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Like most of the country on Sept. 11, 2001, Jack Canetti watched the World Trade Center fall on television. Like millions of transplanted New Yorkers, he felt a deep connection to the twin towers, those gleaming monuments to heights achieved.

But Mr. Canetti's history with the towers was considerably more intimate than most Americans': He built them.

Beam by beam and bolt by bolt, he led the structural steel crews erecting Towers 1 and 2. It was dizzying, daunting work.

"You're up there in the skeleton of buildings in the center of New York," said Barbara Canetti, his daughter. "In the winter, it's maybe 2 degrees, the wind is whipping around, and you're right there on the East River."

Mr. Canetti was a structural steel foreman as both buildings rose to a then-record 110 stories. He continued work on the World Trade Center years after the buildings were officially completed in 1974. The towers were his last project before he retired.

When burning jet fuel melted the steel he had so carefully guided into place, it devastated him.

"He said, 'It felt like a piece of me came down,'" said Barbara Canetti, 59.

Ironwork had helped him raise a family and put three children through college. After moving to Pasco County in 1979, he decided to go to college and received an associate's degree. He spent his time helping the blind. He also played racquetball in the Senior Olympics.

Mr. Canetti died in Tampa on Tuesday, a week after a fall. He was 88.

He was born in Turkey and moved to Brooklyn before he was 1 year old. His family's native language was Spanish, owing to its Sephardic Jewish heritage. Mr. Canetti grew up speaking both Spanish and English.

The young Mr. Canetti was thick-set, muscular and shy. "He was the only Jewish kid in an Italian Catholic neighborhood. He used to get into altercations," said Esther Klein, another daughter. His father, a tailor, threatened to take the family back to Turkey - if he could just raise the $200 boat fare.

He was accepted into prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School but couldn't afford the streetcar fare and dropped out.

He lied about his age and enlisted in the Army in 1939, against his mother's wishes. He was stationed in Bermuda and wounded during World War II.

Back in Brooklyn, he went to a party and met Pearl Schochet, a pretty girl five years his junior. They argued all night.

"He came home and he said, 'I'm going to marry that girl,'" Klein recalled. "My grandmother said, 'She's such a nice girl. Why would you want to do that to her?'"

Mr. Canetti married Pearl in 1944. He opened a shop repairing radios. The new transistor technology later ran him out of business. His career turning point came around 1950, when a man who was impressed with Mr. Canetti's work ethic introduced him to the ironworkers union.

With the stranger vouching for him and a borrowed admission fee, Mr. Canetti joined Local 580, where he learned to work with structural steel, or red iron.

He learned to signal a crane operator, bolt columns together and walk on beams hundreds of feet off the ground.

"He loved every second of it," said Klein, 62. "He loved the challenge of it. He loved reading the plans and seeing it go from something on paper to a structure that would be there for the ages."

He worked on many large projects as a foreman, including the Tishman Building and the Albert Einstein Medical Center. His work on the World Trade Center lasted several years and gave him the most satisfaction, his family said.

At home, he tried out new hobbies for himself and daughters Esther, Barbara and Janet. He bought their equipment in sets of three.

Three archery bows. Three pairs of ice skates. Three fishing poles.

He built an ugly boat out of plywood. He dredged another boat out of a canal bottom and kept it in the back yard.

"It stunk to high heaven for almost a year," Klein said.

But piece by piece, he reassembled the boat and its engine until it ran. He named it Blue Star.

Mr. Canetti and his wife moved to Hudson in 1979, the same year he retired as an ironworker. It seemed more like a beginning than an end.

He earned an associate's degree at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

"If he had gotten his Ph.D. from Princeton, it could not have been more exciting," Klein said. "It was 'Yada, yada, no big deal' to us. But to him it was a real milestone."

He was at home in Hudson when United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Center.

"It was terrible," Klein said. "Being a New Yorker and having worked on the Trade Center, a part of him went with it."

Though he didn't talk much about the events of Sept. 11, Mr. Canetti left behind evidence of how much the World Trade Center meant to him. In the 1960s and 1970s he had taken up another hobby -photography.

A black and white shot he took in 1974 shows a brand-new World Trade Center seen through the churchlike arches of a Battery Park subway station. The twin towers shine in reflected light - towering over New York and all other buildings in the world.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or

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Jack Samuel Canetti

Born: Dec. 26, 1920.

Died: Sept. 8, 2009.

Survivors: Daughters, Esther Klein and her husband, Stu, Barbara Canetti and her husband, Carlos Rios, Janet Heitler and her husband, Henry; and four grandchildren.