Self-described "St. Paul guy" Sherman Rutzick rose from selling candy on the streets as a kid to franchising coin laundromats to designing development deals that helped shape the city for 60 years.
Rutzick died Sunday at 92 at Sholom Home in St. Paul. His sons say their father watched baseball Saturday night and apparently died in his sleep.
Mayor Chris Coleman, who worked many projects with Rutzick as a council member on the West Side, described Rutzick's life as a "reflection of St. Paul" with his immigrant roots and up-by-the-bootstraps determination. "He succeeded by working hard and making lots of friends," Coleman said.
The mayor and family members described Rutzick as a hugely generous man who loaned money to troubled friends and loved real estate, politicians and baseball. He recently had been caring for his wife of 70 years, Margine, who has dementia.
His son Steve, a lawyer, said he often meets people who knew his dad and say, "'He's one of the nicest guys I've ever known.'"
"I can't tell you how many times I got that."
Said Mark Rutzick, his youngest son: "He was an incredible guy who was always happy to help people."
The elder Rutzick, at 22 years old in 1941, was leasing the ground floor at 251 E. 5th St. selling parking stalls for $4 a month. In a corner, he set up shop selling fan belts, washers and dryers. Rutzick grew up on the West Side flats after his father Louis fled the pogroms and emigrated from Lithuania in 1902.
Rutzick made his first real money franchising coin laundromats after World War II, when the wringer-washer era gave way to an apartment boom that Rutzick was ready to service. Since then, he developed Target store sites, bank headquarters, office buildings, condos, apartment complexes and Treasure Island Casino.
In an interview with the Star Tribune in 2006, Rutzick said, "I started selling ice cream and candy to downtown businesses when I was 10 and I've been hustling ever since. ... I love to make a deal."
Called the dean of St. Paul developers, he never considered a deal in Minneapolis and shrugged off the notion of retirement.
He told the newspaper six years ago of his plans for building a 280-condo, 33-story high-rise Penfield project on the corner of Minnesota and 10th Streets. "This will top 'em all," Rutzick said.
The proposal sank in July 2008 along with the condo market, but Coleman said the vision remains even as the city became the developer.
When Coleman campaigned for the City Council in 1997, he hadn't met Rutzick. "He had this reputation as a big downtown power broker, but when you came to meet him he was just a guy trying to make a buck, but he also had St. Paul's interests at heart," the mayor said.
His projects included turning the 1880s downtown headquarters of railroad baron James J. Hill into condos. He also developed the Gallery Towers and Professional Building, the former state Agriculture Department headquarters, the Commerce Building, the Drake Marble building, the Great Northern Lofts, Lot 270, Osceola Place, and banks, offices and senior apartments.
In addition to his wife and sons, Rutzick is survived by another son, James, and daughter Mavis Goldstein.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Temple of Aaron Synagogue, 616 S. Mississippi River Blvd.