CLEARWATER — Eight years ago, Wilbur Ptak wandered into the offices of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation. He was up in years, casual and unassuming. It was the middle of the workday. Employees figured he needed directions.
Instead, he posed a question.
"If someone gave you a million dollars, what would you do with it?"
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Mr. Ptak died Saturday after a brief hospital stay. He was 91.
He grew up in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town on Lake Erie. In 1950, he founded Lorain Tool and Manufacturing Co., a machine shop where workers made parts for missiles and airplanes. He was involved with the invention of a gadget that automatically hammered nails into cement brick. Nails dotted his office wall.
Later, he founded Fastway Fasteners, making construction, plumbing and electric products. Business boomed and he obtained patents. His company eventually went public and was sold. He retired to Clearwater in 1977.
Mr. Ptak lived quietly with his wife, Madonna, and their dogs. Here, he developed admiration for well-known philanthropist Bernie Powell, who founded facilities including a cancer center at Morton Plant Hospital.
A year after strolling into the foundation office, Mr. Ptak made his first gift: $1-million. Over time, his donations funded lobby renovations and the Ptak Orthopaedic & Neuroscience Pavilion at Morton Plant.
He often padded through the hospital, nattily dressed in a roadster cap and bow tie. Everyone knew him.
"He was shy in a very gracious way," said Holly Duncan, foundation president. "Very much a gentleman."
In 2007, he pushed for something close to his heart.
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It was Christmas Eve morning, overcast.
He asked Duncan and Morton Plant Mease Health Care CEO Philip Beauchamp to meet at his favorite restaurant, Country Harvest on Missouri Avenue.
His wife had been suffering from Alzheimer's. He saw her in rehab every day, sharing ice cream, decorating her room according to holiday, bringing the dogs for visits.
He was saddened. He was frustrated. He wanted to help.
"I'll never forget that morning," said Beauchamp. "It was kind of a gray day, but the peace that showed in his commitment and what he was all about and what he wanted to accomplish for Alzheimer's was an experience I've never had in my 40 years in health care."
Soon, the Madonna Ptak Center for Alzheimer's Research opened. With it, his lifetime contributions totaled more than $5-million.
Mrs. Ptak outlived her husband, but they're still together. In a portrait, in Morton Plant's lobby.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.