|By Eric C. Rodenberg
TIFFIN, Ohio – Linda and Brian Reis were junior high school sweethearts. They got married directly out of high school at the age of 18.
Being young and adventurous, they purchased a house within the town of Tiffin, in north central Ohio, about 55 miles southeast of Toledo. The house – abandoned and empty for 40 years – a Gothic mansion built in 1853 as the home of Civil War hero William Harvey Gibson (1821-1894).
Gibson, an attorney and politician, was elected the State Treasurer of Ohio, serving a short tenure from Jan. 14, 1856 until his resignation on June 13, 1857. Upon his entering the office he discovered that his predecessor John G. Breslin had absconded with several hundred thousand dollars from the treasury.
Breslin admitted the shortfall to Gibson and promised Gibson he would make up that shortage within a short time. Gibson believed Breslin, also a Tiffin resident. Meanwhile, the shortage was discovered and reported in the press. The inevitable fall-out lead to Gibson’s disgraceful resignation.
He returned to Tiffin and opened a law office. Breslin moved to Canada to escape prosecution.
Out of patriotic loyalty and a chance to redeem his reputation, Gibson recruited, organized and trained the 49th Ohio Infantry at Camp Noble, near his home in Tiffin. With Colonel Gibson in command, the 49th participated in 42 Civil War battles.
Unlike many senior officers, Gibson was often in the thick of the battle, personally leading his men on. At the Battle of Shiloh, he had three horses shot out from under him and sustained a bayonet wound. He was mustered out of the service in Sept. 5, 1864 and brevetted to Brigadier General.
While renovating the Gibson mansion, returning it to its original glory, Linda and Brian Reis lived in a carriage house on the eight-acre property within in the city limits of Tiffin. It was a long arduous task.
At the same time, Brian worked at a series of managerial jobs, including Plant Manager of Wickes Lumber Co. in Cleveland. Linda worked as hard, serving 20 years as Project Manager at American Standard and later as IT manager at Imasen Bucyrus Tech.
In 2006, the couple began managing the family’s popular potato chip factory in Tiffin, founded by Brian’s grandfather in 1920. The couple became sole owners of the enterprise after buying out the stock from the other 16 shareholders of the company.
The chips were a staple of northwest Ohio, as well as the “official chip” of the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team.
“That’s all we did, was work, work, work,” Brian says. “That’s not only at the family business, but also at the jobs leading up to it. It was nearly all consuming.”
But, the couple fortunately had an “escape” from all the pressures and hard work: antiques.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Brian says. “Unlike other couples who go to the Caribbean’s, Disneyworld or foreign travel, we would get in the car and look for antiques. That’s how we found our recreation. We took our vacations looking for antiques, along the back roads of the United States. We collected from shops, auctions, shows and later, the Internet.
“We didn’t take a whole lot of vacations. We took some weekend trips. But after 44 years of collecting you can accumulate a lot of antiques. We always looked for the best we could afford. And we weren’t buying for investment purposes. We were buying what appealed to us. We were especially attracted to the odder things. These are the things that caught our attention; the things that were novel and one-of-a kind.”
All was going swimmingly until Brian was diagnosed with cancer – leukemia – in 2012. “It wasn’t good,” he said. “It took five years of my life, with chemotherapy, fighting this thing.”
But Brian is a survivor. Today, he says he is cancer-free.
“But cancer has a way of getting your attention,” he said. “You begin to see what is important in your life. You realize that life is short, nearly a blink of the eye, and you begin in focusing on what means the most to you, family, friends and enjoying what you do. It’s time to enjoy life.”
In April, the 62-year-old Brian and Linda, sold the potato chip business. On June 20, Auctioneer Douglas E. Walton sold their extensive Tiffin glass, pottery and Depression glass collection. The prices realized give an example of the discerning eye the couple have developed: a rare Tiffin Bunny lamp sold for $2,000; a Tiffin Elk lamp sold for $1,400; a Tiffin large Parrot lamp with base and corded, 14 inches tall in the highly sought-after red color, reached $750.
Day 2 of the Reis collection on July 8 featured advertising signage, a unique Simpsons life-size five-piece character display case; a Carroll Shelby-signed Viper go cart with Honda engine; a Fantasy Island TV show golf cart like the one the character Tattoo drove (“Boss, the plane, the plane) and hundreds of Lionel train cars dating from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Day 3 of the Reis collection on July 20 is the grand finale. The 1853 General William Harvey Gibson Gothic house is expected to be the star of the auction. To be sold whole or in five tracts, the home sits on eight acres within the town of Tiffin.
“It’s very unusual to find this much acreage within the town of Tiffin,” Auctioneer Walton said. “There are five bedrooms and four baths, in addition to a two-bathroom and 2-bath guest house with all the amenities, including a four-car attached deep garage. It would be a great bed-and-breakfast site.”
In addition, several R.J. Horner ornate furniture pieces are being offered among the 500 lots of antiques being sold from the house on July 20, beginning at 10 a.m. An R.J. Horner dining room suite table with six chairs and an ornate china cabinet and buffet are a special treat, in addition to a four-piece bedroom suite with a double bed. Also, a chest of drawers with beveled mirror and dresser with beveled mirror, a vanity and 14 matching R.J. decorative chairs and a mahogany desk from R.J. Horner will be sold.
Among the unusual, is an early Every Ready Lunch Counter sandwich dispenser. “I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that,” Brian says. “There are 24 separate selections for sandwiches, you put a dime in the slot and the door opens to dispense a sandwich. It must have come from a factory or lunchroom. It’s just very unique.”
Another oddity is a large oak barrel ribbon dispenser, originally used in a general store. It opens on four sides, there’s about 50 slots from which you can thread the ribbon from the inside, close the door and select the length of ribbon by pulling it through the slot. In addition, there’s a tiger maple J.P. Coats spool cabinet that came from a general store.
Walton, who has been an auctioneer for 38 years, classifies this sale as “one of the top ten” in his career. “It’s good merchandise and there’s so much of it. We’ve had calls all over the country on this sale.”
Following the sale, Linda and Brian Reis, plan on spending time in their remote cabin in Canada, visiting their three children, friends and drawing the most from their remaining years.
Contact: (419) 294-0007