A workingman’s man: Jack Martorelli dies at 78



(A personal note: No matter what I write, it can’t describe the man I’ve known and loved for over 40 years. To say he was “special” is an understatement. With his infectious smile, his bear hug, and his “bust your knuckles” handshake, he left an indelible memory on all who met him.)

You judge a great person in many ways, but the most poignant, undoubtedly most accurate, is how others see them.

In that sense, Jack Martorelli, a 53-year Operating Engineers Local 513 member, its president/business manager for 12 years and an IUOE International Representative for seven years who died Aug. 27, was indeed a great person, by that standard, and many others:

“He had (your) back no matter what.”
“He was always there to help.”
“The Labor Movement lost a giant.”
“You know he cared…with much love and passion.”
“The entire St. Louis community lost a legend.”
“He was a go-to guy…”

Testimonials from the people who knew him tell the story of this wonderful man who at 78 passed too soon, and his accomplishments tell of his heart, his caring, and his passion to help others.

  • Co-founder in 1987 of Guns ‘N Hoses, the major fundraising arm for BackStoppers, which provide support for the families of fallen police and fire fighters in 18 counties in Missouri and Illinois. Their annual pre-Thanksgiving fight programs have raised $8.5 million over the years, and have become a tradition in the St. Louis area.
  • Veteran president of the St. Louis Port Council, the local affiliate of the AFL-CIO’s Maritime Trades Dept. and the Seafarers International Union.
  • Extraordinary volunteer for the United Way of Greater St. Louis.
  • Board of Directors with Paralyzed Veterans of America, BackStoppers, City of Hope, St. Louis Gateway Mall, PRIDE (the St. Louis Construction Cooperative), St. Louis Special School District and the United Way.
  • Director of New Business Development for HealthLink, an organizer of independently contracted provider networks that supports unions in their efforts to provide health care access to their members, either directly via the union or through their employer.
  • President of The Kelley Group, the prestigious local political consulting group, for seven years.
  • President of Martorelli Consulting Services, LLC, which he started after leaving The Kelley Group. It became the platform for his volunteer services and consulting for local firms on projects he felt were important.
  • A Golden Gloves champion in his youth, Jack and remained dedicated to the sport throughout his life, including serving on the host committee for the National Golden Gloves Tournament in St. Louis in 1984.
LEGENDARY LABOR LEADERS: Talking shop at the Port Council dinner in 2012, (from left), the late Dick Mantia, former executive secretary-treasurer, St. Louis Building Trades; Michael Sacco, president, AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department and president, Seafarers International Union; and Jack Martorelli, Port Council president. – Labor Tribune file photo

Less known perhaps is the fact that prior to joining Local 513 as an operator, Jack tried his hand at entrepreneurship as joint owner of a cleaning service and a catering business with his life-long friend Jerry Feldhaus, now the retired executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building Trades Council.

“That didn’t go too well,” Feldhaus said with a smile at the Port Council dinner honoring Jack, noting that after their first catering event, the chefs – their wives – quit. Noting that their wives weren’t much into the earlier cleaning service business either, Feldhaus quipped, “We decided to go into the trades!”

And while Jack never expected — or wanted  — recognition, but his infectious positivity and incredibly work ethic made such notice inevitable.

At the Port Council on its 25th anniversary in 2005, Jack was named the Council’s Quarter Century Labor Man of the Year. He also received awards from Tomorrow’s Hope for Children, United Way, City of Hope, St. Louis Ambassadors, Special Olympics, Veterans of America, Gateway Sports Foundation Boxing Hall of Fame and St. Louis Parks and Recreation.

FAMILY FIRST: Jack Martorelli was beloved by his grandchildren, and the smiles on their faces show it.

Jack’s real love, however, was Guns ‘N Hoses, the fundraiser he helped found that raised money for the St. Louis BackStoppers. It all started in 1987 when Jack, along with Laborers District Council’s Myrl Taylor and Budweiser distributor Grey Eagle’s Jerry Clinton sponsored the first amateur boxing fights as the St. Louis Metro Boxing Showdown. With a $25,000 gate, that was the beginning. In the 1990’s, it became Guns N’ Hoses, featuring bouts between fire fighters and police officers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Guns ‘N Hoses has raised more than $8.5 million to aid the families of fallen first responders.

Jack is survived by his beloved wife, Margaret “Madge” Martorelli; his children, Dennis Martorelli, Gina (John) Knoll, and Angela Martorelli;  grandchildren, Jack, Luke, and Max Knoll and Brenly and Jacob Amick; sister, Linda Martorelli and brother Nick (JoAnn) Martorelli; brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, Godchildren, extended relatives and many, many friends.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Jack’s name may be made to the BackStoppers at backstoppers.org/donate, or by mail at P.O. Box 795168, St. Louis, MO 63179-0700.

In memory of Jack Martorelli

A small sampling of community’s
love and remembrances

• “The Backstoppers and Guns ‘N Hoses family has lost a profoundly loved member. Jack’s character and spirit will forever remain in our lives. His drive and ambition to help the families we serve will carry on for many generations to come.”
– Chief Ron Battelle, executive director, BackStoppers

• “Jack was a long time, well respected and liked member of Operating Engineers Local 513. He led our local for 12 years, from 1978 through 1990. He will be missed.” – Tim Sappington, president/ business manager, Operating Engineers Local 513

• “What he has meant to the Labor Movement and the area, in general, is too much to list. When I was in a bind on a situation and how to handle it, Jack was most definitely one of my go-to guys for advice. He’s a guy whose name will be talked about for many years to come. His memory will live on forever. We should all strive to be the man Jack was. He will be missed by all but forgotten by none.” – Pat White, president, St. Louis Labor Council

• “Jack had a heart of gold. Between the Port council, the BackStoppers, and ALL of the Labor Movement, and many other civic causes, he was always there to help. He will be terribly missed by all.” – John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer,
St. Louis Building Trades Council

• “Jack is of the great leaders like Bob (Kelley) and Dick (Mantia). We have lost some great ones that can’t be replaced. We all learned a lot from them!” – David Cook, president,
United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655

• “He will be sorely missed. He was a go-to guy in St. Louis and got things done for so many people with his donations and help with charities.” – Michael Sacco, president, AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department, and president, Seafarers International Union

• “The community lost a true legend. His legacy will live on. He was a true gentleman to his core.” – Mike Kelley, chairman, The Kelley Group, a public affairs and advocacy consulting firm

• “ Heaven is the happiest place today as all the souls and angels will be receiving one of the most noble, respected men I know!… Tell Myrl ‘hi’ for me!”  – Tony Sansone, cousin

• “I say this with a smile – he was kind of a big deal. Like, a ‘really’ big deal. All class…” – Jasmine Huda, Fox 2 News

• “He has devoted his whole life to the betterment of workers and their communities. Whenever there was a need, Jack was there. He was to the Labor Movement and the community what Stan Musial was to the Cardinals. He was a true friend, a true representative of the American Labor Movement, and a prince of a man. They should build a statue in his honor.” – Jerry Feldhaus, former executive secretary-treasurer, St. Louis Building Trades Council

• “A real stand-up guy. Jack was the resource guy of the Clinton/Taylor/Martorelli founding team. If they needed something done, Jack got it done. He pulled the leadership from Labor, business and civic groups into that first meeting to explain the effort and get their support. No one else could have done that.” – Steve Holley, BackStoppers events manager


  1. Jack and I tangled often in jurisdictional disputes between my guys, Machinists 777 and his guys, Operating Engineers 513. After a good steak and a couple of refreshments at Stan and Biggies we never failed to work things out. Jack was a positive force in the labor movement and he will be missed.


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