Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Terry Phillip Loebel

Valpak founder reached the top, then walked away to pursue his dreams

ST. PETERSBURG — In the mid 1960s, Terry Loebel was an unemployed forklift operator looking for a way to support his family.

American Motors, his former employer, was going through hard times.

Mr. Loebel moved to Pinellas County and scrounged for money, including working as a bug man and collecting soda bottles for the deposit.

Then he got an idea.

Mr. Loebel persuaded local merchants to invest in coupons he would mail to thousands of potential customers.

If the ads didn't work, he would refund their money.

He called the company Val-Pak.

Today Valpak, as the company is now known, distributes more than 20 billion coupons a year.

Mr. Loebel sold the company 18 years later and retired, 45 years old and wealthy. He spent the rest of his life pursuing his dreams — racing cars, collecting some of the world's best photography and donating to causes large and small with little or no fanfare.

Mr. Loebel, a nonconformist whose brand of direct marketing has become a household name, died July 28 after a long illness. He was 71.

"He was the kind of boss everybody would die to work for," said Bob Dean, a former Valpak typesetter who rose to vice president. Mr. Loebel rewarded his workers after tough days with cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Dean said.

On slow days, he sent them home — with pay.

Above all, friends and family members say, Mr. Loebel never forgot where he came from. To strangers in a restaurant, he was the guy in jeans and a baseball cap watching the Indianapolis 500.

"He was a normal guy to be around," said Dean, 66. "If you did not know him, you did not know he was who he was."

Mr. Loebel was born in Milwaukee. As a teen in the 1950s, he slicked his hair back and burned rubber in a '57 Chevy.

He married Patricia Blanchard and had two children. American Motors laid him off, and he moved to the Tampa Bay area in 1965.

The family lived in a cracker box two-bedroom house. Mr. Loebel worked for Orkin and installed air conditioning units he could not afford in his own home.

"I think he realized, 'Hey, this stuff isn't any fun. I've got to come up with something else," said Greg Loebel, his son.

The idea that turned his life around literally came in the mail.

Another company was sending envelopes full of coupons to new residents. "He says, 'Well, I wonder why I couldn't do that for people who live here all the time,'" said Greg Loebel, 50.

Soon, the living room and kitchen became a family factory. His wife and children, Greg and Kimberly, stuffed and licked envelopes.

The idea caught on. Eventually, he was selling franchises. When those took off, national fast-food chains and tire manufacturers were advertising with Valpak, too.

Mr. Loebel sold the company in 1986. He bought and raced cars in Sebring and throughout the United States. He moved away from racing after a 1992 crash in Atlanta in which he hit a wall at more than 100 mph.

He turned to other pursuits, including an intense study of black and white photography. In 2004, Mr. Loebel donated 32 vintage prints to the Museum of Fine Arts. They included an 1890s tintype of Butch Cassidy, a 1925 portrait of Charlie Chaplin, work by Margaret Bourke-White and an iconic series by Lewis Hine of the construction of the Empire State Building.

"They are quite important photographs," said David Connelly, a spokesman for the museum. "They are not just documentary photographs, they are exceptional fine arts photos. He was a very quiet donor. He did not seek recognition for his donations."

Mr. Loebel and his son also underwrote dozens of defibrillators for St. Petersburg police vehicles.

Mr. Loebel's son also enjoys telling another story about his father's generosity.

One day years ago, Mr. Loebel and his son had just left a favorite burger joint in California when they saw a car on the side of the road, its engine on fire.

Mr. Loebel recognized the driver, a cook at the restaurant they had just left. The man was disconsolate. Without a car, he would not be able to get to his job.

"After we left," his son said, "I found out later my dad went back and bought him a new car.

"That's my dad," he added.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.


Terry Phillip Loebel

Born: Oct. 29, 1940

Died: July 28, 2012

Survivors: son, Greg Loebel; daughter, Kimberly Loebel Ellison; four grandchildren.

Service: Private.

Valpak founder reached the top, then walked away to pursue his dreams 08/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 10:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest


    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.