AKRON, OHIO — Lowell G. "Chris" Chrisman, the founding publisher of Plastics News in Akron, died Jan. 5 in Branson, Mo., after a battle with cancer. Chrisman, 71, had spent the holidays with family members. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Jan. 11 at Faith Lutheran Church in Fairlawn, Ohio. The family will meet visitors at the church an hour before the service.
Chrisman was described by colleagues as someone who could dream up ideas and make them happen.
He was publisher of Crain's Cleveland Business when Crain Communications Inc. tapped him to start Plastics News in March 1989.
"Chris was the ideal person to launch this book, not only because of his knowledge of the publishing field, but also because of his boundless enthusiasm," said Tony Eagan, vice president and publisher of Plastics News.
When PN started, Eagan was the paper's eastern regional sales manager.
"In 1989, this was a real competitive market, and our first few years were bleak. Chris kept us pumped up. He assured us we were on the right track," Eagan said.
Chrisman retired from Crain Communications in 1993, at age 65. He looked forward to spending time trout fishing and working on classic cars — but the "retirement" lasted only a month, as Chrisman launched a trade group, the Polymer Processors Association of Ohio. It was later renamed the Plastics Processors Association.
Joe Bergen, president of PPA's board of trustees, called Chrisman "truly a visionary."
"He had a vision from his publisher days of the broad scope of the industry, and he saw that there was a great need to leverage processors," said Bergen, president and chief executive officer of Sajar Plastics Inc. of Middlefield, Ohio.
Lew Freeman met Chrisman when he visited Washington to explain the concept of Plastics News to management of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Freeman, SPI's vice president of government affairs, said lots of people were skeptical about a weekly paper.
"Chris not only could see to the point of the horizon, but he saw beyond the horizon and around the corner," Freeman said. "And he believed in his visions. That's what set him apart. He really believed in his visions."
Chrisman helped organize the first Ohio Plastics Summit in 1994, where industry officials could meet with top state political leaders. He also was on the board of directors of PolySort Inc., an Akron-based company that develops Web sites for plastics, rubber and packaging companies.
Jim Colangelo, development director for Edison Polymer Innovation Corp., always looked forward to working with PPA and Chrisman.
"When I think of Chris, I think of his humor, his passion for life. He enjoyed life. He enjoyed interfacing with people. The plastics industry in Ohio has really lost a champion for the industry," Colangelo said.
Chrisman gave PPA "sweat equity," not charging a salary and paying for his own travel expenses.
In 1997, after suffering a mild stroke, Chrisman stepped down as PPA executive director. A lifelong Akron resident, he enjoyed taking trips with his wife, Nancy, to their second home in Branson.
Chrisman's career in publishing spanned more than 30 years. He ran his own advertising agency in the mid-1950s. In 1959, he joined the Akron Beacon Journal and spent five years in the daily newspaper business.
One day he called on Ernie Zielasko, the editor and publisher of Modern Tire Dealer, an Akron trade magazine. Zielasko only bought a small ad, but was impressed by Chrisman's selling skills. Later, when an Akron sales job opened up on a sister publication, Rubber World, Zielasko thought of Chrisman. Chrisman became marketing director.
In 1971, Zielasko and several investors started a new Akron-based publication, Rubber & Plastics News. Chrisman joined six weeks after the first issue, becoming vice president of sales and advertising director.
It was a shoestring operation. As editor and publisher, Zielasko wrote the stories. Chrisman sold ads.
"He was a very good salesman and we worked very, very closely together. He really played a large part in the growth of the publication," Zielasko said.
Within 11/2 years, RPN was turning a profit. The success attracted the attention of Rance and Keith Crain, the brothers who run Crain Communications. They bought RPN in 1976. It was the beginning of what was to be a major presence for Crain in the Cleveland-Akron area.
Chrisman and Zielasko continued in their same roles at RPN. A few years later, the two convinced Crain leaders of the potential for Crain's Cleveland Business. The paper debuted in 1980, with Zielasko as publisher and Chrisman as sales director.
Both men continued to run RPN, splitting their time between Cleveland and Akron. That arrangement got old after about six months, Zielasko recalled.
"All of us realized that this was not going to work, that somebody had to be up there full time, working on Crain's Cleveland Business," Zielasko said.
Zielasko, then in his mid-60s, decided to stay in Akron at RPN. Chrisman became publisher of Crain's Cleveland Business in mid-1980. He moved back to Akron for the launch of Plastics News.
Zielasko recalled that Chrisman, although not a writer or editor, "had a definite interest in selling a product that was a good editorial product. As you know in the trade publication field, a lot of the magazines were advertiser-oriented. And of course, Crain's was not. Chris was really interested in the product editorially."