CLEARWATER — Madonna Ptak never thought she was anything special, even as she and her husband gave millions to the Morton Plant Mease Foundation and other causes.
Colleagues knew her as the unassuming woman behind the man, husband Wilbur Ptak. They knew "Donna and Wil" as a gracious couple whose visits they looked forward to at the institutions they helped create or expand.
Other than the size of her gifts to treatment and research, there was nothing extravagant about Mrs. Ptak. She loved going on drives with her husband, watching fireworks from her waterfront home, eating at mom-and-pop restaurants, and her dogs — Ginger, a poodle, and a Doberman named Simba.
Mrs. Ptak — a co-benefactor with her husband to the Madonna Ptak Morton Plant Rehabilitation Center, the Ptak Orthopaedic & Neuroscience Pavilion and numerous other projects — died Jan. 17. She was 89.
The Ptaks moved to Clearwater from Ohio in 1977, when they had already been married 35 years. Wil Ptak, who had sold a successful manufacturing business, made an impact within a year when he walked into the Morton Plant Mease Foundation and asked employees what they would do with $1 million.
"He said he had asked that question at more than one not-for-profit, and we were the first one to take him seriously," said Holly Duncan, the president and chief executive of the Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation.
While Wil Ptak wrote the checks, his wife had ways of making her opinions known. "She would answer with her facial expressions before she said anything," Duncan said. By the time she did speak, "you knew already."
"I think she was the primary force behind their giving to the hospital," Duncan said.
Both Ptaks grew up in Lorain, Ohio, an industrial town also known as "Steel City." Mrs. Ptak helped her husband build a parts manufacturing company.
At home, the couple gave each other the same nickname — "Buddy" — and stuck to established routines. By 6 p.m., they were usually on their way to places like the Country Harvest Restaurant, where they sat in the same place and Mrs. Ptak ordered the open-faced turkey sandwich with stuffing.
Eating out spared her from doing dishes, Mrs. Ptak liked to say.
"They were best friends, their lives were so interwoven together," said Candy McDuffy, 53, who works at the rehabilitation center and also cared for Mrs. Ptak at home.
When Mrs. Ptak's Alzheimer's disease worsened, her husband decided to make another donation — to what became the Madonna Ptak Center for Alzheimer's Research. Wil Ptak, who with his wife gave more than $5 million to various causes over the years, died in 2008.
Mrs. Ptak died at the rehabilitation center that bears her name.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]