Ted Cole was known for sometimes butchering the English language.
He would say asterisk when he meant astronaut. Or he’d substitute thirdenary for tertiary.
Don’t let those malapropisms or his down-home demeanor fool you, though. The former Summit County commissioner and one of the original County Council members was wicked smart.
“He managed to be dumb like a fox, and that served him well,” said Mark Ravenscraft, a friend and also a former commissioner and councilman who served with Mr. Cole. “When you were dealing with Ted, you were dealing with the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
Mr. Cole died Wednesday in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 90.
The family said services will be held in Akron at Hope Lutheran Church, 999 Portage Lakes Drive, on a date to be determined. Schermesser Funeral Home, 600 E. Turkeyfoot Lake Road, will handle arrangements.
His daughter, Becky Cole, said he was active up until six weeks ago when he became ill.
“He got sick on Aug. 18. We had a big birthday party for him, then things just start going wrong. He had vertigo, got an ulcer and then pneumonia. His body just couldn’t take it anymore.”
She said Mr. Cole died at Paige Rehabilitation Center in Fort Myers.
Did not like to fly
Family members said he lived a full life. He and his wife traveled to all 48 continental United States. Alaska was next on his list, but they were never going to get to Hawaii, because he didn’t like to fly and drove everywhere they traveled.
“You couldn’t slow him down. He was always busy and worked up until the day before he got sick,” Becky Cole said. “He managed a Kiwanis thrift store in Cape Coral. He was still active with the Kiwanis after 60 years of service. He had dual membership in Portage Lakes and in Cape Coral.”
She said her father loved being around people.
“He was just a likeable guy. I think everybody liked my dad,” she said. “I don’t think he thought he had an enemy.”
Mr. Cole instilled public service and community service in three generations of his family.
“He would preach, ‘Do something, get involved in community service and then do your best,’ ” Becky Cole said.
Mr. Cole, a Democrat, had a lengthy career in public service in Summit County before moving to Florida full time in the 1990s. A 1942 graduate of Coventry High School, he served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945.
After leaving the Army, he worked at Quaker Oats, then was a self-employed contractor.
He served on the Coventry school board in 1953 and served two separate stints as a Coventry Township trustee starting in 1958.
Mr. Cole joined the Summit County Sheriff’s Office in 1963 and was an administrator when he was appointed in mid-1972 as a county commissioner. He had no aspirations to move onto the Statehouse or Congress, said Ravenscraft, a fellow Democrat.
“Ted realized where the real action in government is,” he said. “He once said, ‘The place where I can help the most people is my job as county commissioner.’ ”
One of his main goals was bringing sanitary sewers to the Portage Lakes community for both health and economic development reasons.
“A lot of people are safer and are healthier because of the sewers he put in that area,” Ravenscraft said.
Mr. Cole continued to win elections as commissioner until the county changed its form of government to have a county executive and County Council. He then became one of the original council members.
Former Councilman Pete Crossland, who served a few years with Mr. Cole, said he admired his detailed analysis of financial budgets.
“He was not a man with much formal education, but it was remarkable about how deeply he understood county government and budgeting,” Crossland said.
Mr. Cole also was a master mediator, Ravenscraft and Crossland said.
“He could walk into an argument and achieve consensus,” said Ravenscraft, who had his share of disagreements with Mr. Cole but remained friends with him and had visited with him about two weeks ago. “In labor negotiations and tight contract negotiations, wherever there was somebody at each other’s throats, Ted could quiet it down and get the job done.”
Heavy local knowledge
Mr. Cole was invaluable to the county for his knowledge of the county and its employees, said Paul Gallagher, a Common Pleas judge and Democrat who served on the council with Mr. Cole.
County workers trusted him, Gallagher said.
“The union leaders trusted him implicitly,” he said. “If Ted gave his word, he wasn’t going to change. You didn’t have to think twice about whether he would change his word.”
Mr. Cole ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 1988, losing in a primary to eventual winner Tim Davis. At the time, he partly blamed the Beacon Journal for his loss, saying the newspaper failed to criticize him hard enough when it endorsed Davis. He said he was counting on some sympathetic voters seeing him as a victim of the newspaper’s criticism.
He continued to serve on County Council until 1990, when he lost his seat to Republican Faith Cook.
“Ted never got into it for money and never planned to become rich out of it,” Ravenscraft said. “He was just happy to work hard and help people and come to work every day, roll his sleeves up and get into problem-solving.”
Or, as his daughter put it: “He would always say, ‘I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.’ ”
Mr. Cole is survived by his wife of 56 years, Sarah Jane, his high school sweetheart; another daughter, Rosanne Mihaly; and son, Gene (Judi) Cole and six grandchildren.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.