Don Brown

Avon Mayor James Smith comments

NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 1-19-10, By John Caniglia

[Donald A. Brown, the inventor of the drop ceiling, wife and two pilots die in a plane crash (Mitsubishi MU-2B) near the Lorain County Airport on 1-18-10]

``ELYRIA, Ohio -- The Vermilion inventor of drop ceilings and his wife were passengers on a plane that crashed Monday afternoon at Lorain County Airport as they were returning from visiting their son in Florida. Four people were killed in the crash.

Donald and Shirley Brown of Vermilion were on the Mitsubishi MU-2B turbo-prop plane that left Gainsville, Fla., and was headed to Ohio. The State Highway Patrol said four people were killed on the flight including the Browns and two pilots.

The patrol said the plane was approaching a runway when it crashed at 2:08 p.m. at the rural airport at Russia and Oberlin roads in New Russia Township in the southern part of the county.

Melinda Mengelson of Florahome, Fla., said in a phone interview with The Plain Dealer that she was informed by authorities that her husband, John, was killed in the crash.

The plane was registered to Mitts Corp., a subsidiary of Kenn-Air Corp, a company that flies planes out of the Gainesville, Fla., Regional Airport, according to federal records. The documents show the plane left Gainesville shortly before 11:10 a.m. Its last contact with authorities in Northeast Ohio was at 2:01 p.m. when it was traveling at 160 mph, according to, which tracks planes ...

The plane was found several thousand yards short of the runway, just inside a fence, said State Highway Patrol Lt. Travis Hughes.

Beside the Browns, pilots John Mengelson, 46, of Florahome, Fla., and Wesley Roemer, 30, of Gainesville, Fla., were aboard the plane, according to the patrol. The Gainesville Sun reported that Mengelson was the chief mechanic and co-pilot and Roemer was a pilot for Kenn Air, the company owned by the Browns' son, Kenneth ...

Donald Brown, 89, was widely known for his inventions, including drop ceilings that have become commonplace in homes, schools and businesses.

In 1961, Brown obtained a patent for drop ceiling systems: "The primary object of the present invention is to provide a suspended ceilng construction in which access may be obtained at any desired location," Brown wrote in the patent.

In the 2000s, Brown also became known for building a nuclear shelter across the street from his home ... In later years, he also worked with polymers for adhesives ...

The Browns and the two pilots were flying in a plane registered to Mitts Corp., a company affiliated with Kenn Air Corp. Kenneth Brown owns Kenn Air, according to public records and interviews. The company flies planes out of Gainsville Regional Airport.

The Browns' plane left Gainesville shortly before 11:10 a.m., according to Web sites that track planes. Its last contact with authorities was at 2:01 p.m. when it was traveling at 160 mph, according to ...


Posted by Commentator 1, January 18, 2010

If this plane was a Mitsubishi MU-2, it is famous for its deadly crash record, having killed 196 people over the last 36 years. The plane is extremely tempermental to fly, having design problems, and most companies have stopped using it to transport passengers.

South Dakota Gov. George S. Mickelson, who died with seven others in the crash of an MU-2 in April 1993 near Dubuque, Iowa, was one of 196 people killed in the U.S. in the planes since 1968, according to National Safety Transportation Board records.

Posted by Commentator 2, January 19, 2010

The aircraft it self is safe as long as a qualified pilot with plenty of MU2 time is at the helm.

The FAR's Special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 108: Mitsubishi MU-Series Special Training, Experience, and Operating Requirements

The regulation discusses extra currency requirements as well as initial training and restrictions on flight instructors as well.

This is because when one engine stalls in this aircraft, it has different procedures than other twin engine airplanes. From what I've read, it is due to the flap design. In a typical twin, if you were to lose an engine, you would retract the flaps. In this plane, you would not.

The plane is designed for high cruise / low landing speeds. As to the conditions yesterday- marginal at best. Hopkins was calling 500-700 foot ceilings all day yesterday, and with the temperature a few degrees above freezing at the surface, conditions were perfect for icing on the final approach.

The insinuation that the airplane was making a 90 degree bank (maybe the witness meant a 90 degree turn) is an indication that something went wrong- be it icing or an engine failure ..''


NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 1-19-10, by Cindy Leise

``VERMILION TOWNSHIP -- Don Brown was a millionaire who at age 89 still loved business deals, inventing things and flying, especially helicopters and planes.

In the 1950s, he devised a grid system for mounting drop ceilings and turned that idea into a multimillion dollar empire in Westlake called Donn Corp.

In 1985, the year before he sold the company to U.S. Gypsum, Donn Corp. had sales of about $300 million. The company, which was the world's leading producer of ceiling grid and interior access floor systems, sold for about 2.8 million shares of USG stock in 1986, according to news reports.

