Joseph J. Blank, who climbed out of East Baltimore poverty with a distinctive flair to become president of a successful local fabrics business, died yesterday of cancer at his home in Pikesville.
The 83-year-old Flagtree Lane resident retired about two years ago from Blanks Inc., which had been started by his father in 1904 in the 1000 block of E. Lombard St. As a child, he peddled pots and pans there.
"Until he got ill recently, you could find him on the roof cleaning the gutters or digging holes to pour cement," said his oldest son, Gordon. "He had a strong work ethic, loved his country and was successful in spite of having only an eighth-grade education. One of the interesting things was his arithmetic function was faster than I could go with a calculator."
During World War II, Mr. Blank served with the Coast Guard Reserve unit that guarded the port of Baltimore.
In a tense time when enemy saboteurs were suspected of lurking in every shadow, Mr. Blank patrolled the Baltimore harbor armed only with a billy club. He was always a familiar figure in his black knit watch cap.
He was also the first person in the city to donate his blood during the war to the Red Cross on 10 separate occasions, a feat noted in a local newspaper.
"He is convinced that it is the duty of all able civilians to contribute in this way and says he feels not the slightest ill-effects and is proud of his record," the article reported.
When the war broke out, he owned a paint and wallpaper store at Ann Street and Eastern Avenue.
While past the age of 40, he was eager to join the military and sold his business and was ready to don the uniform of his country.
Several weeks later, Congress passed a law exempting men over 40 from serving in the regular armed forces.
In 1951, Mr. Blank started his fabrics and household goods business in the 4400 block of Park Heights Ave. He moved the business to Northern Parkway and Wabash Avenue in 1967.
A strong supporter of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Mr. Blank was a volunteer worker with the Associated Placement and Guidance Bureau program for troubled youths at the Jewish Community Center.
Services are set for 10 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 6010 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore.
Mr. Blank is survived by his wife, the former Miriam Bernstein; three sons, Gordon Blank of Punta Gorda, Fla., Howard Blank of Woodstock and Stuart Blank of Westminster; a brother, Albert Blank of Baltimore; a sister, Rose Weinstein of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.