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Two Rivers was special place for Ironwood Plastics founder Gordon Stephens, who died Monday

Herald Times Reporter (Manitowoc) logo Herald Times Reporter (Manitowoc) 1/30/2020 Patti Zarling, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter
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TWO RIVERS — Gordon Stephens, founder of Ironwood Plastics, died Monday at the age of 87 of complications from colon cancer.

Stephens launched Ironwood Plastics — a plastic injection molding company — in Ironwood, Michigan, in 1979. The business thrived, and a second division was opened in Two Rivers in 1987. He retired in 1999, his sons took over, and the company was sold in 2010 to CTB, a division of Berkshire-Hathaway.

He and his wife of 66 years, B. Joan Stephens, were snowbirds who lived in both Manitowoc and Bradenton, Florida. According to his son Mark Stephens, Gordon Stephens' death included a Caribbean cruise, a Mexican hospital, an air ambulance and a valiant struggle at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. He died surrounded by his wife, four sons, two daughters-in-law and numerous grandchildren.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Gordon Stephen © Picasa Gordon Stephen

Two Rivers and the Lakeshore held a special place in his father’s heart, Mark Stephens told Streetwise.

“He just really enjoyed small towns,” Mark Stephens said. “He considered several places for his second branch, from Traverse City (Michigan) to Green Bay, but he felt a real comfort level with Two Rivers.”

He entered the Lakeshore business area at a time when work at Mirro was slowing down. Ironwood Plastics employs around 200 people in both divisions, with several employees with the company for more than 30 years.

“A vast majority of our employees are local, and many started in entry-level positions and progressed to highly technical jobs as well as leadership positions,” the company said in a news release this summer announcing its 40th anniversary. “Ironwood Plastics has a reputation in the industry of being a high-tech supplier of injection molded parts for the automotive, military, and industrial and electronics markets.”

Gordon Stephens grew up in Upper Michigan and left to be trained as a tool and die maker at the Henry Ford Trade School in Detroit. He enjoyed hunting, fishing and exploring the northwoods, his son said. In 1979, at the age of 47, he left a stable career to start the plastic injection molding company.

He also loved his family, and had four sons, Mark, Gregg, Rob and Scott. He had daughters-in-law, Denise, Deena, Joanna and Vonia, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mark Stephens said his father embraced lifelong learning, was extremely well read and loved history and travel.

In his 50s, Gordon Stephens became a private pilot, and age 61 rode his bicycle coast-to-coast in 43 days from California to Georgia. He attempted the northern route a few years later, but went over the handlebars in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in a rainstorm and broke his collarbone. He flew his Cessna plane from Sarasota, Florida, to King Salmon, Alaska, and later to Canada’s Prince Edward Island, and played golf in retirement.

A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at the Brown & Sons Funeral Home in Bradenton, Florida. In lieu of flowers, consider a donation to the American Cancer Association, Shriners Hospitals for Children, St. Jude’s or the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Got a question, comment or tip for Streetwise Manitowoc? Contact reporter Patti Zarling at 920-686-2152 or send an email to pzarling@gannett.com.

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This article originally appeared on Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter: Two Rivers was special place for Ironwood Plastics founder Gordon Stephens, who died Monday

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