Sheldon Mortenson was a developer, a builder and a fixer. He built homes, apartments and the Skywood Mall in the Fridley area, as well as helicopters and a 28-foot cabin cruiser for his family.
He also was a partner in an aviation firm that started one of the first helicopter ambulance services in Minnesota. And he was a natural recycler who believed in fixing, not tossing, broken things.
Mortenson, 85, died of lung cancer Aug. 21 at a Roseville care center.
"He was a very generous, very talented individual," said Bob Rishovd, a former partner in Imperial Air, which bought AirCare, Mortenson's aviation firm. In 1985, AirCare developed a helicopter ambulance service for North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. It was the second such service in Minnesota, preceded only a few months before by Mayo Clinic's air service, Rishovd said.
Mortenson, who was born in Hitterdal, Minn., served as a Navy radioman in World War II. After the war, he returned to north Minneapolis and earned a diploma at Patrick Henry High School.
He worked at a radio repair shop and other jobs before becoming a partner in an auto parts and salvage business in 1958. He also started a construction business that built homes, apartments and commercial buildings in the 1950s and '60s, mostly in Fridley, said his son, Greg Mortenson.
Justine Nagen, 31, said her grandpa liked wearing baseball caps and "loved a good joke."
"He had a bit of a temper, but he was always interested in what you were doing," she said. "He could solve any problem. He had a very inventive mind."
After building and learning to fly a Scorpion helicopter, Mortenson bought a crashed Challenger helicopter in 1968. A truck hauled it to his plane hangar at the Anoka County Airport in Blaine, said his son, who was 19 when he saw the wreck.
"You couldn't recognize it was a helicopter. I said, 'Dad, what is this?' He said, 'Just you wait.' Nothing was too daunting for him,'' said Greg Mortenson, who helped rebuild the chopper. "He was the original green person. He believed if it broke, you fixed it. You don't just throw it away.''
His dad "could fix anything. He had an uncanny knack of being able to look at a problem and see a solution," Mortenson said. "Whether it was building a car or an airplane, or fixing a building or appliance, he could look at it and see the simplest, most economic way of fixing it, and it would actually work."
He built his family home in the early 1950s on a knoll overlooking what became the Fridley Menard's store, which he also built. Then he built a cabin cruiser in his yard, his son said. He took his wife and four kids on lots of trips on it on the St. Croix River.
Beside his son, Mortenson is survived by his wife of 63 years, Beverly; three daughters, Jennifer Nagan of Healdsberg, Calif., Leslie Ann Holt of St. Anthony and Christine Hamer of Blaine; a sister, Muriel Granger of Fridley; eleven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life service will be held Tuesday with a gathering at 4 p.m. and a service at 5 p.m., followed by supper at his plane hangar, 2437 Montana Av., Anoka County Airport East Gate.