Frank S. Marra's booming voice has been silenced; his charismatic personality stilled. The 71-year-old Plastics Hall of Fame member died May 23 in his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., after a bout with cancer.
Marra's plastics career spans 48 years. Friends recalled Marra as a charismatic person who motivated people. In the plastics industry, his work touched D-M-E Co., a mold components maker in Madison Heights, Mich.; the Plastics Hall of Fame; and Ferris State University.
For years, Marra, who had a deep voice and fast-paced sense of humor, served as master of ceremonies at the black-tie Plastics Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
Marra, himself, entered the hall in 1997.
``He was a wonderful man. It's absolutely a great loss for the entire plastics industry,'' said Fred Schwab of Ann Arbor, Mich., an industry veteran and fellow hall of famer.
Marra was born in 1927 in Clarksburg, W.Va., the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a coal miner. When he was a year old, his father moved to Detroit and took a job as a toolmaker in the automotive industry.
Marra went to a Detroit vocational school and worked as an apprentice toolmaker. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Marra earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.
Ted Quarnstrom, founder of Detroit Mold Engineering (D-M-E), hired the young engineer. Quarnstrom originated standardized mold bases for injection molding as an alternative to custom-built bases.
``I took a job at a buck-and-a-half an hour at this small company,'' Marra recalled in a 1997 Plastics News story.
After World War II, D-M-E employed just 20. Sales were less than $1 million. When Marra left in the early 1980s, D-M-E had sales of $160 million and employed more than 1,000. Marra, who rose to become president, led D-M-E on a global expansion. The firm added production in Europe and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.
He started the I.T. Quarnstrom Foundation to raise funds to train mold makers.
In 1961, VSI Corp. bought D-M-E from Quarnstrom.
``Frank was the most creative guy I've ever known, but with a real, common-sense approach,'' said Mason Phelps, former VSI president and chief executive officer. ``He was absolutely honest and totally loyal to the people he worked with. He worked like hell for the other guy.''
Jerry Lirette, today the president of D-M-E, was hired by Marra.
``He was very dynamic. He was a motivator, and he would get the job done. Once Frank was focused on it, it was going to happen,'' Lirette said.
Marra was promoted to VSI president in 1982. The following year, he was named senior vice president of Fairchild Corp., which had acquired VSI.
He retired and became a consultant in 1985, forming Marra International Associates.
During his years at D-M-E, Marra led a fund-raising effort to build a Plastics Engineering Center at Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich.—one of the nation's top plastics programs.
Marra's enthusiasm extended to the Plastics Hall of Fame, Schwab said. In the early 1970s, the hall was languishing in inactivity, even skipping a few induction years. Schwab decided plastics deserved better.
``The first thing I did, I called Frank,'' Schwab recalled. They enlisted William T. Cruse, long-time leader of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., and the Plastics Academy, which runs the hall, was born.
The Plastics Hall of Fame was moved to the National Plastics Center and Museum in Leominster, Mass., in 1992.
Marra served as a member of the museum's national board of governors. He spearheaded more fund drives. His commanding voice lives in a video he wrote and narrated about the Hall of Fame called, It Didn't Just Happen.
Marra is survived by his wife of 47 years, Phyllis; daughters Sarah Marra-Biggs of Watsonville, Calif., Terri M. Marra of Ann Arbor and Lisa Marra Robert of Ann Arbor; a brother; two sisters; and six grandchildren.
The family suggests donations to the Plastics Academy's Frank S. Marra Scholarship Fund, 2060 Coolidge Highway, Berkley, Mich. 48072.