(News story) Duane R. Abbajay, 84, who brought world-famous musicians to downtown Toledo and whose Country Palace became a tourist magnet after its mention in a hit song, died Tuesday in Perrysburg Commons.
He was in declining health the last year and had dementia, daughter Stephanie said. A longtime West Toledo resident, Mr. Abbajay lived in Northwood for a decade before he moved to the facility.
He retired from a quarter-century of nightclub ownership when, in 1988, he sold the Country Palace, located in historic Burt's Theatre at Jefferson Avenue and Ontario Street. At that location, he took over the Peppermint Club in 1962 from his brother Donald. Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, he filled the 500-seat venue by booking such acts as the Everly Brothers, Chubby Checker, the Marvelettes, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
"He realized he needed something big, and it wasn't going to happen if he just stuck to local talent," his daughter said.
Mr. Abbajay worked late afternoons through closing. Son Dino had to inform a caller to the family home one Saturday morning that Mr. Abbajay was still asleep.
"'You tell him Killer's coming to town,'" the caller said, his son recalled. "My dad later explained, 'That was Jerry Lee Lewis.'"
"He was a natural visionary. He brought in the best," said his son, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Paula Pennypacker, former Toledo mayoral and city council candidate. "He had a great talent for putting people at ease with him."
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Abbajay outfitted his club with wagon wheels and saddles and reopened it as the Country Palace. Waylon Jennings and Charlie Pride were among the venue's performers, but the biggest boost came from a singer who never played the Palace.
Kenny Rogers' 1977 hit song, "Lucille," included the phrase, "In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot." The Palace was across the street from the Greyhound station, and the song's writer, Hal Bynum, had witnessed a scene that served as inspiration. Fans of the singer traveled great distances to see that spot.
"It was validation for all the hard work he put in," his daughter said.
He was born June 2, 1933, to Geneva and Charles Abbajay, who were Syrian immigrants.
He was a 1951 graduate of Woodward High School, where he played football. His playing career at the University of Wisconsin was cut short by an injury.
For a time, he was in the construction business. He was a former vice president of sales for the George L. Freeman Co., an acoustical contracting firm.
He and the former Marie Kovacik married Feb. 8, 1957. She died Nov. 1, 1960. He married the former Mary Baldwin on April 14, 1962. She died July 18, 1986. His son Robert died Sept. 19, 1983.
The last 23 years, he and his companion and friend, Karol Poth, golfed and traveled the country to visit family.
Surviving are his sons, David and Duane C. "Dino" Abbajay; daughters, Mary Elizabeth Abbajay and Stephanie Abbajay; sisters, Jeanie Rejsa and Shirley Shoched, and seven grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ansberg-West Funeral Home, where the body will be after 2 p.m.
The family suggests tributes to the Robert R. Abbajay Memorial Scholarship at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio.
This is a news story by Mark Zaborney. Contact him at:[email protected]
Published by The Blade on Sep. 1, 2017.