before a Findlay High School football game at Donnell Stadium.

Democratic Sen. Howard Met­zenbaum, D-Ohio, made a rare Findlay appearance, attending a local public meeting on the take­over bid Nov. 11. On the same day, 6,000 Findlay residents at­tended a massive pro-Marathon rally which included a parade down Main Street.

On Nov. 19, 1981, U.S. Steel Corp. made a friendly bid for Mara­thon, offering $125 a share for 30 million Marathon shares. Remain­ing Marathon shares were to be converted into U.S. Steel notes. Mobil raised its bid to $126 a share, but to no avail.

U.S. Steel, later USX Corp., became Mara­thon’s new parent in early 1982 when U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger refused to block U.S. Steel’s $6.2 billion takeover of Marathon.

A majority of Marathon share­holders voted in 1982 to merge their company with U.S. Steel.

The Marathon scare motivat­ed government and civic lead­ers to begin a concerted effort to expand and diversify the city’s economy. The Community Development Research Foundation was formed, and the old Findlay In­dustrial Park was developed into the Tall Timbers Indus­trial Center off Hancock County 95 in the late 1980s.

And on the city’s west side, the Westfield In­dustrial Park was developed.

Findlay’s population held steady at 35,594 during the decade, and a number of multi-million-dollar government building projects were undertaken.

In 1984, a new Findlay Munici­pal Building was completed.

Two years later, the Hancock County commissioners decided not to participate in a regional jail and instead announced plans to build a 96-bed county jail down­town. The $8.2 million Hancock County Justice Center opened for public tours in 1989.

Later that year, Hancock Coun­ty voters rejected a tax levy to pay for renovating the old 1879 county jail.

“At the time, I believe that it was the oldest county jail house still in use,” said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum.

“The Historic Preservation Guild fought so hard to save that building,” she said. “They brought in a consultant. They had a plan to restore it. There were ways to save it.”

But despite their efforts, the old building was demolished.

The city’s water treatment plant received a major upgrade in 1986 when a $19.6 million project was completed.

Initial plans for a major expan­sion and renovation of the Findlay Village Mall were announced in 1987. The $16 million project in­volved a 200,000-square-foot expan­sion and renovation, and the addi­tion of 55 retail stores.

The latter part of the 1980s saw several more significant construc­tion projects. In May 1988, Nation­al Lime and Stone Co. announced that up to $70 million would be spent over a period of years to build an office/housing complex in and around the company’s West­ern Avenue quarry in Findlay, which would be phased out of pro­duction.

A two-year project to rebuild four miles of Interstate 75 through Findlay began in the late 1980s. The southbound lanes were rebuilt in 1989, and the northbound lanes were completed a year later. Construction caused massive traf­fic jams.

The Ohio Department of Trans­portation decided in 1987 to close the roadside rest area on U.S. 68, just south of Findlay, despite op­position from some area residents. The rest area, which dated to 1936, was Ohio’s first.

Blanchard Valley Hospital’s new $5.9 million outpatient treatment center opened in 1989. At the same time, ground was broken for a $1.7 million radiation therapy center.

A number of significant business closings and changes also oc­curred during the decade, includ­ing the 1982 demise of Patterson’s Department Store, which was rec­ognized as Ohio’s oldest indepen­dently-owned retail business. The store opened in 1849 at South Main and West Sandusky streets.

The Fort Findlay Motor Inn closed its doors in 1985 after 145 years of serving downtown Find­lay as a hotel, nightclub and res­taurant. Located at the corner of South Main and East Front streets, the building was trans­formed into the Sherman House, an independent living facility pri­marily for senior citizens.

That same year, the former Eg­bert furniture and carpet store at 404 E. Sandusky St. was torn down. Lying below the 94-year-old brick building was the second nat­ural gas well to be drilled during the days leading up to the Findlay gas boom of the late 1880s. It was known as the Hull well on proper­ty owned by Jasper G. Hull.

The building was originally called the Opp House, a saloon and third-rate hotel. Later it was the Apos­tolic School, Assembly of God Church, and then the furniture store. The well had been capped in 1932.

In 1987, Producers Livestock As­sociation ceased operations in Findlay after 47 years because of declining livestock numbers in the area.

RCA announced in 1988 that it would sell its solid state division, including the 1,350-employee semi­conductor plant in Findlay, to Florida-based Harris Corp.

Centrex Corp. agreed in 1987 to pay $200,000 to more than 500 west side Findlay residents and perma­nently shut down its rubber recla­mation equipment, to settle a class action lawsuit. The suit al­leged that emissions from Cen­trex’s Western Avenue plant re­sulted in noxious odors.

U.S. Rep. Tennyson Guyer, a Findlay native whose political ca­reer spanned more than 40 years, died in 1981 at the age of 68. The 4th District Republican assumed the congressional seat in 1973 and was re-elected four times. He was succeeded by then-state Rep. Mi­chael G. Oxley, R-Findlay, who won the seat by narrowly defeat­ing Democratic state Rep. Dale Locker of Anna.

