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Honoring Local Developer Roger DeVille

Meet the Man Who Pioneered the Landscape of Stark County Real Estate and Beyond

Article by Jacquie Mazziotta

Photography by Walsh University

Originally published in Canton Lifestyle

Canton native and prominent real estate developer, Roger Deville, was recently presented an Honorary Doctorate of Business Degree from Walsh University during the school’s 60th commencement ceremony last month. At the age of 81, Deville has played an essential role in transforming Stark County since the 1960s. Today, he continues to leave a mark through his business acumen and philanthropy.

Roger was honored with the degree for his longtime dedication and support of his alma mater, as well as his success as one of the most prominent business leaders in the community. He is the namesake of DeVille School of Business and a longtime benefactor of the university. He accepted the degree with humility and honor and parted the following words of wisdom to the students.

“More than ever, the world needs educated people just like you who can think rationally and make good decisions. You are our hope.” 

“As a summa cum laude graduate of the business program in 1965, DeVille never forgot Walsh University, even as his career flourished. He has always lived a life of service as either a mentor, adviser, benefactor and board member of Walsh through the years. He has been giving back to the university for nearly 60 years,” says Dr. Tim Collins, President of Walsh University.

Roger was a student when he met the original seven founding brothers of Walsh University, of whom many were his instructors. Although the brothers have all passed, their legacy and impact on his life remains. 

“I remember them well. They were exceptional educators, and educating people was both their goal and reward. They didn’t get paid. Everything they did was selfless. They were dedicated to helping people, and they worked because they wanted to educate people. I thought that was a noble cause. There was inspiration from them — not at the moment, but it came later,” Roger says.

Growing up, Roger was primarily interested in sports, although he attributes exposure to the family’s lumber business as having an impact on his career. He worked summers, and his parents had a requirement that he attend school and get an undergraduate degree.  

“I had originally gone away to school in Oxford, Ohio, but I ran out of money and came home so I could live without paying for room and board. I’m the eldest of six kids, and my mom and dad could not afford to pay for my education. Walsh was the opportunity to get the degree that my mom and dad said I had to get. I believed them, so I went to school and got the degree,” he says. 

He credits his father as his inspiration and mentor, and growing up around lumber and building provided the framework for a lifelong career as a developer. 

“My dad did the most to guide, stimulate me. He was a good taskmaster, businessman, teacher and a good dad. He provided the foundation for me to be a good businessman and negotiator. He also gave back, and I saw that,” he says.  

After earning an accounting degree in 1965 from Walsh, Roger joined the corporate world at the Timken Company for a few years before taking a leave of absence to pursue an advanced degree. While attending school, he began investing in small inexpensive homes and duplexes in the early years. Eventually, he worked his way up to development of an apartment building and then expanded to many apartment buildings.  

“During that time in the 60s and 70s, real estate became a passion and very necessary. There were not enough apartments in our area, and as a result, apartments became a necessity. Baby boomers were all coming into the marketplace; they literally had nowhere to live. There weren’t any apartments available. This combined with the divorce rate, which was escalating terribly — 3,000 divorces every year in Stark County at that time, led to a desperate need for housing,” says Roger.  

It didn’t take long to realize he couldn’t continue with both school and building the business, so he continued to build as fast as the apartments could be built. Then he leased them, eventually building a portfolio of 1,000 apartments across Stark County. 

A chance meeting with Dave Thomas of Wendy’s Restaurants led to a 20-year lease of a building and grew from that. Roger owned a building and 20 acres located on Cleveland Avenue. The building was a notable restaurant, Avalon Restaurant, which was closing. "It was sort of a high school hangout like the show Happy Days,” he says.

Dave Thomas called and wanted to see the building, and the two met. Ultimately, Roger traveled to Columbus to learn more about this restaurant called Wendy’s. Then they talked again and arranged a 20-year lease with options to renew.

“He renewed all of them. Then about a year later, the restaurant was sold to two people who bought a franchise. They asked me to build more restaurants. So, I went out looking for places to build Wendy’s restaurants,” he says. 

He made the decision to divest his apartment holdings and concentrate fully on commercial development. And with that, he prefers leasing, and now builds only what he owns and then leases to business operators. He owns the property and leases to the user to provide the space to sell their products, whether food, appliances or coffee. 

“My forte is providing the know-how, land, capital and brick and mortar. Whether it’s Wendy’s, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, appliances or other businesses, I am a developer. The vast majority of commercial buildings are owned by the developer,” he explains. 

His focus shifted to commercial development and now spans several states including Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida. 

He recalls the most memorable experience during a project was uncovering mastodon bones from an elephant-like animal that roamed North America 10,000 years ago. 

“I accidentally unearthed the mastodon, which was the most complete find in the state of Ohio, as mastodon finds go. It was a neat find. After I donated it, I had calls from people offering to buy it for over a million dollars. It was found in a swampy area, and this contributed to the preservation of the bones. There were big ivory tusks and teeth,” he recalls. 

The skeleton, aptly named the Deville Mastodon, can be seen at the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. 

When it comes to community, Roger is known to be an advocate for social responsibility and sustainability. Throughout his career, he has incorporated eco-friendly designs and energy-efficient technologies into his projects. He is also recognized for his philanthropic efforts. 

Roger is humble when asked about philanthropy. However, he says philanthropy is a way of saying thank you to the community in which you are involved and helping others who need the help. 

“If you’re blessed to have a little extra, giving back is a way of saying thanks for blessing me,” he adds. “Walsh is the biggest recipient, but I have my church and there are other organizations I do like to help,” he says. 

Roger shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to inspire and mentor young developers, while his commitment to creating and maintaining sustainable and vibrant communities has laid the foundation for Canton for future generations. His legacy will continue to shape the city’s real estate landscape for many years. 

"More than ever, the world needs educated people just like you who can think rationally and make good decisions. You are our hope."

"If you're blessed to have a little extra, giving back is a way of saying thanks for blessing me."

  • Dr. Roger Deville and Dr. Jennifer DeVille
  • Dr. Roger DeVille and Walsh University President Dr. Tim Collins