Martin Leo Saper

March 31, 2017

Martin Leo Saper (BS MECH EGR '41), East Lansing, died March 27, 2017, due to heart failure. He was 100 years old.

He was born on Nov. 28, 1916, in Jackson, Michigan, to a Russian émigré, Isaac Saper, and Rosella (Rosenberg) Saper, the daughter of Romanian emigrants.Martin Saper (BS MECH EGR '41) and his son, Roy Saper (BS COMP SCI '73) were regular attendees of the college's GOLD Club celebration each year. Martin Saper was usually the oldest alumnus at the annual spring ceremony. He died March 27 at the age of 100.

In the early 1930s, he was an acrobat in the Lewis Brothers three-ring circus that toured the eastern U.S. 

At Jackson Junior College (1935-37), he played violin in the orchestra, performed in theater productions, was on the basketball team, played intramural sports, and was in the Men’s Club. 

Saper graduated from Michigan State College in 1941 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. His lifelong membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers started then. At Michigan State, he was active with Hillel and played in the orchestra. 

His first job was designing gauges for the manufacture of machine guns at Detroit Ordnance. 

He married Thelma Cardon on Feb. 23, 1942, in New York. Still newlyweds, he enlisted in the Army Air Force July 10, 1942, receiving his commission as an Engineering Maintenance Officer on his 26th birthday in 1942. He served in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater during WWII, and returned home as a captain on Jan. 2, 1946. He continued to serve in the reserves until May 1955. 

After the War, Saper settled in Ann Arbor where, for Physicists Research Company, he designed an industrial measuring device that was successfully patented. 

From 1948 to 1955, he engineered and managed numerous pipeline projects for Jackson-based Gentry Pipeline Construction Co., piloting the owner’s plane to worksites around the country and designing a boring machine marketed to the oil and gas industry. In Jackson he designed and built his first home and furniture, using skills learned from his father, a finish carpenter. 

In 1953 and 1954 he also was in partnership with his brother, operating Bonafide Concrete Company in Jackson. 

In 1954 he moved to Flint where (from 1955 to 1966) he designed, built and operated the three Top Hat Auto Washes. In Flint he was an active supporter of the Flint Institute of Arts and cultural community, PTA president, and involved Kiwanian.

In 1966 at age 49, he retired, but soon moved his family to Louisville, Kentucky, to direct operations for Industrial Services of America, a large seven-state solid waste hauling business. He designed and constructed a large industrial recycling plant there and, in 1970, retired a second time. In Louisville he was very active with the Speed Art Museum, local theater, helping form a new Jewish congregation, and volunteering for a senior citizen’s program. 

He produced the largest reunion of CBI WWII veterans at a convention in Louisville. He was recognized by President Clinton at the White House for his activities strengthening veterans employment opportunities and was named Veteran Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1995. 

After his second retirement he created Bilt-Rite Construction Company, building homes in Southern Indiana; Venture Development Company, developing subdivisions; and Ad-venture, a business building in-ground swimming pools. He retired a third time on his 65th birthday in 1981. 

In 1991 he moved to East Lansing where he continued his service as the Small Business Administration National Director of Veteran’s Affairs for SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives), and served as a mentor counseling entrepreneurs starting or expanding their business. The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce recognized him with its Small Business Advocate of the Year award in 2001 for his dedication and service to entrepreneurs and those in business seeking counseling. His office was decorated with numerous awards and commendations for his service to veterans and other organizations. 

His funeral was March 28 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 1924 Coolidge Road in East Lansing. Bural was in Temple Beth Israel Cemetery in Jackson.

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