Alva “Ted” Bonda, a leader in business, co-founder of the Cleveland Jewish News, and owner of the Cleveland Indians in the 1970s, died Oct. 22. He was 88.
“My dad was a passionate man, and he loved people,” says his son Thomas “Tom” Bonda. “For all his great success in business and politics, he was always much more comfortable in the bleachers than in the owner’s box.”
Mr. Bonda spearheaded a buyers’ group of community leaders and local business leaders to purchase the Indians franchise when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in 1972. He eventually brought up to 50 investors to his group, tenaciously holding onto the Indians, despite offers from potential buyers in other states.
“He was always a sports fan, but buying (the team) had less to do with the Indians than with Cleveland,” son Tom recalls. “He loved Cleveland, and he knew the city needed a baseball team. We had to keep that asset here.”
Mr. Bonda made baseball history by hiring Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the Major Leagues. “I didn’t do it for racial reasons … (Robinson) was good,” Mr. Bonda told the CJN in 1995.
In an act that will live in infamy, Mr. Bonda staged a 10-cent Beer Night at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1975, hoping to boost the paltry average attendance of 6,000 fans per game. The plan backfired, resulting in an on the field riot and forfeiture of the game.
“We had 28,000 people at the stadium. Unfortunately, 26,000 of them got drunk,” Mr. Bonda quipped in the 1995 interview.
Before selling the team in 1979, he granted John Adams n the famed Indians super fan and drummer who attended every game n his own designated seat in the bleachers. Even after he sold the team, Mr. Bonda frequently sat with Adams when he attended games.
Mr. Bonda also had a hand in bringing other sports teams to Cleveland. Among these were the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and lesser-known hockey, soccer and tennis teams.
A Cleveland native, Mr. Bonda graduated from Glenville High School. He didn’t attend college because he couldn’t afford it; rather, he went to work as a parking lot attendant. Mr. Bonda served in the Army during World War II. Upon his return, he took over operations of an Avis car rental franchise with business partner and childhood friend (future Senator) Howard Metzenbaum.
Soon the pair started earning extra cash by charging drivers to park in their Avis lot. They bought the parking lot at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and launched Airport Parking Co. of America. Now known as APCOA Inc., the two men’s business flourished, becoming the world’s largest parking company.
Mr. Bonda was president of APCOA for nine years. He also served as chairman of Avis’s advertising committee during the creation of its successful “We’re number 2. We try harder.” campaign. He was chairman of Avis and its parent company ITT Consumer Services Cor. for five years in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
In addition, Mr. Bonda served on several other corporate boards, among them Steak ’n Shake and Society National Bank (now KeyBank). He was an early investor and director of MCI.
Despite all his success, “he never forgot what it was to be a parking lot attendant,” says his longtime secretary Susan Hanley. She recounts how every year at holiday time, Mr. Bonda would take large sums of cash out of the bank and go around tipping parking lot attendants.
Mr. Bonda was part of a group of seven men who founded the Cleveland Jewish News in 1964. The founders wanted to create an English language, community-owned newspaper that would not be bound by the views of a single publisher. He was a life trustee of the paper.
“Judaism was important in his life,” says son Tom, who notes his father was raised Orthodox. “His beliefs were less about going to services then about mitzvot, doing for other people. He wanted to make sure people never forgot their Jewish heritage.”
His dedication to Cleveland went beyond sports. As he gradually retired from business in the 1980s, Mr. Bonda served as president of the Cleveland school board and as chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents. During his tenure as school board president, he campaigned diligently for the school levy, ultimately seeing the city pass its first operating levy in years.
Mr. Bonda was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs. Among his other awards were ORT’s Man of the Year, the Democratic Party’s RFK Memorial Award, and the American Cancer Society’s Award of Merit. He was inducted into both the Cleveland Business and Sports halls of fame.
A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Bonda supported his friend Howard Metzenbaum’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate. He also campaigned for George McGovern and Jimmy Carter in their presidential bids, and he supported the campaigns of Gov. Richard Celeste and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Mr. Bonda served on the boards of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Brandeis University, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Handgun Control Federation of Ohio, and Cleveland Works Inc.
A member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, Oakwood Country Club, and the Palm Beach Country Club, Mr. Bonda enjoyed golf, tennis and boating.
Mr. Bonda was predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Marie C. (née Ermisch). He is survived by daughter Penny of Washington, D.C.; sons Joel of Kalispell, Mont., and Thomas; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother Stanley. Contributions may be made to the Cleveland Municipal School District’s “Power of One” program, 1440 Lakeside Ave., 44114; or the Cleveland Baseball Federation, 21514 Halburton Road, Beachwood 44122, or http://www.clevelandbaseballfederation.org.