Tribute: Don Gfell – Milan’s Edison Man

For the everlasting love of Edison and community. R.I.P “Edisonman”

Don was born on January 9, 1942 in Monroeville, OH to the late Edward L. and Zelma M. (Haynes) Gfell. Don graduated from Milan High School in 1960 and received his Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Bowling Green State University. He continued his education and received his Masters in Education from the University of Minnesota. Throughout his career, he worked as both an educator and a school administrator, eventually retiring after fifteen years of service as the Superintendent of Schools for Edison Local Schools. Don was affectionately known as “Edison Man,” and was an incredibly active member of his community.

Picture of Don Gfell

Marilou Johanek, former Birthplace Trustee, wrote, “Don grew up in a town that embraced its unique historical part in the phenomenal Edison story with pride and a sense of purpose. Milan is Edison. The two are inextricably one. Don fell in love with both. It was his Milan family from all walks of life that he regularly counted on to rally support for Edison as the statewide selection to represent Ohio, along with former President James Garfield, in the Capitol’s famed Statuary Hall. Don and his tightly-knit Edison community made it happen. When the bronze likeness of the great inventor holding an incandescent lightbulb aloft was finally put on display in Ohio’s capital Don appeared transfigured by pure happiness. For once, he was speechless.”

“His abiding devotion to the groundbreaking visionary from humble Milan beginnings had gone farther than he dreamed possible. Mr. Edison was going to Washington. He would be enshrined in a pantheon of prominent Americans visited daily by thousands of tourists. The statue’s trek to the Capitol went through Milan, of course. Don made sure of it. Even helped guide the 900-pound statue into the town library so everybody could get a good look at it before it was formally installed in the Capitol.”

Don Gfell, Cindi and Brian Rospert with the Edison Statue

“But, Mr. Gfell was more than just an incredible woodworker, business owner, husband and father…he was a beacon in the community. He gave his time to countless organizations and philanthropic groups. Most notably to me, was his work on the board of the Edison Birthplace Museum. Don fought day in and day out to make sure that people (most importantly children) from across the world got to learn the history of one of the world’s greatest inventors, in hopes of inspiring the next generation.” wrote Ben Smith, Birthplace Trustee.

Don Gfell and Robert Wheeler, President of Edison Birthplace

Full Tributes: Marilou Johanek; Ben Smith; Andy Ouriel

Don Gfell — unquestionably Milan’s biggest ambassador; valued historian; local Edison Schools supporter; ardent Chargers fan; and beloved community member, brother, husband, father and grandfather — died on Saturday following a brief illness. For those reasons and more, many consider Don as Milan’s greatest citizen of all time. He dedicated his life to not only better himself but thousands of others who followed, in one way or another, a similar path.

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