As a banker and businessman, Ralph Bruins had a knack for connecting and convincing people. But friends and family say it was his business savvy for the community that left a mark in Minneapolis.

The Richfield man spent years giving back, from delivering care packages to co-founding Urban Ventures, a nonprofit that's turned porn shops, crack houses and junk yards in the Central and Phillips neighborhoods into soccer fields, businesses and family programs.

"Nobody did it like Ralph," said Art Erickson, Urban Ventures' other founder. "If I was the visionary, Ralph was a connector, a deal maker and a closer."

Bruins died June 16 at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center after a five-year battle with progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disorder. He was 73.

"He served God with a big heart and used his financial skills for good in the community," said his son Tim, of Ballwin, Mo. "I think the community is losing a leader."

Raised by a single mother, Ralph Bruins graduated from Mound High School, spent two years in the U.S. Navy and started work as a bank teller. He rose to bank president by the age of 32 and was nationally recognized as a top small-business lender.

He didn't hesitate to share his success. Each year, he loaded Thanksgiving care baskets into the family's station wagon to give to those who needed them. At Christmas, he told his four children to make coffeecakes for three special people and to deliver them while singing carols. When he wanted his church to deliver food to poor families, he helped start the Loaves and Fishes program.

"All Ralph's life was about helping out people in need," said his son Dave, of Rosemount.

"People would come to him and say, 'I have nobody to turn to,'" said son Tom, of Minnetonka. "And my dad would say, 'Now you do.'"

Bruins wasn't immune from his own difficulties. In 1994, he served a nine-month prison term for defrauding Summit Bank in Richfield on orders from its owner. It derailed his 25-year career, but not his passion to give back.

Like the Lake Street area he helped to rebound, Bruins resurrected his career with the help of Erickson. Their idea: Save troubled neighborhoods by bringing businesses back.

They launched Urban Ventures in 1993. One by one, they bought buildings to turn into job-training, youth recreation and fathering centers. Two acres of junk yards were transformed into soccer fields.

Bruins used his financial expertise and his contacts, once getting a loan by calling billionaire financier and Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

In addition to his sons, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Sue, of Savage; daughter, Ann Miller, of Burnsville; brothers Richard, of New Hope, and Jim Roufs, of Delano; sister, Mary Schmitz, of Bloomington, and seven grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with visitation an hour before at St. Edward's Catholic Church, 9401 Nesbitt Av. S., Bloomington.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141