Poturalski’s influence felt in Toledo and suburbia

J. Patrick Eaken

If you’ve noticed all the highway construction in the Toledo metropolitan area, you can blame 80-year-old Mary Ellen Poturalski. She’ll gladly take the credit.
Poturalski serves on Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Government’s (TMACOG) transportation council as a non-governmental resident. Wood County Commissioner Ted Bowlus, a Pemberville native, is also on the council, but Poturalski has held her seat much longer, for 27 years.
Poturalski says Northwest Ohio is finally winning the battle, getting transportation money that used to go to “the three Cs” — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.
“The 2025 plan was the first project of its type because we never had a plan. All the money was going to the three C’s, so we worked a year and a half, morning and evening meetings getting everybody to rate all the projects in the whole TMACOG area, and we put them in order, and we presented it to the various areas and everybody had to support them and the way they would go in line,” Poturalski said.
“Well, since then, we’re just going to start voting on the 2045 plan whenever we get back. But, our projects just keep moving, moving and moving.
“Due to our plan and our promotions, the three C’s used to get all the money. Now, they are calling us and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a couple million, can you use it?’ We’ll take it from everybody.
“Remember this, the last construction project is the DiSalle Bridge (Interstate 75 bridge over the Maumee River), and now they are doing all the entrances and all that. It’s going to be four lanes on either way so that you don’t have to merge anymore when you are going on or going off. It will be perfect.
“That’s going to be built offsite like we did the I-280 bridge, and once that is done all of our bridges from Bowling Green to the (Maumee River) mouth are all redone. There isn’t an organization in Ohio that can say that, or anywhere, because the Feds think we’ve got the right group in this area.”
She was known by East Toledo residents mostly for her 19 years with the now-defunct River East Economic Revitalization Corporation.
“When I retired, (businessman Gary) Reddish got me a cheerleader uniform with pom-poms, and it says ‘Mary Ellen Poturalski — East Toledo cheerleader.’ I did — I promoted all the time. We did a lot,” Poturalski said.
From Owens-Corning to River East
It is at River East where she first took her seat at TMACOG, at the request of then-REERC executive director Don Monroe. She first served on the citizen’s committee and since has severed on various other committees.
While on the transportation council, she served on the task force that was behind the construction and design of the I-280 Glass City Veterans Skyway bridge. She served on the bridge’s land use committee, design committee and naming committee.
Poturalski says TMACOG is recognized as a model organization by state and federal officials.
“They come once a year to audit TMACOG. They think we are one of the best in the country. It felt so good when they said that,” Poturalski said.
“The other thing was, two months ago, when we had the state guy come up from the Department of Transportation, he congratulated our group on being well-organized. He said every report you sent us I never have to ask another question. Other places he always has to call them back and ask questions and questions. He said you people are right there.”
However, when she first arrived at TMACOG, there was a lot of learning to do.
“River East, I was economic development. I was teaching business plans and starting businesses, so all that really helped,” Poturalski said.
“But when I first went to TMACOG, they were saying all these nomenclatures, like iced tea. I thought they were going to bring in some iced tea, but that’s a federal program. It was funny because they couldn’t teach me everything they knew. I was so glad because they explained things to me because it was all new, but I sure love it.”
Her professional career spans decades with stints at Owens-Corning, various banks, and other companies, usually in marketing.
“I’ve had different jobs throughout the years. I started with (former East Toledo refinery) Gulf Oil and was there until the last day, but they closed and moved the whole operation to Texas. Then, I went upstairs to a bank, and then I went to Owens-Corning. I started out in computer operations and all that, but from there, I love to organize, so I always organized everything,” Poturalski said.
“They asked me to be a secretary, so I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I’ll organize the computer room and all that, and I saw the HR girl one day and said, ‘If you ever see anything I can be good at, call me.’ She calls me the next day and sends me to marketing. I went and I was a branch contact from there. I became administrative assistant for the power and process plant. I’ve got big projects behind me, you know.
“Then I went into (another Owens-Corning subsidiary) and I was the marketing associate. I developed programs to increase our sales. I was the first one to come up with the Pink Panther beach towel. I told our salesmen and customer service men, for every half a truck we distribute, they get a beach towel. Why don’t they think of these things?”
By the way, she still has two original Pink Panther beach towels that Owens-Corning made for her.
“I went down to Newark when the whole company was going with an entrepreneurship program,” Poturalski continued. “I went and worked with the plant, and all of our samples were made in Newark, and I said, ‘We waste this material? Why don’t we use these plastic sleeves, cut a hole with the material as it comes off the line and then make the samples? Well, guess what? I saved 85 percent of the cost to make the samples. I have a big write-up from the company newspaper that went out to all the plants, and I saved it. I said, ‘I like to do things big. When you think of a good idea, you push it.’
“But I love TMACOG more than anything because I tell everybody, ‘I’m so nosy and I stick up for the people,’” Poturalski said. “That’s something because everyone that comes in, other than the staff, are all either politicians or they work there. That’s why I love it. I get to meet all these politicians from all over.”
Friend to Pemberville, too
Poturalski’s mother was Hungarian and her father Polish, and she was raised in East Toledo’s Hungarian neighborhood of Birmingham. She went to St. Stephen’s School in Birmingham and graduated from Central Catholic High School.
Today, she lives on Brown Road in Oregon, but is well known by Pemberville residents, also.
Her daughter, Michele, is married to Todd Sheets, the owner of Beeker’s General Store. Mary Ellen not only works there and volunteers her time at RiverBank Antique Market, she gets involved in civic events, and her ethnic cooking has caught on.
“That’s really my second home, almost. I really like the people down there and I help out when I can,” Poturalski said.
Her stuffed cabbages sell like hot cakes in the village firehouse during Pemberville’s fall festival.
“We went from two to three, and we went to four (dozen), and I said Todd, “how many do I have to make now? I think I need some help,” Poturalski said.
“Well now, we’ve got all kinds of help because I’m teaching them to make it the way I make it because they are big, and you get a big cabbage roll with a slice of bread. They sell out in two hours. They are all learning now — they are making them the right way to make them.”


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