Most recently, [Don Brown] was an astute land investor. In 2008, the Richard E. Jacobs Groups paid $5 million to Brown to acquire about 103 acres of property near the proposed Interstate 90 interchange at Lear-Nagel Road in Avon ...

The plane crash was not the first tragedy suffered by the family, comprised of the Browns and their three sons, Keith, Kevin and Kenneth.

Kevin Brown was killed while steering a 32-foot speedboat at the 1989 world championships. His friend and business partner, Jim Dyke, was at the throttle when a wall of water hit the boat, killing Brown ...

In 2003, Brown seemed to delight in telling The Chronicle-Telegram about his plans to launch a long-postponed venture, a chemical/environmental/nuclear blast shelter sleeping up to 30 that he planned to sell to anyone looking to survive the unthinkable. "One thing, 9/11 , really woke me up," Brown said. "It woke up a lot of people."

During that interview, Don Brown said he first became interested in building shelters during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union and the United States came to the brink of nuclear war. He designed systems then, he said, and world events prompted him to start up again at the age of 83.

Contact Cindy Leise at


NEWS ARTICLE from The Chronicle-Telegram, 1-19-10, by The Chronicle-Telegram Staff

``Vermilion Township inventor, wife among 4 dead in plane crash

NEW RUSSIA TOWNSHIP -- A plane crash Monday afternoon at the Lorain County Regional Airport killed a Vermilion Township inventor and his wife, along with the plane's pilot and co-pilot.

Donald Brown, 89, and his wife, Shirley, 87, were returning to Ohio from Gainesville, Fla. Brown made millions for inventing the drop ceiling and was known in the area for his palatial home along Lake Erie.

The plane was approaching the airport from the west when it crashed around 2:05 p.m. several thousand yards short of the runway, just inside the airport fence, the Ohio Highway Patrol reported. Lt. Travis Hughes, commander of the Elyria post of the State Highway Patrol, described the wreckage as "severe." ...

"(The crash site) is so far off the road and the runway, that it's hard to get equipment there," Hughes said. A backhoe arrived at the scene a little after 6 p.m. Russia Road was closed from West Ridge Road to Oberlin Road for several hours Monday.

The plane's pilot was 30-year-old Wesley Roemer, 30, of Gainesville. John Mengelson, 46, of Florahome, Fla., was the chief mechanic and co-pilot. Both worked for Gainesville-based Kenn Air, an aircraft consulting firm. According to a report from Fox affiliate WOFL in Orlando and the Gainesville Sun, Brown's other son, Kenneth, is the owner of the firm.

Mengelson's wife, Melinda, said she talked to her husband during the flight and he reported the plane was having unspecified problems, according to Lee Breeze of WCJB Channel 20 in Gainesville. Melinda Mengelson told the Gainesville Sun that her husband had served 20 years in the Coast Guard.

The Highway Patrol, Lorain County Coroner's Office, Lorain County Sheriff's Department, Lorain County Emergency Management, Oberlin Fire Department and EMS, Lorain County Metro Parks, Lorain County Regional Airport Security, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were all on the scene late Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the 10-seat plane is owned by Mitts Corp. in Gainesville, Fla. The Highway Patrol said the plane is an MU-2B, made by Mitsubishi. A 2007 report by CNBC said the MU-2 had been in 111 fatal crashes up until that time with 330 people killed since it was introduced in 1963. Mitsubishi representatives will be at the crash site today, The Associated Press reported.

In one of the more prominent deaths associated with an MU-2 crash, South Dakota governor George S. Mickelson was killed, along with seven others, in 1993. In 2006, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., called for a congressional investigation into the plane after fatal crashes of the model in the Denver area. reported the plane departed Gainesville Regional Airport a little after 11 a.m. for the 2 hour, 38 minute flight.

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said the FAA was working with the National Transportation Safety Board, which would likely take several weeks to determine the cause of the crash.

Contact Cindy Leise at or Melissa Hebert at

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[Avon Mayor James Smith comments]

NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 1-19-10, By SCOT ALLYN and RICHARD PAYERCHIN

``VERMILION TOWNSHIP -- Donald A. Brown, the inventor of the drop ceiling, had a mind that never stopped inventing, a long-time friend said yesterday.

Brown, 89, his wife, Shirley, 87, and two pilots died yesterday when the plane bringing the couple home from a trip to Florida to visit family nose-dived into a field at the Lorain County Regional Airport.

The plane was flown by Wesley Roemer, 30, of Gainesville, Fla., and John Mengelson, 46, of Florahome, Fla., believed to the co-pilot.

Avon Mayor Jim Smith said he knew Brown for more than 20 years, since Brown owned property in Avon and was interested in how the city would develop. Smith recalled Brown as a very wealthy man, but also soft-spoken and still a dazzling thinker into his later years.

