Stephen Alan Michelson enriched his bank accounts as a medical-devices inventor, exotic fish dealer and pasta producer.
He enriched his soul through South Florida Food Recovery, a food bank that he co-founded in 1989.
Jewish by birth, he’d been practicing Buddhism at the time, and told The Miami Herald that giving to others gave him “a glow of spirituality that I’ve never experienced in my life.’’
He’d retired the previous year at 50, but after six months was ready for a community-service project.
He found it when friend Ben Grenald, a former Miami Beach commissioner, tourism official and fellow pharmacist, enlisted his help in gathering unspoiled food that stores were dumping, distributing it to charities and striking Eastern Airlines workers.
It soon took up all of Michelson’s waking hours.
“People always say, ‘Well, I would if I could, if I had the time, if I had the money.’ Well, I have all that,” Michelson said at the time. “I’m consumed by it...I can’t stand to know that one day I’m not doing it, the food will be thrown out.”
Michelson, a Brooklyn native and son of Eastern European immigrants, was born March 4, 1938. He died Oct. 6 of a heart attack at his home in Lauderhill. He was 74.
His sister, Dava Michelson, a Miami Beach acupuncturist, said he’d been home “five minutes’’ from the hospital, where he’d spent several weeks. She said he suffered from diabetes and heart disease.
Michelson served in the Air Force Reserve and graduated from Columbia University’s College of Pharmacy. He was a gifted athlete, said brother Arthur Michelson.
“He was asked to join the Yankees farm system. He was batting in the 400s and was a phenomenal fielder, but my father went through the Depression and didn’t allow Steve to do that.’’
Michelson was a natural salesman who got his first pharmacy job in Upstate New York by persuading a drugstore owner that one Steve Michelson could outwork the man’s two current employees, Arthur said.
Michelson came to Miami in 1962, hoping to become a golf pro. He practiced during the day and worked nights as a pharmacist. While working for Ben Grenald, he began experimenting with Velcro and bandages and formed his own company to produce Velcro-attached splints.
He made a fortune when Warner Lambert Corp.’s Parke-Davis medical-surgical division bought his company, All Orthopedic Appliances, in 1975. At the time, he was selling 160 products.
Michelson’s Cyclotec Medical Industries produced an award-winning wireless TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) device which he licensed to Dow Corning Wright Corp.
Michelson also bought the Pasta Factory Restaurant, which he expanded to a chain, and founded Research Environmental Enterprises of Florida (REEF), one of the world’s largest exotic saltwater fish importers.
The idea for the food recovery project came from Grenald, who noticed a market dumping crates of unexpired cheese. Soon, said Grenald, “we were sending truckloads of food to Temple Beth Sholom,’’ where Irma [Mrs. Norman] Braman had crews of women sort and package it.
“For 4 1/2 years, we fed 12,000 people a day,’’ Grenald said.
Michelson “was always trying to help someone,’’ he said. “He was a very dynamic guy.’’