Bruce Douglas, of Toledo, Ohio, and most recently Winter Park, Florida, passed away peacefully on January 12, 2022 of natural causes. Bruce was born on January 13, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. While his parents were struggling financially, they gave him a lifelong love of language and learning, and he seemed to have a quote for every situation. He married his beloved wife, Dolores “Dee” Zerfas, in 1955, and they recently celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.
After earning a BA in Physics from Kalamazoo College and a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan, Bruce began his career as a First Lieutenant in the US Navy Civil Engineering Corps (Seabees), with posts in Okinawa, Japan and Oxnard, California. After his time in the Navy, he and Dee returned to the Midwest, where he rose to become president of the construction company MacKinnon-Parker, Inc. In 1977, he founded his own construction and design services company, The Douglas Company. In 1999, he founded Harvard Development Company, a real estate development company, leaving The Douglas Company in the very capable hands of his son Pete. In addition, he was a board member of several companies, including CNL Income Properties, CNL Lifestyle Properties and Health Care REIT (now known as Welltower). He was also vice chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, chairman of the Toledo Regional Growth Partnership, a director of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, and a co-founder of the Maumee Valley branch of the Young Presidents Organization.
In addition to his business pursuits, at age 62 (about 30 years older than most of his classmates) he received a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, followed by a Ph.D. in history from the University of Toledo in 2004 (at age 71). He started rowing while studying in Boston and on his return to Toledo could often be seen on the Maumee River next to the freighters.
Drawing on his business and leadership experience, Bruce entered academia by serving as president of Sterling College in Kansas from 2005 to 2008. Finally, at age 75, he allowed himself to retire with his bride to Florida, where he continued his real estate development work, wrote a book about his experiences as an entrepreneur (An Entrepreneur is for All Seasons), and became skilled in croquet and painting.
Throughout his life, Bruce was involved in various civic endeavors, serving as a board member of the Democratic Party in Ottawa Hills, founding the New Ohio Institute, and running for governor of Ohio in 1997. He was also a board member of the University of Toledo (and as interim president of the university), Rollins College Crummer School Board of Advisors, Orlando Museum of Art, Taubman Center Advisory Board at Harvard, Toledo School for the Arts, Wilberforce University, Toledo Cultural Arts Center at the Valentine Theatre, the Toledo Symphony, United Arts of Central Florida, and many others. Bruce and his wife, Dee, gave generously to several charities including the University of Central Florida, Heartbeat of Toledo and sponsored and supported a class at Rosary Cathedral from grade school through college.
A fan of practical jokes, grandiose gestures and extravagant affection, he often reminded his family that “the world is of the problem solvers.” He shared with his children and grandchildren his relentless optimism, his belief in the power of the individual to change the world, his love of language, his work ethic and his always willingness to play board and card games.
He is survived by his son Peter (Deanne); daughters, Susan Struna (Steve) and Anne Lewis; grandchildren, Bruce Douglas (Lauren), Megan Tarkey (Patrick), Jennifer Douglas, Sam Struna (Josie), Molly Struna, Kate Lewis, and Benjamin Lewis; and great-grandchildren, Peter and Johnathan Douglas, and Eloise Struna. Bruce was preceded in death by his parents, Benjamin and Kathleen Douglas; his sister, Kathleen Cosgrove Dannemiller; his brother, William Douglas; and his newborn daughter, Mary Douglas.
Funeral will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park, Florida, with a funeral service and lunch at The Alfond Inn to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Sterling College (www.sterlingcollege.edu) or the Orlando Museum of Art (www.omart.org).
Published by The Blade on January 16, 2022.