Builder, patriarch fondly recalled
By LANCE MIHM
Wapakoneta lost one of its favorite sons Wednesday when Walter Stinebaugh, 88, died at Wapakoneta Manor surrounded by his family.
After marrying his wife, Jean, in 1942, the couple were both working full-time at the Lima Locomotive Works when Stinebaugh’s dream of going into carpentry began to come to fruition.
“It started out simply as remodeling,” said Barb Haehn, one of Stinebaugh’s three children. “Over the next couple of years, it just kind of evolved.”
The couple’s other children are Tina Helmstetter and Ralph Stinebaugh.
Slowly over time, Stinebaugh Lumber Company evolved into one of the area’s biggest contributors. A construction office was building was opened on North Street, now the J&D Bicycle Shop, and shortly after a larger building, now Uppenkamp Body Shop, opened for business in 1953.
Local attorney Doug Jauert, a friend of the family, said the business did things much different than construction companies today.
“I was just talking to some people about this over lunch today,” Jauert said. “His company came about in a time when the company did everything. They poured the basement, they built the buildings, the did the electrical work. Now everything is subcontracted.
Partnering with his business partner and friend Robert D. Miller, the pair was responsible for establishing and/or building many subdivisions, including Cherry Lane, Northridge Heights and Oakwood Hills.
When sellling his homes, Stinebaugh had the same approach that he used and is seldom seen today, he treated them as friends. Frances Spencer of Jackson Center recalled one such instance.
“We were a young couple and looking to move to this area,” Spencer said of herself and her husband. “We were relocating from Michigan. We went to a realtor in Lima and she took us to an open house of a home that Walter had for sale.”
Spencer said as a young couple, they had little money and were just getting started. Until their home sold in Michigan, they did not have the money for a down payment.
“We thought it would be impossible,” Spencer said. “We were very impressed with the house but we didn’t have a down payment until the other house sold.”
However, the couple got a pleasant surprise when the realtor took the Spencers to Stinebaugh’s office to meet him about the house.
“He just opened up his desk and threw us the keys,” Spencer said. “He said to get back a hold of him when we sold the house. My husband asked him about rent, but he said not to worry about it.
The Spencers lived in the home for more than three months before their former residence sold.
“He went out of his way to get us that house,” Spencer said. “He even went with us to the bank to help us get the financing sorted out. That is something that people just don’t do these days. That was why when we built our second home, we went straight to him.”
Jauert said that Stinebaugh’s outlook had its effect on everyone.
“He was very important to this town and he kept a lot of people employed,” Jauert said. “The thing I remember most about him though was that he knew how to have fun.”
The Stinebaughs frequently hosted get-togethers at their home, and the numbers would often swell to more than 100 guests.
“He had so many friends and people just gravitated to him,” Haehn said. “He was in the height of his glory when he had friends over. He and mother loved to host and everyone always had fun.
Their ability to host spanned all age groups, including Haehn’s own friends as a teenager.
“My parents were very protective of me and they didn’t want me to be out at afterprom when I was a junior,” Haehn said. “So my parents decided to host the party for St. Joseph High School at our house. We had a lot of fun.”
So much fun, in fact, that the event was held again at the Stinebaugh home her senior year.
Stinebaugh was a member of numerous service organizations in the area and also served on the Wapakoneta City Council, but Haehn said it was his faith that perhaps shaped him the most.
“He was very devout and that permeated our whole family,” Haehn said. “He never screamed or yelled at us but he disciplined us. He would simply sit us down and explain what happened with the choices we made and the consequences of those actions.
“He was very reasonable and he respected us. I truly treasure that.”