Walter Fineberg of St. Paul, who once led his family's surplus store and retail clothing business and became a real estate broker, succeeded because he figured out what his customers wanted.

He had a "passion for competing," said family members, adding he was the 1989 Senior Olympics table tennis champion.

Fineberg, who was president of his family's business, the old U.S. Mail Order Co. of St. Paul, died Sept. 4 in St. Paul. He was 94.

"He enjoyed the challenge of owning his businesses," said his son, John Fineberg of St. Paul. "He was very much his own person."

After graduating from Central High School in St. Paul in 1932, he attended the University of Minnesota, participating in a half-dozen intramural sports, including table tennis.

He worked in the family business for several years, and during World War II, he served in Italy as an Army radio operator, rising to staff sergeant.

After the war ended, he returned to the family business, serving as its president in the 1960s until the firm was sold in 1968.

Over the years, the family had Army surplus and work-clothing stores in cities such as Superior, Wis., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as well as in South St. Paul and St. Paul.

In the 1960s, he leased space in a Twin Cities discount store, selling men's and boy's wear.

"What made him successful in business was his attention to what the customer wanted," said his son, who worked for his father.

As an adult, he played golf, but at 59, he took up table tennis again.

He thought he could compete, but, at first, he barely scored against accomplished opponents.

"He found out he wasn't very good, and was shocked by it," said his son.

So he practiced and went on to compete for 16 years, winning the national championship for his age group in 1989.

"The real passion came out when he was playing table tennis," said his son, who said he learned about life and work from his father.

During World War II, he wrote daily to his daughter, Carolyn, enclosing a stick of gum in the envelope.

"He was my greatest supporter," said son John.

He had a quirky sense of humor, and said stuff like, "I have three kids, one of each," or "Heredity doesn't run in our family," reported John.

A nearly fatal car accident led to his retirement from his real estate brokerage and investing business in 1981.

He was divorced from his first wife.

In addition to John, he is survived by his wife, Mary (Bonnie) of Little Canada; daughters, Carolyn Hall of San Francisco; his other son, Thomas (Fineberg) Roedoc of Sausalito, Calif.; sister, Eunice Hurwitz of St. Paul; brother, Marvin of Mendota Heights; stepson, David Genskay of Duluth; stepdaughter, Rory Perrine of St. Paul; one granddaughter, eight step grandchildren and 20 step great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.