Benjamin Fiterman left North High School in the Great Depression of the 1930s, going to work for the family carton-making business.
After earning service medals as an infantryman during World War II, he returned to the family business, leading it as it became a half-billion-dollar carton and recycling business, with plants in several states such as Minnesota, Texas and Mississippi, as well as in Mexico.
Fiterman, 87, who was chairman of the board of Liberty Diversified Industries of New Hope, died Saturday at his home in Edina.
He stepped down as chief executive of the firm in 1976 after suffering a heart attack. He fought off cancer five years ago.
In 1918, his father, Jack, started the business in north Minneapolis, collecting discarded wooden crates and turning them into boxes and also making barrels. Over the years, the firm moved into making burlap bags, cardboard boxes, paper recycling, building materials and office products.
"When Dad came back from military service, he added so much passion and creativity that spurred our growth," said his son, Mike of Minnetonka, who now leads the company.
Fiterman's wife, Bernice, of Edina also worked at the firm for decades.
David Lenzen, executive vice president of the company, called Fiterman a people person. Many workers are long-term employees of the company, and all his customers had his home phone number, able to reach him night or day.
Fiterman brought innovation to the business, expanding it and starting new divisions, said Lenzen.
He played leadership roles in several charitable organizations, such as serving as campaign chair for the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, a group that helps the needy worldwide. He received its King David award in 1992.
When he was an active fundraiser for Minneapolis' United Way campaign, he would tell audiences how he benefited from the old Community Chest when he was a boy, using the services of Minneapolis settlement houses.
Fiterman was wounded at the very end of WWII, when his platoon was ordered to take a German unit making a last stand on a hill in Italy.
Many of his platoon were killed or wounded, and he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, said his son.
For years, Fiterman didn't talk about the war, but he went to annual Veterans Day ceremonies at Fort Snelling, his last in 2006.
"He was the most patriotic person I knew," said his son.
Not many years ago, his family had heard about a Veterans Affairs program that awarded school credit for military training and service.
After his family applied to the VA for credit, they found that Fiterman had enough to graduate.
At age 80, wearing cap and gown, he got his diploma in a ceremony at North High School in Minneapolis.
"He was so proud of that," said his son.
In addition to his wife of 67 years and his son, he is survived by his daughters, Carolyn Fiterman of Golden Valley and Serene Simon of Edina; brother, Maurice of Baltimore; sister, Sylvia Sorkin of Golden Valley; seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.