Longtime machinery executive and Plastics Hall of Fame member Martin Stark died Nov. 21. He was 81.
Stark, who retired earlier this year as chairman of Bekum America, was particularly known for his role in workforce development and starting a German-style apprenticeship program at the company.
No cause of death was given.
Stark had a five-decade career in the plastics industry after emigrating to the United States from Germany with his wife and children in the late 1960s.
He was managing a bakery in Chicago and taking English classes when he took a job handling spare parts and procurement in the Skokie, Ill., office of injection molding machinery maker Battenfeld Corp.
After 12 years with Battenfeld, in 1980 he joined the newly-established U.S. subsidiary of German extrusion blow molding machinery builder Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH, in Williamston, Mich.
Stark rose through the ranks, and in 1992 became president and CEO of Bekum America and in 2010, added the title of chairman.
In 2018, he was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.
In an interview at the time with Plastics News, he talked about his long career, the move from Germany prompted by two brothers who had previously emigrated to Chicago, and the key role that Bekum's formal, European-style apprenticeship program has had for the company.
Stark credited a similar apprenticeship at the start of his career in Germany.
In announcing his retirement in September, the company said Stark had been honored by the German American Chamber of Commerce in 2013 for his efforts in workforce development.
Stark's entry into the plastics industry was almost happenstance.
He was working nights at the bakery in Chicago, taking afternoon English classes with refugees from the U.S. war in Vietnam, and not entirely satisfied with the baker's job.
His wife Erika wrote a letter to an advice columnist in a local German language weekly newspaper in Chicago, who introduced them to Constanze Flindt, a well-known figure in the U.S. plastics industry who had set up Battenfeld's U.S. operations in the early 1960s.
Both Erika, who had been a legal secretary in Germany, and Stark started working for the company soon after.
In his career, Stark received many industry accolades, including the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the blow molding division of the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Visitation and services are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 3 at St. Martha's Catholic Church in Okemos, Mich.