Don Wolf, a local leader known as much for his charitable works as his home improvement retail success, died Wednesday. He was 90.
Wolf was president and CEO for 25 years of the co-op now known as Do it Best Corp., an international, multibillion-dollar organization.
Dan Starr, Do it Best's president and CEO, said everyone in the company is “incredibly saddened” by the news.
“Do it Best Corp. would not be the company we are without the passionate vision of Don Wolf, and the same can be said of the city of Fort Wayne,” Starr said in a statement. “In addition to his unparalleled contributions to our industry, his philanthropic work here and throughout the region has positively impacted the lives of thousands of people.”
Wolf co-founded Big Brothers of Greater Fort Wayne in 1972. He served as the nonprofit's first president and went on to serve as president of the national board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America from 1977 to 1980.
Jerry Henry, a local entrepreneur and chairman of St. Joseph Hospital's advisory board of trustees, recalled how his father was one of the men who joined Wolf in founding the local organization that pairs children from all backgrounds, especially those from single parent homes, with an adult of the same gender.
“He was nothing but respectful, and he's an icon in this community,” Henry said of Wolf. “He was a very special mentor in my life.”
Wolf was raised by his older sister Maxine Van Horn, after he was orphaned, an experience he never forgot, Henry said.
“He was a humble servant,” Henry said. “He'll be missed. He was what I call a man.”
Josette Rider, CEO of Big Brother Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, said Wolf had a passion and drive to bring the community together to get things accomplished.
“He really believed in education and opportunity for people of all walks of life,” she said. “He really believed every child deserved a caring adult in their life.”
That belief might have driven Wolf to found Study Connection in partnership with Fort Wayne Community Schools in 1989. The program trains and pairs volunteer tutor with students who need help with homework one afternoon a week. The relationships also help students build confidence and self-esteem.
Among the many awards Wolf received during his lifetime were the Sagamore of the Wabash and the Sachem Award, the state's highest individual honor.
Wolf also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Purdue University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Vincennes University.
In 1991, Wolf was named The Journal Gazette's Citizen of the Year and was presented the Pathfinder Award for service to youth by Indiana Youthlinks. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce named Wolf the Indiana Business Leader of the Year in 1993.
Wolf was inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame and National Home Center Hall of Fame and has also received the American Hardware Manufacturers Association Eagle Award, North American Retail Hardware Association Distinguished Service Award and was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana.
Mayor Tom Henry issued a statement on Wolf's passing.
“Don is one of the most generous and authentic men I've ever met. I was honored to call him a friend,” Henry said, adding that he'll be remembered for his “commitment to so many worthy causes.”
“Don was always giving back and thinking of others first,” Henry said. “Earlier this year I had the privilege of proclaiming June 18, 2019, as Don Wolf Day in the City of Fort Wayne as a way to thank him for his many accomplishments. It was a moving celebration for a man who did so much to make Fort Wayne a better place.”
Tim Haffner, a local attorney, described Wolf as “a true gentleman.”
“What a prince of a man,” Haffner added.
Haffner, who attended numerous meetings with Wolf, said the late business leader was a stickler about starting and stopping meetings on time. That philosophy extended to Do it Best employees delayed by trains running near the company's headquarters.
As Haffner recalled, Wolf would advise workers arriving for meetings late that they should have left earlier.
“He might have been a railroad conductor in an earlier life,” Haffner said, laughing at the memory. “I think it was about respect. He respected other people's time, and he wanted them to respect the process. My life was a lot better for having met him, for sure,” he added.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Wolf is survived by his wife, Ginny; their four children, Donna, Lisa, Rebecca and Rick; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
This story has been corrected.