"He was a very dry person, but very serious," Smith said. "He was always thinking, always working to invent something like a new type of theater seating or bomb survival shelter. But you'd see him at Wal-Mart and probably think he was just another guy."

Brown's home, on Lake Erie in Vermilion, was a multi-million dollar showplace with its own marina, barber shop and helicopter pad, Smith said.

"When you walked into his house it felt like you were walking into the 22nd century," Smith said. "He'd push a button and walls would disappear. His wife didn't like to back up her car, so he had a turntable installed in the garage floor to turn the car around."

Brown swam every day and had an impressive stream of ideas, Smith said. "One time, when I spent about three or four hours with him, he bounced about 15 ideas off me," Smith said. "He was a brilliant human being. His death is tragic, just tragic."

Brown was extremely talented and a great person, said Larry Bettcher, president of Bettcher Industries in Birmingham. "He was a friend, and we'll miss him greatly," Bettcher said.

Brown became known for "Accessible Suspended Ceiling Construction," patent No. 2,984,946, filed Sept. 8, 1958, and awarded May 23, 1961. "This invention relates to a suspended tile ceiling," his patent summary said.

Earlier tile ceilings had interlocking panels that required the removal of many contiguous tiles to get to conduits, ducts and pipes hidden above the hanging panels.

"Obviously, this is a time-consuming job, especially where the ceiling spans a large room and the desired point of access is in the center of the ceiling," Brown's patent summary said. "The primary object of the present invention is to provide a suspended ceiling construction in which access may be obtained at any desired location which may be predetermined before the ceiling is erected."

Brown also started Donn Products Inc. in Westlake, a ceiling tile maker that in the 1980s was purchased by USG Corp.

"The Donn Products Corporation built its large facility on the west side of Bassett Road just south of the railroad adding to that manufacturing plant in 1963," according to "You've Come a Long Way Westlake," William M. Robishaw's history of Westlake, published in 1993 by the Westlake Historical Society.

"The Donn corporation is a recognized world leader in its field, the manufacture of interior building products, such as ceilings and movable wall systems. The ceilings of the original Bassett Elementary School building were manufactured right here in Westlake in the Donn Products plant. In 1982, the corporation had over 1,500 employees worldwide."

Brown and his family occasionally appeared in news reports. In 2008, Brown sold 103 acres in Avon on the north side of Chester Road between Seton Road and an area near the western end of Schneider Court. The buyer was the Westlake-based Richard E. Jacobs Group, which in 2008 also bought 54 acres on the south side of Chester fronting I-90, according to a news report from the time.

Brown's palatial home in Vermilion Township, invisible from US 6 behind earthen mounds, became a nautical landmark sometimes called the Castle by anglers and boaters who could see it from the water.

The sea also was the scene of tragedy for Brown's family. In 1989, Brown's son, Kevin Brown, 37, died instantly when his boat, "Team Skater," rolled during competition in the Trump Castle World Championships of Powerboat Racing off Atlantic City, N.J.

The younger Brown had been a top competitor with the Great Lakes Offshore Powerboat Racing Association. He and racing partner, Jim Dyke, won two national races, several divisional events and a national championship.''


NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 1-19-10, By KELLY METZ,

``NEW RUSSIA TOWNSHIP -- A Vermilion inventor and his wife, coming home from visiting family in Gainesville, Fla., and two Florida pilots, all died when the 10-passenger plane they were in nose-dived into a field at the Lorain County Regional Airport yesterday ...

Brown was the inventor of the drop ceiling tile and sold his company, Donn Products in Westlake, to USG, of Chicago, in 1986. The Browns lived on a large estate along Lake Erie in Vermilion Township.

The Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 plane nose-dived into the ground around 2:03 p.m., Elyria Highway Patrol Post commander Lt. Travis Hughes said, when pilot Wesley Roemer, 30, of Gainesville, Fla., was attempting to land. Also onboard was 46-year-old John Mengelson, of Florahome, Fla., believed to be the co-pilot.

The pilots worked for Kenn Air in Gainesville, owned by the Browns' son, Kenneth. Another son, Kevin, 37, was killed in 1989 when competing in a power boat race in Atlantic City, N.J. ...

Hughes said they didn't begin extricating the bodies until after 6 p.m. The wreck, seen from Oberlin Road, was amid brush and near the tree line on the north side of the 1,120-acre airport, he said. The cockpit was heavily damaged and the wings were nearly torn off the plane, he added. He said it is not known if the plane flipped and couldn't confirm whether weather was a factor.

A meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Cleveland reported the visibility with fog was two miles, not conditions that would prohibit flying, and it was overcast 500 feet, which means the clouds were 500 feet high.

