TWINSBURG — Kind. Hard-working. Dedicated.
Those were just some of the words friends and family used to describe the late Jim Karabec, 85, a longtime Twinsburg resident who served as mayor from 1987 to 1999.
"I consider Mr. Karabec a friend, definitely someone I looked up to with all his years of service as mayor," said current Mayor Ted Yates. "He was instrumental in many things in Twinsburg we enjoy today. I always looked forward to him coming into town. He always found his way into my office and chatted with me, shared stories [of] being mayor, giving me advice. He will be missed. I know he will be missed in Twinsburg. No matter where he was, he always stayed in touch with what is going on in the city."
Yates said that as of Sept. 13, he had not heard anything about arrangements.
According to information provided by the city, Karabec was the second mayor of the city of Twinsburg, following Anthony Perici. Highlights of his time as mayor include diversifying the city’s industrial base, purchasing Glen Eagles Golf Course, establishing a full-time fire department, constructing a second fire station and backing the acquisition of the 900-acre tract on the east side of the city that is now known as Liberty Park.
"Any people remember Mayor Karabec for his business skills in operating the city of Twinsburg," said Katherine Procop, who served as mayor after Karabec. "And that is certainly true; Jim ran the city like a business, always looking out for the bottom line and making sure that the city was not only solvent but had money for the future."
However, Karabec also had a human side, Procop added.
"Jim absolutely loved helping people and taking care of them," Procop said. "Whether it was rolling up his sleeves to help the Service Department finish a project, spending hours in the sleet and cold decorating the square for the holidays, walking acres of land and figuring out how to preserve them, clearing storm debris or grilling hot dogs at Twins Days; Jim was all in," she said.
She also said Karabec "was passionate about job creation."
"He took great pride in knowing that people had opportunities to work so they could take care of their families. He didn’t care about your religious affiliation, gender, race or ethnicity. If your heart was all about doing your best for the residents of the city, that was all he cared about. That’s just the way he was. A great mayor and a great man."
Gene Esser, former Summit County Engineer, called Karabec "a man of action."
"Many times I saw him jump into the middle of a project to get it completed," Esser said. "My favorite memory occurred when we were doing state Route 91 road improvements. The service department was excavating the roadway and it was about 50 percent complete. Paving was scheduled to occur the next day. I was headed home from a meeting and saw that there was a lot of work to be finished and the day was getting late.
"I called Jim and he told me to stay there. Within minutes he showed up and started directing work. Before I knew it, both of us in our suits and rubber boots were working hand-in-hand with service to get the site ready. Sure enough they paved the next day. That was Jim at his best."
Andy Tomko, the president of Twinsburg Historical Society, said that Karabec was actively involved in the society, even serving as a president after he retired from the mayor’s position.
"He did a lot of things for the society on his own and with his friends," Tomko said.
For example, when the historic barn had started to lean, Karabec, along with Jim Mirgliotta and other friends, "fixed it up."
"He did it on his own," Tomko said. "No historical society money was spent."
Karabec also helped support the preservation of the Moses Roach House, where the Twinsburg Chamber of Commerce currently operates, Tomko said.
"One day he gave me a call," Tomko said. "He asked, ‘What the hell is going on with the Chamber house?’ I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I read that the city wanted to buy it and knock it down.’ So we went to city to help save it, and succeeded. That was the last big thing he did for us."
Tomko has another tie with Karabac: they were brothers-in-law. Andy Tomko’s wife, Betty, and Karabec’s wife, Mitzi, were sisters.
"Jim graduated from Twinsburg High School," said Betty Tomko. "He lived on a farm, in a house on [Route] 82. His mother became widowed and sold the property they were living on to the Chrysler plant."
Andy Tomko said Karabec and his brother were carpenters. "Jim and his brother built all those houses in Heritage Hills, before he became a developer with Developers Diversified."
While the historical society worked on the Roach house, Tomko said Karabec, who had a bad hip, struggled to get up and down the basement stairs.
"The handrail was loose," Tomko said. "He asked to have new handrail to basement, he told me to ‘build a new one, and make it in memory of me.’ So that is exactly what I am going to do. I’m going to make a new handrail and I will have a plaque, in memory of Jim Karabac.
"He is one man who will be missed. I’ve known him as a brother in law and as a friend.
Brian Steele, Ward 2 councilman, said he was on the police department when Karabec was mayor.
"I thought Jim was a wonderful man," Steele said. "I never saw him lose his cool, I never saw him get upset. Fair, a very nice man. I sat across the table with him when we worked on contracts. He was a good guy. If there was something he didn’t like, or something that needed to be done, he’d do it himself if he had to."
Bill Furey, at-large councilman, said that Karabec appointed him to his first commission in 1995, to serve as a city liaison for what was then called Cable 9 (now named Community Focus).
"He helped us out in a lot of ways," Furey said. "He was easy to get along with, and he got things done."
One story Furey related was when there were issues with the zoning code. "I had to bring my son with me, who was a baby at the time. His carrier was on the mayor’s desk as we talked. Everything was resolved, it went well."
His son recently graduated from college, Furey added.
Furey said he had first moved to Twinsburg after he got married. They moved to Ethan’s Green in 1997 and encountered several issues, such as a creek filled with silt and debris.
"He actually was on the bulldozer that was moving the dirt around in my backyard," Furey said.
The area was excavated and seeded, and the creek and lake cleared, Furey said. "It’s a fantastic looking area now."
Karabec also was known to take matters into his own hands if there were issues with trees on the Gleneagles Golf Course, which the city purchased while he was mayor, Furey said.
"There were nine trees on the range he cut," Furey said. "He got the job done."
Karabec also spearheaded the connector road, now known as Miktarian Parkway, which connects Ethan’s Green and the Firelands with the area near the library, the high school and the government center, Furey said.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC