SILVER LAKE, Ohio—Edward L. Bittle, 80, president and owner of Kent, Ohio-based rubber firms Seal Master Corp. and Elbex Corp., died Aug. 1 after being diagnosed several years ago with Alzheimer's Disease.
Bittle started working in the rubber industry after high school and was active in the business for more than five decades and, in 2010, was honored as Rubber & Plastics News Rubber Industry Executive of the Year.
After graduating from high school in 1953, he went to work for B.F. Goodrich as an apprentice draftsman. Early in his tenure at BFG, where he focused on such non-tire areas as aerospace and defense products, he asked to work part time so he could pursue his education at the University of Akron. That led to him getting a degree in education in 1968, after 15 years of study.
“It was a degree in longevity more than anything else,” he said in a 2010 interview.
Bittle became known as an expert in the canopy seal product line, leading him to leave BFG in 1969 and go to work at Pawling Corp.'s Presray subsidiary in Pawling, N.Y.
After working through a five-year contract, he returned to the Akron area and convinced two of his friends to become his partners in starting up Seal Master to make the inflatable seals. He then formed Elbex Corp.—standing for Edward L. Bittle Extrusions—in 1992 after deciding that he could do the extrusions needed for Seal Master as good as and for a better price than his outside sources.
Bittle saw himself as an old-time entrepreneur, preferring to do business with people he knew whenever possible. He lamented in 2010 that relationships weren't as prevalent as they had been early in his career because of all of the new ways of communications.
“I'd rather deal with somebody I know, somebody I like, somebody I trust, than get a whole stack of e-mails from people I have never heard of who work for companies I never heard of.”
His wife, Frances, touched on his business abilities in her letter nominating him for the Rubber & Plastics News award. “Building a company from scratch does not solely depend on product knowledge,” she wrote. “It also requires leadership and business expertise.”
He remained a big supporter of the University of Akron throughout his life, serving on its Board of Trustees for nine years, including a stint as vice chair. The school awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2011.
Besides his wife, he is survived by children Jo Ellen (Michael) Pryce, Patti (David) Richards, Herbert L. Bittle III, Julie (Tedd) Cowling and DeeDee (John) Beddell; 13 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Donations may be made to the University of Akron Foundation for the Edward L. Bittle Scholarship, 105 Fir Hill, Akron, Ohio 44325.