Lorain County Administrator James Cordes said he was told by witnesses at the scene the plane was coming in for landing, came up short, then lunged over before corkscrewing to the ground. Cordes said the FAA would be handling the major portion of the investigation, and there was no defect within the airport equipment. Johnston Aviation, which manages the airport, declined comment.

The Highway Patrol Post in Elyria, Carlisle Fire Department, Oberlin Fire Department, Amherst Fire Department, LifeCare, the Lorain County coroner, the Lorain County Sheriff's Office, Lorain County Metro Parks, Lorain County Regional Airport Security, the Civil Air Patrol and FAA officials were on the scene ...''


OBITUARY from The Plain Dealer, 1-20-10, By Grant Segall

``Donald and Shirley Brown launched world's biggest drop ceiling business

Donald Aubrey Brown (1920-2010)

Shirley Elizabeth (Green) Brown (1922-2010)

Survivors: Two sons, Keith of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Ken of Gainesville, Fla.; six grandchildren; three great- grandchildren; and a brother of Donald's.

VERMILION TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- In 1947, Don Brown ran into an old Army buddy who built ceilings. While lunching with him, Brown glanced up and began to get an idea. The idea became Donn Products, the world's biggest maker of drop ceilings.

Investigators are analyzing Monday's airplane crash that claimed four people, including Brown, 89, and his wife, the former Shirley Green, 87.

Meanwhile, friends and family are recalling the long success stories of Donald, a tireless inventor and entrepreneur, and Shirley, a quiet, meticulous woman who helped organize his business and their personal lives.

"He was a very creative man, a classic entrepreneur, with a restless, curious mind," Bill Foote, head of USG Corp., the conglomerate turning out Donn products today in Westlake and elsewhere, said Wednesday.

"Don Brown was brilliant," said Mayor Jim Smith of Avon, where Brown owned property. Brown would stop by City Hall with photographs he'd shot around the country of oddities, such as ice-sculpture machines, and ask, "What do you think of this for Avon?"

Shirley Brown was a legal secretary in Cleveland and her native Detroit. She helped administer Donn in the early years and filled the shelves of a big family safe with tidy records of her husband's discharge, citizenship and more.

Donald Brown was born in Galt, Ontario, on Henry Ford's birthday and became the kind of person who valued the link. He moved to Detroit at 10 and went to high school there with Shirley.

Don graduated from the Lawrence Institute of Technology in 1943 and enlisted. He had his first date with Shirley on leave and married her in August, 1944.

Technical Sgt. Brown fought that winter in the Battle of the Bulge. He also developed a successful prototype of a new machine gun with less recoil.

After the war, he became an engineer at Ford Motor Co. and met its founder. In 1947, tinkering in his parents' garage, he invented a machine to make an aluminum ceiling grid, so workers could remove small panels and reach pipes, wires and ducts.

In 1948, Brown joined Midwest Acoustical Corp. and built a home in Bay Village. In 1952, he quit, took a second mortgage and started Donn, with two n's for flair and uniqueness. He earned many patents for ceiling suspension systems of steel and aluminum. He gradually branched out into access floors and wall partitions.

[The legend is that Don Brown was making product with his machine at the east end of Detroit Road in Avon in a commercial/industrial area. He was refused permission by the Avon City Fathers to build a plant. So, with the backing of Bill Bosworth (William Bosworth), he built the Donn Products plant in Westlake.

Bill Bosworth owned Bosworth Airport, running from Nagel Road to Jaycox Road in Avon, later known as Mather Airport (operated by Arlo Mather), and finally known as the Red Tail housing development, after Bosworth donated the land to Florida State University.] ...

When USG bought it in 1986, Donn was grossing more than $300 million per year, with 15 plants and nearly 3,000 employees in Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and more. USG still runs Donn's old plant in Westlake with 183 workers.

The Browns built a huge lakefront home in Vermilion Township in 1992. Brown installed a breakfast nook that rotated and rose three stories for varied views of the lake. He installed a roundtable in the garage so Shirley wouldn't have to back out her car.

He filled the basement with some 20 workers developing his inventions. One creation was a blast shelter 80 feet long and 10 feet across. Brown funded a test through the U.S. Department of Defense ...

Brown belonged to the Catawba Island Club and the Cleveland Yacht Club. He was also a licensed pilot. The Browns' three boys became similar entrepreneurs and outdoorsmen. Their middle son Kevin became a top powerboat racer and died in a 1989 crash.

Keith Brown, the oldest, tries to turn around bankrupt businesses. Ken Brown, the youngest, owns Capra Goat Farm and Kenn Air in Gainesville, Fla.

Kenn Air pilots John Mengelson and Wesley Roemer were flying the Browns home from Gainesville Monday [1-18-10] afternoon in a plane that crashed at Lorain County Regional Airport in Elyria, killing all four aboard. Investigators have found no apparent causes for the crash yet and said that they may need to keep studying it for up to a year.''

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