John Harms
1920 - 2015
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(News story) John W. Harms, retired president of The Toledo Blade Co. and what is now Block Communications Inc., died Tuesday in Silverado Aspen Lodge, a Salt Lake City assisted-living community. He was 95.

He'd had a stroke on Saturday, his son, Steve, said.

Mr. Harms and his late wife, Dorismae, formerly of River Road, moved in retirement to Rancho Murieta, Calif. Afterward, he lived at Eskaton, a Sacramento area assisted-living community.

For several years after leaving Block Communications and The Blade in 1988, he served as a consultant and attended company board meetings.

"His treatment of co-workers reflected that he was a consummate gentleman," said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. "He was sensitive to the human dimension in making tough decisions, such as personnel changes. A minister's son, he never lost his innate decency when he entered the business world."

Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications, said: "For me personally, he was my mentor in business more than anyone else."

Mr. Harms introduced modern management ideas to the company and "brought us up to a higher level," Allan Block said. "When you dealt with him, you knew you were dealing with someone who was honest and good. He was a man of strong and real faith whose purpose was to run a successful business and to promote good at the same time. He did not believe the two were incompatible."

Mr. Harms was elected president of the company in January, 1983, by its directors. Later that year, he was elected to the board. He succeeded John Willey, who had been president and associate publisher of The Blade. Mr. Willey died in 2005.

In 1985, following corporate restructuring, the Toledo Blade Co., became a division of the firm then renamed Blade Communications Inc. The parent company was responsible for managing its newspapers, cable television systems, and television stations. Mr. Harms was president of both entities.

The late William Block, former co-publisher of The Blade, in his 1990 memoirs, wrote that his late brother, Paul Block, Jr., co-publisher of The Blade, initially hired Mr. Harms as a consultant to help find a suitable candidate to succeed Mr. Willey.

"As so often happens, the consultant was a far better candidate than any he could uncover," Mr. Block wrote.

Mr. Harms was well familiar with family-owned companies, having worked for the J.L. Hudson Co. and the Detroit News, both family operations during his tenure.

"John brought to The Blade organization not only a well-honed sensitivity to family operation, but a great deal of experience with management styles and methods," Mr. Block wrote. "John introduced a more orderly system of budgeting, budget reviews, an incentive plan, and other changes in our operations which improved morale and brought excellent bottom-line results."

Retired and in California, Mr. Harms was a consultant to family-owned businesses for several years. He and his wife had been members of First Presbyterian Church in Maumee.

Mr. Harms was vice president of S.R. Dunlap and Associates, a Birmingham, Mich., management consultant firm before he came to The Blade.

He was born Aug. 30, 1920, in Bridgeport, Conn., to Louella and Abraham John Harms. His father was a pastor in the denomination now called American Baptist Churches USA, and the family moved as Pastor Harms was called to lead congregations in Chicago, Eugene, Ore., and Detroit.

John Harms met his wife, known to most as "Toni," while in the choir of his father's church, First Baptist in Eugene. He graduated from high school in Eugene and received a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Oregon.

He later graduated from the Harvard Business School advanced management program.

He was an Army veteran of World War II, an infantry captain with service in the Philippines.

He and his wife settled in Detroit, where his parents then were living. He aspired to a legal career and was accepted by University of Michigan law school.

To support his wife and their infant son, though, he became an executive trainee in 1947 at Hudson's, Detroit's premier downtown department store. Somehow in the basement ladies daytime dresses department, where he was an assistant buyer, he caught the attention of one of the Webber brothers running the company.

"He started a rapid ascent," his son said.

As the retailer changed shopping by opening branches in new suburban shopping centers, forerunners to malls, Mr. Harms became general manager of the Hudson's store in the then-new Eastland center in the Detroit suburb of Harper Woods. He later returned to the downtown headquarters and, in time, won promotion to executive vice president.

"The two periods that meant the most to him personally and professionally were Hudson's and The Blade," his son said.

Mr. Harms resigned in 1972 after the Dayton Co. of Minneapolis acquired J.L. Hudson. He became vice president for operations and vice president for marketing of The News, where he worked from 1972 through 1981.

For many years, Mr. Harms helped build Boy Scout programs. He served 10 years on the executive board of the Detroit Area Council of Boy Scouts and was a former vice president. He also served as chairman of a group organized to extend the creation of troops in the Detroit region. In 1984, Mr. Harms was presented the Silver Beaver Award, the highest Boy Scout local council award for volunteer service.

His community involvement included the Greater Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, of which he was treasurer, and the Detroit Central Business District Association, as an executive board member. He also had been a vice chairman of the board of Hutzel Hospital in Detroit.

Mr. Harms was a member of the Inverness Club and of the Toledo Club. He was a nonresident member of the Detroit Athletic Club.

He and his wife married June 7, 1942. Mrs. Harms died Oct. 29, 2002.

Surviving are their son, John Stephen Harms; his brother, Robert Paul Harms; sister, Ruth Calkin, and a granddaughter.

There will be no services.

The family suggests tributes to the Christian Children's Fund in Richmond, Va.

This story was written by Blade Staff Writer Mark Zaborney. Contact him at: or 419-724-6182.
Published in The Blade on Sep. 10, 2015.
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