Written by John Szozda
April 03, 2009
Bob Fondessy died content that Oregon, the city he helped establish, is weathering this recession better than the city which tried to devour it 52 years ago.
While Oregon has a diverse economy and a tax windfall coming from the upcoming $2.5 billion BP-Husky Refining project, Toledo struggles with a $12 to $14 million deficit.
I interviewed Fondessy in 2007 when Oregon celebrated its 50th anniversary. He was proud of the role he played in fighting off the annexation efforts of “the big bad wolf.”
In 1957, Toledo proposed to annex Oregon’s industrial section. Toledo officials claimed the township would benefit because Toledo could deliver more efficient services. Toledo would benefit from an annual net gain of $232,914. Cherry-picking the industrial zone, however, would leave the township without a viable way to fund its schools.
Toledo’s move galvanized township leaders and the charged atmosphere bred distrust. Toledo was accused of lobbying the state legislature to change annexation law. It wanted only the residents who lived within the industrial zone to vote on the issue, not the entire township.
Fondessy, who was 30 at the time and an assistant chemist at Sun Oil, served on the Oregon Township Area Study Committee along with 15 other citizens. He said distrust further grew when Toledo City Council voted to “warn” Oregon Township that if they voted for incorporation water and sewer services would be terminated “within a reasonable length of time.”
Township leaders saw this as an immediate threat and partial annexation as a death knell. Fondessy said, “We would have been done. If we didn’t incorporate into the City of Oregon, we’d lose our school system. I was educated there. All my family was, too. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Few Oregonians think they would be better off today as Toledoans. They live in a vibrant city with a diversified tax base, bustling retail center, a progressive recreation program and one of the lowest property tax rates in Northwest Ohio. City leaders expressed their appreciation for Fondessy’s efforts two years ago when they honored him as Grand Marshal in the Golden Anniversary Parade. He wrote about that moment in a Letter to The Press, “It has been a wonderful fulfillment of my dreams to see our beautiful city develop with progress and I view with pride the fantastic school system of Oregon and Jerusalem.”
While the city honored Fondessy for his vision, some could not forget he was involved in the most divisive issue the city has faced since incorporation—Envirosafe, the city’s hazardous waste landfill.
The Fondessy family, from roughly 1953 to 1982, owned a garbage dump on 42 acres near Lake Erie. In those days virtually anything could be buried legally in what amounted to just a hole in the ground. This is the landfill that is leaking today and which the EPA is seeking corrective action to stop contaminants from leaching off-site.
In 1982, Fondessy Enterprises Inc. sold its solid waste/refuse hauling business to Waste Management and the landfill to another company which eventually sold it to Envirosafe Services of Ohio. Meanwhile, Fondessy turned his attention to other business interests, world travel and philanthropy.
Fondessy was a major donor to St. John’s Church of Christ in Genoa and The Eastern YMCA. He also donated an estimated $400,000 from the sale of lake-front property adjoining Devil’s Lake to be shared equally by Cardinal Stritch and Central Catholic High Schools.
At his funeral Monday, Dr. Matthew Isaac, executive director of economic development and corporate training, San Bernadino Community College District in California, told the crowd of more than 100 that Bob Fondessy was his hero. When Dr. Isaac wanted to leave his native India and attend graduate school at the University of Toledo, Fondessy sponsored him and helped fund his quest for Masters and Doctorate degrees. “He did what he said he would do. I have known him as a man of great integrity for the past three decades.”
Roland Fondessy, Bob’s brother and business partner, told the crowd what life was like for him and another brother, Richard. “It was like a roller coaster. One day he would come in and say we’ve just donated $25,000 for the YMCA. One day he was going to build a water plant. One day it was bleachers for Clay High. I thought a lot of the things he wanted to do were impossible. But, he did them and we were there in the background to help.”
Bob Fondessy had many interests including solar and wind power. He was a founder of the Sun Federal Credit Union and The Oregon News, a weekly newspaper.
Robert Fondessy was 81 when he died of a brain aneurism at his Miami, Florida home. He is survived by his two brothers and his friend and partner of 19 years, Carlos Rendon. And, of course, by the 18,974 citizens of the city he loved.