Phil Felburn Obituary

Philanthropist Felburn, 88, dies

Self-made millionaire gave generously to local libraries, museums

March 13, 1998


OCALA -- Future generations of residents in Marion and Levy counties will share the legacy of a man who enjoyed the Florida sunshine but shunned the limelight. J. Phil Felburn of Yankeetown gave generously and often to local libraries and museums that found themselves constantly scrambling for funds. Felburn, 88, died this week.

"The Felburn Foundation has made it possible for us to improve service in ways we could not have even dreamed of doing without their assistance," said Patsy Marsee, assistant director of the Central Florida Regional Library headquartered in Ocala. Those who knew him described Felburn as a hard-working, no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point man.

"As a boy, he hauled coal to help his family," said Bob Lipscomb, former director of the Central Florida Regional Library. Lipscomb, along with Felburn's daughter, Ellie Schiller, was instrumental in convincing Felburn of the great need to fund the local institutions. In the 1930s, Felburn, a native of Ohio, founded Aetna Freight Lines Inc. With only two trucks, he began to haul steel. World War II broke out and, with it, the increased need for the metal. From there, Felburn was able to build the Warren, Ohio, firm into one of the country's preeminent trucking companies. Lipscomb said Felburn, a self-made millionaire who enjoyed the outdoors, had a number of homes. One was in Palm Beach. Another was a hunting lodge in Canada, where he entertained business associates.

Felburn, who never attended college, would spend summers in Michigan. He moved to Yankeetown from Marion, Ohio, in 1989. For health reasons, Felburn spent most of the last year of his life in Yankeetown. Years ago, on a trip to the Yankeetown post office, Felburn noticed how small the library was. "He approached me," Lipscomb said. Felburn told Lipscomb he wanted to build a wing on the library. All he asked in return was that there be information available about the local flora or fauna. "It was too good to be true," Lipscomb said. And, in 1990, the renovation was completed. "From then on, I got to know him. I said, 'We have a few others that could use some help.' " And Felburn helped. The non-profit, natural resource, educational foundation he established in 1978 provided Marion and Levy institutions with more than $500,000. He built a new library in Bronson, remodeled the Dunnellon library, put an addition on the Belleview library. He helped build the branch library in the Ocala National Forest and the Silver River Museum library.

"He was a Godsend to our libraries," Yankeetown Librarian Cherie Bowers said. "Without him, our libraries would be in terrible, terrible shape. It was incredible how he contributed." Plans currently include constructing a wing on the Silver River Museum to display historical artifacts. And Alachua County is constructing the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens and Environmental Education Center with help from the Felburn Foundation. "He had a lot to do in shaping the direction of the museum," said Guy Marwick, Silver River Museum director. "Even after his death, good things are still happening from this foundation that he set up."

Felburn's fondness for the outdoors, deep-sea fishing and hunting steered his giving. He bought land for preservation in Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina.

When "Phil" was 85 years old, Lipscomb, who often had been a guest at Felburn's North Carolina estate, took him and his daughter, Ellie, on a canoe trip down the Juniper Springs Run. "We did that whole thing one day," Lipscomb said. "And it was a hot day." Besides his daughter, Ellie Schiller of Yankeetown, Felburn is survived by another daughter, Ellyn Special of Spring City, Tenn.