At 90 years young, Mort Kranitz still has a song in his heart and a spring to his step. The pacemaker he got in June inspired him to take life easier and he now gets into his office at Mort’s Auto Brokerage a little later in the day. Yes, he’s still working and still claims that he can meet or beat any auto sales deal. His zest for life has seen him through the ups and downs of more than five decades in the automotive business in Tucson, and through almost four decades of volunteer service to the American Cancer Society. The ACS will honor him in September with a lifetime achievement award.
Life began for Kranitz on Feb. 10, 1926 in St. Joseph, Mo. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, at the beginning of World War II, and was discharged in December 1945. He went back to St. Joseph where he went into the shoe business, covering an eight-state territory as a sales representative. Following his divorce from his first wife, Kranitz was a bachelor father for 14 years and moved his family a few times for his work. After moving to Tucson in 1962, he met his second wife, Sallie, and had another daughter with her. Sallie and his four daughters, Mortina, Lizbeth, Abra and Eran, have been a major inspiration in his life.
“Some of the grandest times of my life is being with my kids,” says Kranitz, who taught his daughters to sing and dance. “They were all great kids. They were good even when we had to move when I would get a new job. I always used to sing and dance with my daughters. Even when they were unhappy about something I would sing to them.” Kranitz said he was quite a dancer as a teenager, and as an adult, performed in some musicals.
Kranitz came back to Arizona because he fell in love with the state when he was stationed at Williams Air Force Base in Chandler. In addition, his sister lived in Tucson, and his parents would come to Tucson for the winter. He made the move after being successful as the efficiency manager for 18 months for a 13-chain shoe store business based in El Paso, Texas.
When he first came to Tucson, he worked for Williams Auto Sales, and discovered that he could make more money selling cars than selling shoes. He worked two shifts, seven days and six nights a week. He eventually became general sales manager for Precision Toyota and stayed with the company for 20 years. In 1990 he went into business for himself and has been a lot happier since he became his own boss. The company, Kranitz Automotive Group, Inc., was recently renamed Mort’s Auto Brokerage.
Kranitz has had his ups and downs, weathering recession and other business problems. “Don’t let what’s around you put you down,” he advises. “Survival in business depends on location, good management, good financial management and good customer service.” Kranitz says he has always worked well with the other dealers in town and has had many repeat customers; several of them have been with him since 1972.
It also helps to have business associates who become good friends. “Don Radakovich has been my accountant and close friend for more than 50 years, and all the friends you make and keep are a great blessing,” says Kranitz. “It is comforting to know they will be there for you in good times as well as when the chips are down.”
Kranitz and his wife, Sallie, have been members of Congregation Anshei Israel since 1964. He has done a lot of fundraising for the synagogue and helped to found the Tucson Hebrew Academy. Besides volunteering for the American Cancer Society, Kranitz has volunteered for or made donations to many other organizations. An avid tennis player, he helped to found the Michael Landon Tucson Celebrity Tennis Classic. “I have always given to many charities and donated money to support Israel,” he says, “and it breaks my heart that I can’t give to them all.”
His parents and his Jewish values inspired Kranitz’ philanthropic work. His father was international vice president for B’nai B’rith and helped raise millions of dollars for Israel. His mother was a member of Hadassah and active in their charitable activities. He says it is important to pass on this heritage to his children and grandchildren.
For tips on living a long, healthy life, Kranitz says that besides having a great outlook, he credits exercise and diet. These days instead of tennis he walks for exercise. His diet changed 32 years ago when he needed coronary angioplasty, a procedure to open blocked arteries. Since that time he has eaten a healthy diet, which does not include red meat. Along with this he says prayers every morning and emphasizes the importance of family and friends.
A nearly four-decade career as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society has garnered Kranitz much respect. He started out with a goal to bring in $1 million, and while this took a while to achieve, as of his 90th birthday, he has raised more than $1 million for the organization.
“Mort has been involved with ACS for 37 years, a very long time for someone to volunteer,” says Denis Cournoyer, senior market manager, community engagement for ACS, who has worked for ACS for 15 years. Kranitz has chaired the ACS celebrity concert fundraiser and the annual gala event. In 1999 Kranitz was honored as ACS Volunteer of the Year, and in 2006 he received the Gift of Life Award at the gala. He has also participated in the Climb to Conquer Cancer fundraiser, a walk up “A” Mountain, for most of the 30 years the event has taken place.
“His work has helped to bring awareness to the community about everything that ACS does for people,” says Cournoyer. “At our gala event in September, he will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. After this year he will be retiring from this major role in volunteering for us. We can’t thank him enough for his service, for the money he has raised, and for the other people he brought to the organization who became involved with helping us.”
“Everyone loves Mort,” says Maryann Smythe, ACS office coordinator, who has worked for ACS for 27 years. “He is energetic and personable, and he is appreciative of what other people do to help out. He and his wife Sallie both love Tucson and want to give back to their community. We will need about six people to replace what Mort does for us.”
Todd Steadman, development manager, distinguished events for ACS, says that even though he has only worked for ACS for three months, he is very impressed with Kranitz, and describes him as a “nice, generous and selfless man.”
To make a donation to the American Cancer Society in honor of Kranitz, call the Tucson ACS at 321-7989 or mail a check to the following address: Attn: Tucson Gala/In honor of Mort Kranitz, American Cancer Society, 1636 N. Swan Road, Suite 151, Tucson, AZ 85712.
The ACS 2016 Tucson White-Out Cancer Gala will be held Saturday, Sept. 17, 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. The event will include silent and live auctions, dinner, entertainment and dancing. To purchase tickets, call 321-7989 or visit TucsonGala.com.
Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.