Shocking the fitness community as the word spread like waves the first day back to work after the New Year was the news that Spri Products founder and President Stephen I. Block had passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm just before New Year's Eve. He was 68.
All who knew him will miss his rambling stride around trade shows and fitness events as his eyes constantly roamed the floor, never wanting to miss anything. He invariably slowed time and time again to pass out hugs and pats on the back to just about everybody he saw. Since founding Spri some 22 years ago and almost never missing a show or event, Block's hellos, hugs and how-are-you's were known around the industry as something to expect and to look forward to.
"Spri and the fitness industry have lost one of its leaders this past week,â€ said Scott Swanson, a Spri company partner. "I personally have lost a lifelong friend who has stamped his mark on my soul."
As a big man with a barrel chest who kept in shape by running and working out nearly every day, Block was hard to miss around the industry. In keeping with his stature, he had "the heart of a giant," as director of retail sales Steve Lindal said.
In the last year, Block had spent increasingly more time moving into a role of Spri "ambassador" and king of relationships as he began to transition into semi-retirement, Lindal said. The transition was to last about five years, Lindal said. Still, it was hard to get the man who was Mr. Spri to stay away from day-to-day business or even selling a few tubes at a show booth.
Lindal said they'd tell him to stop with the "$5 tube deals" as president, but he never really could stop rolling up his shirtsleeves and just digging in. "He loved that," Lindal said. "He just wanted to sell his product."
Block played a leading role in establishing rubber resistance in the fitness industry as a way to strengthen and moved Spri from being a company that just sold a few tubes to the company licensing various other products and working with fitness educators, as well as selling to consumers.
"Spri will continue to conduct business under the Steve Block philosophy of building great relationships with our business partners. His untimely death will be felt not only at Spri, but throughout the fitness industry," said Swanson. "Life at trade shows will never be the same without Steve strolling from booth to booth, shaking hands, giving out hugs and having a kind word for everyone."
Block would take the time to talk to anybody, from newbie or beginner with energy or ideas, to other company presidents. Everybody was worth his time.
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"Steve excelled in bringing people together. Â He was a matchmaker with an eye for the big picture," said Greg Niederlander, director of education for Spri. "He treated friends, family and business acquaintances the same way: with care, love and devotion."
After his passing on Dec. 30, his family held a service Jan. 2 that was filled with friends and business associates despite the holidays and sudden notice.
Anyone wishing to express condolences to the Block family may do so at BlockFamily@spriproducts.com. The Spri family may be contacted at SPRIFamily@spriproducts.com. The Block family has suggested that donations in Steve's memory can be made to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Formerly of Deerfield, Ill., and living in Indianapolis, Block is survived by his wife R. Lee (born Reider) Block, 10 children and eight grand-children.