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Peter Kleist, developer and education supporter, dies

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Feb. 17, 2009

 
Peter D. Kleist

Peter D. Kleist, a man with the credo of giving back to the community and to education, died Feb. 12, at his home in Fort Myers, Fla.

A generous developer and philanthropist, he was involved in numerous church and civic activities where he supported food for the hungry, the arts, combating addiction, animal welfare and human services. Aside from his work, his passions were hunting and fishing and he traveled internationally to pursue those passions.

An individual once asked Kleist, 90, if there was anything that could be done for him and Kleist said, “You don’t need to do anything for me, but when you are able, I hope you will find your way to make a difference for others.”

Making a difference was evident throughout his career as a developer in Ohio and Fort Myers. The United Methodist layman from Cleveland built thousands of hotels, homes, offices and industrial centers, including a three-story residence hall at United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. His affinity and support of Africa University led him to endow a scholarship in honor of his wife, Eleanor, and initiate a challenge gift to the East Ohio Annual conference that resulted in more than 14 endowed scholarships for students and the building of three residence halls for the school.

Through the Peter D. & Eleanor Kleist Foundation, the couple – who were married for 68 years – is credited with building up Fort Myers and as being a powerhouse in the home-building industry in Ohio.

“He was a giant of a man, one of the greatest philanthropists I’ve ever met and one of my best friends,” said James Salley, associate vice chancellor of development of Africa University. “He had a commitment to higher education and to education in general. He touched so many institutions of higher learning and people in general. He was a great man.”

Born in 1918 in Chicago, Kleist grew up and worked in the steel mills in Toledo, Ohio. He soon met Dr. Rollin Walker, who told him that he would finance his education. Soon after graduating from United Methodist-related Ohio Wesleyan University in 1940 and serving in the intelligence branch of the United States Army, he began his journey of “giving back” to the community. He created a scholarship in Walker’s honor at Ohio Wesleyan and later became a trustee of the school.

In addition to supporting Ohio Wesleyan, he also supported United Methodist-related Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio; The Methodist Theological School in Ohio; and, in honor of James Salley, gave $1 million to United Methodist-related Claflin University, Orangeburg, S.C., for its capital campaign. He also gave a $250,000 capital campaign challenge gift to United Methodist-related Gammon Theological School, Atlanta; financed women students’ housing projects at Bethune Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.; and supported Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Ky. and Union College, Barbourville, Ky. He was also generous in supporting the Cypress Lake United Methodist Church in Fort Myers, the Salvation Army and many other schools and charities.

According to William McFadden, Sheffield (Ohio) Village and executive director of the Kleist Foundation from 1996-2002, Kleist’s philosophy was “You can never give enough back for all the ways your life has been blessed.” Kleist’s major motivation for working, McFadden said, “was gathering money he could give away.”

A memorial service will be held March 2 at Cypress Lake United Methodist Church, Fort Myers, Fla.

In addition to his wife, Eleanor, he is survived by three children – Kathryn Kleist-Derheimer (Kevin), Donna Kleist and David Kleist – seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to one of the following: The Kleist Health Education Center in Fort Myers, The Salvation Army in Fort Myers, or Southwest Florida Addiction Service in Fort Myers.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

East Ohio Annual Conference

Ohio Wesleyan University

Baldwin Wallace College

Claflin University

Africa University

Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Gammon Theological School

Bethune-Cookman University

Kentucky Wesleyan College

Union College

Cypress Lake United Methodist Church

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