Lorraine “Rainy” Stitzlein, who led the University of Akron trustees during some of its most turbulent times, died Friday at 84.
Stitzlein had deep ties to Akron, graduating from UA in 1948 and carving a career niche as business secretary for the Professional Bowlers Association; executive vice president for Eddie Elias Enterprises, the public relations firm that handled Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue; and president of Rainbow Inc., a sports administration and celebrity management firm.
In 1988, her appointment by then-Gov. Dick Celeste to a nine-year term on the UA trustees proved to be possibly the most taxing assignment of her career.
She was chairman for the two years when the presidency of Peggy Gordon Elliott unraveled over faculty allegations of hiring irregularities and complaints of her management style.
When trustees finally instigated an investigation by the Ohio attorney general’s office at the faculty’s request, the special counsel’s 117-page report showed “a high level of distrust of Elliott, as well as considerable division over leadership and personnel policies at the university,” according to the Beacon Journal.
Some trustees on the divided board criticized Stitzlein and fellow trustee Alex Arshinkoff, chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, for trying to oust Elliott and micromanage the university.
Stitzlein was “ill-equipped to lead this group of trustees through the restructuring and healing process now needed at the university,” the Beacon Journal editorialized at the time.
But Stitzlein remained on the job until the end of her term. The university lauded her work and financial contributions many times over her long career.
She was named a chairwoman emeritus in honor of her trustee service; the UA Alumni Center was renamed for her and her husband, Harry, also a UA graduate; she received an Alumni Honor Award and an honorary doctor of humane letters.
“Rainy has demonstrated steadfast and courageous leadership in every role that she has been asked to fulfill. The university has benefited from her dedication, generosity and love,” Marion Ruebel, who was named interim president in the wake of Elliott’s resignation, said in 1997.
Stitzlein also was a trustee for Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, retiring only four years ago; the Northeast Ohio Medical University (then the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine); the American Cancer Society; the Society of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Foundation; and the Edwin Shaw Hospital Foundation.
Her interest in cancer stemmed from her own diagnosis in 1949.
“I have always said that having cancer at an early age is probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” she told the Beacon Journal in 1988. “I absolutely learned to love myself and take care of myself.” She said she promised God that she would “never be just a receiver.’’
But in 1995, cancer cost her her husband, Harry, her college sweetheart and the chairman and chief executive officer of Malone Advertising.
“She was really a class act,” said Dr. Mark Apte, a physician now living in Tampa whose term on the UA board overlapped Stitzlein’s. “When she gave her word, she kept it. She was well dressed, well mannered and well connected.”
Calling hours will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Billow Funeral Home in Fairlawn. The memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Montrose Zion United Methodist Church.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.