LONG TIME BUSINESS LEADER DIES IN FLORIDA
George M. Rice II, 83, of Pensacola, FL, formerly of Wilmington, OH, passed away peacefully Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, at Covenant Care Hospice after a lengthy illness with vascular dementia and heart complications. He was born in Wilmington’s Hale Hospital on Feb. 5, 1937 to Sam B. Rice and Alma “Polly” (West) Rice. George grew up in the family home on Peterson Place and attended Wilmington Schools until his sophomore year at WHS when he transferred to Kentucky Military Institute in Louisville, KY. He excelled in Military School as an athlete and a member of Band Company where he played the tenor sax. In his Senior year at KMI, he became Commander of Band Company which won the “Best Company” Award during graduation services for the Class of 1955. George enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University, became a member of the football team, a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity and the AFROTC.At the time of his graduation from OWU in 1959, he became a 2nd Lt. in the USAF. He was on Active Duty status in the Air Force for 4 1/2 years. He opted out of military service for 2 years to pursue a position with Armstrong Cork Company in NYC. While in NYC he attended Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church.It was in the Young Adult Group that he met a young nurse, Betty Jean Hesse, who had been invited to attend this group by one of her patients. Eight months later on Nov. 8, 1964,they were married in the First Reformed Church of the Palisades in Fort Lee, NJ, the same church where her grandparents, parents and both sisters had been married. In January 1965, George and Betty moved to Wilmington, OH, where George began working with his father Samand brother Birch in the family owned furniture store, G.M. Rice Furniture and Appliances.
During his 51 years in Wilmington, George was actively involved in the business community. George was the founder of the Wilmington Area Toastmasters International Club in 1966. Members from both the Clinton County Air Force Base and the business community joined that group which existed for over 6 years. George was also a member and past Director of the Wilmington Area Chamber of Commerce for 40 years.He was a member of the Wilmington Jaycees and was actively involved in the Miss Southwest Ohio Pageant Committee which was the first step to the Miss Ohio Pageant. In 1966 he joined the Wilmington Noon Rotary Club and was a member for 49 years. To say that George enjoyed Rotary would be an understatement. George loved Rotary and what it stood for, “Service Above Self”. He served on each committee at various times and also climbed the ladder of officers. In 1976, he served with honor as the 50th President of the Wilmington Noon Rotary Club.Whether he was scooping up ice cream at the Banana Split Festival, helping to set up booths for the former Rotary “Art Show on the Square”, or squeezing lemons at the “Lemon Squeeze” booth during the Clinton County Fair and Corn Festival, George was there. His last assignment for the Wilmington Club was serving as the chair for redesigning the Club Flag. Additionally, he was a member and Past President of the Downtown Retail Merchants Assoc., member and Past President of the Clinton County Cancer Board and member and past Director of the Clinton County YMCA. George was elected to Wilmington City Council representing the 3rd Ward in the early 1980’s and thoroughly enjoyed his time as an instructor at Southern State Community College in the Small Business Management Program.
In addition to being a businessman, his passion was his service to our country. In early 1966, he became part of the Air Force Reserve Unit at Clinton County Air Force Base in Wilmington. He was Aide to the commanding officer, General Donald J. Campbell until the Base closed in 1972. During his tenure at the CCAFB,the then Captain Rice attended and graduated from Squadron Officers School in Montgomery, AL. In 1975 he graduated from the Air War College Section at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH. Shortly after that, he transferred to Rickenbacker AFB in Columbus, OH, where he served as the Intelligence Office for the 302nd Tactical Squadron for 10 years. He remained in that position until he was promoted to Colonel in 1985. Shortly after his promotion, he was reassigned to Beighler Armory where he served as the Air Force Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer to the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department/State Area Command. He served in that position until June of 1990 when he retired from AF Active Reserve after 31 years of service. His U.S. military decorations included the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (2), Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Overseas Ribbon-Short and in 1990, he was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal.
George was a birth rite Methodist and grew up in the Wilmington Methodist Church. His great grandfather was a Methodist minister and dear friend of Bishop Steven Merrill who served the then “Ohio Conference”. George’s grandfather, “G. M.” Rice, for whom he was named, was named for Bishop Merrill. George was very active in the Wilmington UMC and served as a Sunday School teacher, Trustee, Chairman of the Usher Group and in 1975 served as the Chair of the Building Committee for the new Educational Wing. When the Rice’s moved to Pensacola, they became associate members of the WUMC and joined the Perdido Bay UMC as active members. Both George and Betty have been blessed with their membership at Perdido Bay UMC and feel they found a new extended family.
Prior to his advancing illness, George became a member of Five Flags Rotary Club in Downtown Pensacola. He enjoyed the new club very much as they had lunch meetings on Monday at noon with interesting speakers, just like they did in Wilmington. George found living in a military city with a large Navy Base not only interesting but stimulating. Military retirees love to tell stories about their careers and there are many military retirees in Pensacola. George’s love for his country and the military often found him visiting the US Naval Air Museum only 15 minutes from his new home. Anyone visiting the Rice’s were guaranteed a visit to the Base and Museum compliments of George.
During the celebration of his 80th Birthday,George was presented with a “Paul Harris Fellowship”. This donation and honor from his family, supports Rotary International work projects around the world.Colonel Rice is survived by his wife of 55 years, Betty Jean (Hesse), his daughter Wendy Rice-Isaacs(Jon Isaacs) of Coto de Caza, CA, his sonDr. Captain G. Merrill Rice (Dr. Carolyn) of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, granddaughters Jane and Lauren Isaacs, attending The Ohio State University,granddaughter, Carrigan Rice attending Georgetown University,grandson, Sam Rice of Norfolk, VA, a senior at Grandby IB High School, and his granddaughter Carson Rice of Yokosuka, Japan. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Jeanne Rice of Washington C.H., OH, a niece Allyson Rice Stultz(Jeff), nephew, Barry P. Rice both of Columbus, OH, and nieces and nephews in NJ and TX. He is preceded in death by his parents and younger brother, S. Birch Rice.
The family would like to thank the Staff of Creekside Memory Care Center, especially Ms. Linda and Ms. Nickoleigh of Cottage 7, where George resided for the last seven months. They would also like to commend and thank the staff of Covenant Care Hospice Inpatient Unit at the West Florida Hospital for their outstanding compassionate care during the final week of his life.
Funeral services with Air Force Honor Guard for Colonel Rice will be held at the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church on Saturday, Sept. 12th at 10:30 a.m. CST. Masks will be required. Services will also be live streamed on the church’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Rev. Dr. David Saliba and Rev. Dr. Levi Gardner will lead the service. Retired AF Chaplain, Donald Ailsworth, will assist at the Honor Guard Flag Ceremony. Family Funeral and Cremation Funeral Home is serving the family in Pensacola. Burial will take place in Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington, OH,at a later date. Littleton Funeral Home of Sabina, OH, will serve the family in Ohio.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the “Building the Heart” Fund of Perdido Bay UMC, 13660 Innerarity Point Rd, Pensacola, FL 32507, or to the Memorial Fund of the Wilmington United Methodist Church, 51 East Locust St.,Wilmington, OH 45177.