George Ruppel liked jigsaw puzzles. Castles, seascapes, farm scenes - it didn't matter. The wider and more difficult they were, the better.
His ability to master advanced puzzles mirrored the skills that guided him through a public and influential life. After moving to Pinellas Park nearly 60 years ago, Mr. Ruppel helped establish a machine shop, Modern Tool and Die, and the city's first bank.
Behind his acumen for nuts and bolts and dollars and cents lay a purpose - the idea that businesses and banks exist to help people better their lives. He carried the same ethic into politics and public service, serving as a Pinellas County Commission chairman and sitting on the boards of numerous organizations.
Mr. Ruppel died Saturday at home in Indian Shores. He was 90.
He joined two brothers in 1952 to build Modern Tool and Machine Co. in Pinellas Park, the same year he moved his family there. The company later changed its name to Modern Tool and Die.
In 1958, he and other investors founded First Park Bank - the first in the city - where he served as president.
Mr. Ruppel wasn't finished. In a campaign statement in 1964, he said he was running for the District 1 County Commission seat because he had been critical of the past several boards and was embarrassed by their ineptitude. He also recommended board members each accept a $5,000 pay cut.
Mr. Ruppel won the seat and was later named chairman. He lost a re-election bid in 1968 in a Republican sweep but was appointed by the commission to head the Pinellas Opportunity Council, a poverty-fighting organization. In the 1970s, his interests turned increasingly to banking. Mr. Ruppel and others formed Community Banks in Pinellas and Pasco counties, serving as vice chairman until they were sold in the mid 1980s. He was also a founding director of Marine Bank in St. Petersburg from 1986 to 1998.
Mr. Ruppel was born in Sheboygan, Wis., in 1920, in the middle of 13 children. The family moved to Flint, Mich., where he attended Baker Business University for two years. After a stint in the Army Air Corps, where he was trained as a fighter pilot before World War II ended, he returned to Flint and apprenticed in tool and die making at AC Spark Plug. His marriage to his first wife, Dorothy, lasted about 20 years. He and his second wife, Sandy, were married in the early 1960s. Mr. Ruppel remained involved as an owner and director at Modern Tool and Die until its sale in 2008.
Almost into the last week of his life, Mr. Ruppel continued to piece complex jigsaw puzzles together.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com.
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Born: Sept. 2, 1920.
Died: May 7, 2011.
Survivors: wife Sandy; children Judy Holmes, Karen Broerman, Kim Seidl, Jamie Carpenter, Julie McNitt, Dennis Ruppel and Randy Ruppel; sisters Esther and Ruth; brother Clarence; 18 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren.
Service: 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday; 3030 Union St., Clearwater.