Guyer was honored a few years later when Vice President and Mrs. George Bush visited Findlay to dedicate the Tennyson Guy­er Memorial, which included two rooms in Findlay Col­lege’s Shafer Library, a scholarship and annual lecture series.

As part of the lecture series, former Presi­dent Gerald Ford spoke before a gather­ing of about 2,000 people at the college in 1987.

Bush returned in 1988 when he brought his presidential campaign to town. He spoke to a large down­town crowd and also helped launch the city’s first Flag City USA celebration.

President Reagan campaigned here, too. In 1984 he made a whis­tle-stop campaign tour through Ohio on a railroad car once used by Harry Truman. A crowd esti­mated at 12,000 greeted the presi­dent at a stop in Ottawa, and 8,000 people packed the village of Deshl­er to see Reagan there.

Gov. Richard Celeste and more than a dozen cabinet members came to Findlay in 1987 for a Capital for a Day program.

Several deadly and noteworthy fires occurred during the 1980s.

On Thanksgiving Day 1981, pro­duction facilities at Findlay’s Her­cules Tire & Rubber Co. were de­stroyed by fire.

Later that same year, a rural Arlington woman died in a fire that destroyed Meijer’s Square, a Findlay discount store. Linda Pev­er, a store employee, died in the blaze and two other employees were injured. The store was a to­tal loss and there was heavy smoke damage to the adjacent Great Scot supermarket. Losses were estimated at $1.2 million.

The blaze initially was blamed on lightning. However, former Find­lay resident Dean Weaver later pleaded guilty to four charges in connection with the fire, but then denied that he committed the ar­son. In a plea agreement, Weaver entered guilty pleas to attempted involuntary manslaughter, at­tempted aggravated arson, and arson. He was given a 3-15 year prison term. A new Meijer’s store opened in Findlay in 1985.

Also in 1985, a huge fire gutted three buildings in the 300 block of North Main Street, resulting in at least $200,000 in damage. Build­ings housing Specialty Flooring, the Garage Sale and the adjoining Lee’s Barber Shop were all destroyed.

The Salvation Army’s thrift store on East Main Cross Street was destroyed by fire in 1988. After leasing a spot in the 800 block of North Main Street, the or­ganization bought the former American Home Furnishings Store and reopened the thrift store at 509 N. Main St. At the time, it was billed as the largest thrift store in northwest Ohio.

In 1989, fire destroyed the north­ern, newer section of Findlay’s Hope Temple Church. Damage topped $2 million, but no one was injured. An electrical problem was suspected as the cause.

A winter storm hit the area in 1982. Record-breaking cold tem­peratures and a wind chill factor which dipped to 71 degrees below zero on Jan. 10 caused problems for area residents. A blizzard-like storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow on the area three weeks later.

In education news, a committee of school personnel and communi­ty members presented a reorgani­zation plan to the Findlay school board in 1988. The plan called for pairing most elementary buildings into regional schools; converting the three junior high schools into middle schools; and moving the ninth grade to Findlay High School. Voters rejected the idea in May 1989.

At the college level, Owens Technical College announced that it would begin offering technical education classes locally. A 32,000-square-foot building was constructed on a 4.2-acre campus adjacent to Findlay College. Classes were first offered in the fall of 1983.

Several area agencies also made significant strides in the 1980s.

The Hancock-Hardin-Wyandot-Putnam Community Action Com­mission moved into a leased build­ing on Jefferson Street in the early 1980s. The agency bought the fa­cility in 1988.

In 1980, the YMCA’s park site was renamed Camp Mosshart in memory of Ray Mosshart, who served as the general secretary of the Findlay YMCA from 1933-79. In 1981, the former Findlay Rac­quet Center on Manor Hill Drive was purchased and became the Y’s new tennis center.

The former Hancock County Children’s Home on North Main Street was purchased by the Han­cock County Mental Health Socie­ty in 1983 for use as office space for the mental health clinic. The Hancock County Alcoholism Coun­cil changed its name to the Lin­coln Center in 1986.

Also, an exhibit area was added at the Hancock Historical Muse­um’s historic center, and the Han­cock County Chapter of the Ameri­can Red Cross moved into new quarters after renovating a for­mer lumber company business on Fair Street.

In 1981, Janice Granata of Find­lay gave birth to quintuplets, three boys and two girls, at To­ledo Hospital. One of the babies died, but four survived.

Findlay area residents also be­came more involved in the com­munity during the decade.

A group of residents, headed by the Citizens Task Force for Action on Crime and Vandalism, orga­nized a Block Watch program in 1980 to combat vandalism and oth­er crime. By the year’s end, city police declared the program a suc­cess.

The first Findlay Arts Festival was held in the early 1980s in downtown Findlay, and became an annual event. The festival site was moved to Riverside Park in 1988.

One day in 1986, thousands of area residents took part in Hands Across America, an attempt to form a human chain across 4,000 miles of the United States to raise money to aid the nation’s hungry and poor.

The first Red Ribbon Celebra­tion was held in Findlay in 1989 to promote awareness about the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Wolf: 419-427-8419

jeanniewolf@thecourier.com

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