An influential figure in Rochester-area philanthropy and one of its most successful entrepreneurs, John Summers Jr., universally known as Dutch, deliberately kept a low profile.
Summers, 84, passed away Friday. His death was announced by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. The cause was not stated.
“I have met plenty of people in my life but no one quite like Dutch,” Chamber president Robert Duffy wrote in a LinkedIn post. “A tough business leader—who always believed that both sides should win. He owned/ran businesses across the globe—and kept all of the information he needed to run them—at his fingertips—In a spiral notebook.”
Beginning in 1965, when at 26 he took the reins of a small Rochester tool machining company, Summers steadily built a business empire with global reach spanning 14 industries and several states. Meanwhile, typically working behind the scenes, he funded scholarships for disadvantaged youths, financially supported area education institutions and charities like the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, and was deeply involved in civic affairs.
Summers was born in Rochester, grew up in Fairport, and attended Rochester Institute of Technology. As a young man, he began working at Jasco Tool Inc., founded by his father in 1951. He grew the small machine shop into a holding company that oversaw four local firms.
After Jasco was acquired by Michigan-based Arch Global Precision LLC in 2014, Summers established and headed Graywood Cos. Inc., a private equity investor and holding company whose interests have included manufacturing, pharmaceutical development and real estate holdings in the Rochester area, North Carolina, Florida and Massachusetts.
“He bought struggling companies—and brought them back to life,” wrote Duffy.
Summers was a member of the 2010 class of Rochester Business Hall of Fame inductees and in 2018 he received the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award from RIT’s Saunders College of Business.
Deeply involved in business ventures, Summers devoted at least as much time and energy to charitable work and civic involvement.
Through scholarship programs and grants handed out by the John and Jayne Summers Foundation, a charitable arm Summers and his wife Jayne founded, Summers supported local educational institutions including the University of Rochester, Nazareth College, Monroe Community College and RIT. He also supported organizations like Encompass, which provides supports some 2,400 pre-K to 12th-grade students in Monroe and Livingston counties.
With some frequency, Summers privately helped scores of individuals facing the prospect of dropping out of school, recalls Susan Holliday, the former publisher of the Rochester Business Journal whom Summers recruited to the Rump Group, a locally focused civic organization he founded.
Summers would encounter individuals whose educations he privately helped finance by chance. The key point for Mr. Summers in deciding to advance such funds, says Holliday, was his satisfaction that beneficiaries would go on to make productive contributions.
“If I could somehow be a small catalyst to teach people how to help themselves,” Summers himself said, explaining his motivation for charitable giving in a 2011 video for Junior Achievement. “The person giving the love or the time or the skill gets something back. It’s certainly never going to be monetary, so then it must be emotional or intellectual. I’ve simply done things in a way that made me feel good.”
In charitable work, Holliday recalls, Summers seldom sought recognition but was often “the one would step forward at the end of a drive to give the $600,000 or whatever was needed to close the gap.”
Wrote Duffy: “in a ‘selfie world’ where everyone proclaims every good deed publicly – with pictures—Dutch gave millions of dollars to people/organizations in need—privately, anonymously, and never sought credit or publicity.”
Summers formed the Rump Group in hopes of rallying area business and civic leaders to independently advance Rochester-area economic development and educational causes along lines he saw as productive.
Holliday was among a pantheon of local leading lights whom Summers tapped for membership. In shepherding the group’s initiatives, Summers was forceful, clear and definite in his opinions, she says.
Initially an independent, ad hoc organization, the Rump Group eventually folded into the Chamber, where Summers, who also had ties to local economic development organization Greater Rochester Enterprise, served as a director.
In dealing with local civic and business leaders, Summers’ “candor could be both scary and refreshing,” Duffy recalled.
Summers celebrated Jayne, his second wife, who he invariably introduced as “my bride,” as a boon companion and an equal partner in business. Also previously married, Jayne Summers headed the Kenneth Crosby Co., a Massachusetts-based distribution firm whose footprint she expanded to Rochester and New York.
“I got very, very lucky and found Jayne,” Summers said in the 2011 video. “Jayne came into my world. She’s given me a dimension that I didn’t have before. She’s a remarkably bright human being. She’s a very loving person and since she had a business dream, I didn’t have to explain to her what my dream was.”
Jayne Summers died in 2011 and Summers subsequently married former Rochester Chamber of Commerce president Sandra Parker, who also became a partner in Summers’ civic and charitable efforts. Together, they supported many community organizations and educational institutions. In 2018, the Genesee Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals honored Parker and Summers were honored as Outstanding Philanthropists. Parker died in 2021.
Summers is survived by his children Jeff Summers (Sherrie), Douglas Summers (Harold Willson), Todd Summers (Casey), Andrew Holland (Janet), Susan Conrado (Ron), and Kenny Holland (Laura); grandchildren Corey Summers and Austin Summers; sisters-in-law Susie Summers and Kathy Summers; and his dear friends Tina Bianca, Mike Weed (Dawn) and Ken Marvald (Kelley DeMonte).
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].
The number of people that benefitted from his kindness and generosity is incalculable. It is interesting and refreshing to learn that he felt that, “both sides should win.” That is the direct result of the….. art of negotiating. It can be done and negotiating with that mission in mind ought to be adopted by educators, politicians and the like. It would be a better world to be sure.
That was a great article about a Rochester icon.