Gordon K. Stephens, of Bradenton, Fla., and Manitowoc, Wis., who founded Ironwood Plastics Inc. in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1979, died on Jan. 27. He was 87.
The cause of death was colon cancer and complications from the disease. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, B. Joan (Wilson) Stephens.
According to an obituary from Ironwood Plastics, his life ended in dramatic fashion: A Caribbean cruise, Mexican hospital, air ambulance and a struggle at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. When he died, he was surrounded by his wife, four sons, two daughters-in-law and numerous grandchildren.
Stephens had an epic passion for the Upper Peninsula. After being forced to leave the U.P. as a young teenager because of the economic pressures of World War II, he was educated at the Henry Ford Trade School in Detroit as a tool and die maker.
He loved hunting, fishing and exploring the northern woods, and in 1979, at the age of 47, he left a stable career to start a plastics injection molding company, choosing Ironwood, Mich., on a handshake with the mayor. The business grew, and a second division, in Two Rivers, Wis., was founded in 1987.
The business eventually expanded to more than 200 employees. Gordon Stephens retired in 1999, his sons took over and in 2010, the family sold Ironwood Plastics to CTB Inc., a division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Gordon Stephens raised four sons, Mark, Gregg, Rob and Scott and their families, including 12 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Although his formal education was a high school diploma, he embraced lifelong learning. He was extremely well read and lived history and travel. In his fifties, he became a private pilot. At 61, he rode a bicycle from California to Georgia. He attempted the northern route across the U.S. a few years later but went over the handlebars in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in a rainstorm and broke his collar bone.
Stephens was preceded in death by his parents, Vincent and Amanda, his sister Dorothy and his brother Richard. His brother Elvin survives.
A memorial service is planned for Feb. 1 at 3 p.m. at the Brown & Sons Funeral Home in Bradenton, Fla. Immediately afterward, the family will host a get-together at the Perico Bay Clubhouse.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks people to consider making donations to the American Cancer Association, Shriners Hospitals for Children, St. Jude's or the Alzheimer's Foundation.