December 19, 2014

Elyria
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School board member, prominent Elyria businessman dead at age 59

ELYRIA — A third-generation Elyria business owner and Elyria school board member has died.

Kaplan

Richard Kaplan died Monday. He was 59.

Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans said Kaplan died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was found in the backyard of his Briar Lake Drive home shortly after 3:30 p.m. after police responded to a report of a suicide.

Evans said the death is still being investigated, but all things point to Kaplan taking his own life. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Kaplan’s family owns Kaplan’s Furniture, an Elyria institution founded as a used furniture store in 1936 by Kaplan’s grandfather, Sam Kaplan. The business started on what is now known as Lake Avenue before moving downtown, then to its current location on West Broad Street.

Kaplan worked for the family business his entire life and eventually took over from his father, Lou, in the mid-1990s. In 2006, Kaplan spoke of his love for the company in a story about his father’s death.

“What I appreciate is when we have past customers who bought from my grandfather, my father, and now me,” Kaplan said at that time.

In more recent years, Kaplan had been very open about his struggle with depression. When running for Elyria school board, Kaplan acknowledged having suffered psychological problems, believing it was better to be upfront and transparent during his campaign.

He spoke of being on medication but feeling better in the past few years.

“If I didn’t feel right, I wouldn’t be running for a position on the school board,” he said during an endorsement interview with The Chronicle-Telegram more than a year ago.

Kaplan was elected in November 2011 to serve a four-year term on the Elyria school board.

Board President Evelyn France said she had the daunting task of notifying fellow members and district officials of Kaplan’s death.

“I feel as if we have lost more than just a board member,” she said. “He was the most generous, kind and well-loved person in the community. He had a true love for the schools and the kids.”

France said Kaplan did not show any signs of being despondent in recent weeks.

He did injure his back while attempting to remove a tree from his home and was having trouble moving as a result. But, otherwise, he appeared to be doing well, she said.

France said the process for replacing Kaplan will be put on the back burner while school officials support the family in their time of grief. After the first of the year, she said, applications to fill the vacancy will be solicited from community residents and a new board member will be selected.

Kaplan, a lifelong Elyrian, had been involved with the district for years.

Prior to joining the school board, Kaplan served on the Independent Citizens Committee, which was instrumental in the plan to renovate and rebuild Elyria High School. He chaired an unsuccessful campaign in 2003 to pay for the project through an income tax issue.

He later worked on a number of other school campaigns, including the successful 2007 bond issue that resulted in the funding to build the $70 million high school that opened in grand fashion over two school years.

He was a 1971 graduate of Elyria High School and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame for distinguished alumni in 2005.

Kaplan is survived by his wife, Debbie, and three daughters, Lindsey, Kylie and Alexandra.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.