The quaint town of Grafton, with its Main Street that is shorter than some driveways, doesn’t seem as though it would compare that favorably to many of the towns and cities the international stage has to offer.
But Charles “Arnie” de la Porte saw the rural community in Lorain County as home, the perfect slice of American life he dreamt about since he was a young boy living in the Netherlands.
As a kid, he saw the waves of American airplanes liberating his home country during World War II and vowed to move to that country and build his life.
“My father never regretted for one moment coming to America. It was just the opposite. Before we moved to the States, he would tell us all the time that one day we would go to America and be Americans,” said his son, Pete de la Porte. “He fulfilled that dream and loved it for every second of his life.”
That life was tragically cut short when Arnie de la Porte died in Maine, where he was vacationing with his wife of 54 years, Maud.
“This came as such a shock to us because it was just an accident,” said another son, Robert de la Porte. “He was hiking off the coast of Bar Harbor and he fell. We knew it was a hard fall, but we thought he would pull through.”
The elder de la Porte, needing two surgeries to set broken bones, suffered fatal complications. He died Wednesday afternoon.
He is survived by his wife, three sons, Herb, Pete and Robert, and four grandchildren.
American life for the de la Porte family started in 1981.
The family patriarch was promoted to vice president of international sales at Ridge Tool and moved his family to Lorain County. The two younger sons said the cultural shock was minimized by a doting father who assured his family the move would be the best one of their lives.
“To us he was just a good dad, a family man. But he had this whole other life outside of us that he gave his all to, and that has been the most surprising to us during all of this,” Robert said. “Yes, his dream was to come here, but he also loved the idea of bringing people and countries together. He saw trade opportunities in everything. His motto was: ‘Trading nations seldom go to war.’ ”
Pete said his father’s biography — snippets he knew about and others he learned just recently from a long-time family friend — reads like an international Who’s Who.
He was a founding member of the French American, British American and Netherlands chambers of commerce, as well as founding board member of the Benelux Business Association and German Roundtable.
He served as consul of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for Ohio, was co-chairman of the Cleveland Tall Ship Festival for many years, past grand commodore of the Ohio Commodores, honorary chairman and president of the Cleveland Rotary Club and past chairman of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
“We didn’t even know he had been to Maine before — he’s traveled all over the world and been to every continent except Antarctica — but then we learned he was also the founding board member for the business advisory board for the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine,” said Pete.
Herb de la Porte, who now runs LifeCare Ambulance Inc. withPete, said his father was never involved in the ambulance business some people think is synonymous with the family, but he was supportive of its start from day one when he and his mother, Maud, founded it more than 27 years ago.
“He was the best father you could as for because he supported you in whatever you wanted to do,” he said. “He instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us.”
The elder de la Porte was a graduate of the oldest nautical academy in Europe and a retired officer in the Royal Dutch Navy. He also was a knight of the French Medal of Merit.
After his nautical career, he began an international business career, first with Shell and later as sales director for B. Elliot and Co. followed by general manager of McCulloch of Europe.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home. A date and time for a memorial service has not been announced. In lieu of flowers, the family request donations to the Student Explorer Education Fund of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
“He was our rock,” Pete said. “But he was also so much to so many other people. I think people would be surprised to know how heavily involved he was because he gave 100 percent of himself to every organization. People probably thought they were the only ones.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at LisaRobersonCT.