Morris Katz, Wise Products Founder

August 03, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

Morris Katz, founder of Wise Products Distributors whose "Peppy the Owl" sign was an Aliceanna Street landmark, died Monday of myelodysplastic syndrome, a pre-leukemia, at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 92.

Mr. Katz, the son of immigrant parents, was born and raised in Passaic, N.J. He dropped out of high school during the Depression to help support his family.

During the 1930s, he worked repairing pinball and other gaming machines.

With the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Katz enlisted in the Army and served with an engineering aviation battalion in Europe clearing land and building airfields.

After landing at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Mr. Katz and his unit quickly set about building airstrips for Allied aircraft, family members said.

Mr. Katz also was able to find and liberate a cousin who was being held in a concentration camp.

"He found her and she was eventually able to come to the United States," said a son, David Katz of Owings Mills.

After the war, Mr. Katz returned to Passaic where he was a route salesman in New Jersey for the Wise Potato Chip Co.

In 1961, he and his wife, the former Sarah Greenberg, whom he married in 1949, moved to Baltimore and established Wise Products Distributors on Conkling Street.

The company later moved to a building on Aliceanna Street, where its blue and yellow "Peppy the Owl" sign was a familiar landmark for more than 30 years.

Mr. Katz, who had been semiretired since the 1980s, still retained an interest in the wholesale business that supplied both Wise Potato Chips and Wise Cheese Whiz Doodles to Baltimore-Washington stores, until its sale in 2001.

The former longtime Pikesville resident and his wife, who died in 2000, moved in 1996 to the North Oaks retirement community.

Mr. Katz enjoyed travel and taking cruises.

He was a member of the Liberty Jewish Center and Beth Israel Congregation.

Services were Thursday.

Also surviving are another son, Fred Katz of Ashton, Montgomery County; three grandchildren; and his companion of eight years, Helen Schreiber.

- Frederick N. Rasmussen

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