November 26, 2018
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Robert J. Tomsich H’84, a longtime Kenyon benefactor and trustee, died on Aug. 6, 2018. He was 87 and a resident of Hunting Valley, Ohio.
Tomsich was the founder and chief executive officer of Nesco, based in Cleveland, Ohio. Beginning as a small engineering services company called Centerline, Inc., it grew under his direction into a holding company with manufacturing and real-estate interests as well. Tomsich joined the College’s Board of Trustees in 1978 and served for two decades, retiring with emeritus status in 1998.
Soon after graduating from Fenn College (now Cleveland State University) in 1956 with a degree in mechanical engineering, Tomsich formed a company offering engineering services, eventually providing those services to Fortune 500 companies across the country. He expanded the scope of the business further and added specialized manufacturing, marketing and service firms, turning the enterprise into a multinational company with facilities throughout the United States and Canada, along with Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Even in his later years, he remained active and involved as the chairman and chief executive officer of Nesco, which now has more than 50,000 employees.
Tomsich matched his accomplishments as a businessman with his generosity as a philanthropist. He devoted particular attention to supporting the performing arts, civic causes and efforts on behalf of underprivileged children. Among the array of non‑profit organizations for which he served as a board member, in addition to Kenyon, were Cleveland State University and the University of Mount Union, the Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. For the Cleveland Clinic, his skills helped to drive fundraising efforts, with his own donations endowing numerous chairs and supporting research in cancer, cardiology, pathology, and digestive and vascular diseases.
In recognition of his business achievements as well as his community activism, Tomsich was awarded honorary doctorates by Kenyon and Cleveland State. He was also presented with the Lifetime Distinguished Fellows Award from the Cleveland Clinic, an Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Order of Freedom Award from the Republic of Slovenia, his ancestral home.
Tomsich’s many gifts to the College included funds to create the Trustee Teaching Excellence Award and the Tomsich Science Awards and to support the construction of the Ernst Athletic-Recreation-Convocation Center (1982-2006). When that building was demolished after completion of the Kenyon Athletic Center, the name of its Tomsich Arena for basketball and volleyball was transferred to the facility for those sports in the new structure.
In April 2002, during the presidency (1995-2002) of Robert A. Oden Jr., the College dedicated its new chemistry building as Tomsich Hall. Oden, who often worked closely with Tomsich during his tenure, recalled, “Bob Tomsich was a contrarian in the finest and most productive sense — always questioning and probing every potential trustee decision. Boards of trustees, especially high functioning boards, need voices raising thoughtful questions, and Bob provided just that voice. Always supportive, to be sure, Bob exemplified the kind of critical thinking on which Kenyon prides itself.”
Another Kenyon official who worked closely with Tomsich was Joseph G. Nelson, now retired as the College’s vice president for finance. “Bob Tomsich was unique,” Nelson said. “Tough but kind; demanding but gentle. Always helpful, always pushing me to get better, bigger, smarter, stronger. He once asked me, over a drink at the Kenyon Inn early on in my time as vice president for finance, ‘What are your career goals after Kenyon?’ I replied, ‘Bob, I don’t want to sound unambitious, but I love my job.’ He asked, ‘What do you love about it?’ My answer was, ‘Where else could I work and have a conversation over scotch with Bob Tomsich?’ Bob, with that twinkle in his eye that he often had, said: ‘Good point!’”
Tomsich is survived by his wife of 59 years, Suzanne Kirkhart Tomsich; two daughters, Joan Tomsich and Carol Tomsich Fountain; a son, John R. Tomsich, the current chief executive officer of Nesco Resource; and eight grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a sister, Frances Tomsich Selers.
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Heart Association, 1375 East 9th Street, Suite 600, Cleveland, Ohio, 44114, or the Alzheimer’s Association, P.O. Box 74924, Cleveland, Ohio, 44194.
President Emeritus Philip H. Jordan Jr., during whose tenure (1975-95) Tomsich joined Kenyon’s board, remembered his old friend as “generous and genuine.” “Bob looked at most things from the perspective of an engineer,” Jordan recalled. “His proposed solutions for various problems were always logical, and cost effective, but they didn’t necessarily suit the College’s aesthetics or traditions.”
Jordan pointed to one example in particular, remembering that Tomsich had been advised by his wife and other women of the toll taken on high heels by Middle Path gravel. “Bob really wanted to pave Middle Path,” said Jordan. “He made it his mission, and the fact that it never happened became a lingering disappointment. I wonder what he would have thought about today’s restored and resurfaced path.”