Randy L. Perretti, the founder of Perretti Building Contractors, who rebuilt his business following the deaths of his young twin daughters because of a rare form of leukemia, died Wednesday in the Lake Park Comfort Care Center. He was 49.
The family said he had been in fragile health for five years, battling a variety of illnesses. They did not know the exact cause of death.
Mr. Perretti's construction business grew quickly after its founding in Toledo in the mid-1980s and, at its peak, employed about 25 people.
It built dozens of Marco's Pizza locations, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream shops, Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, and Sherwin-Williams stores in addition to strip malls throughout northwest Ohio, said family friend Eric Bueter, one of Mr. Perretti's longtime clients.
"He did first-class work. He did what he said he would do and stood behind it," said Mr. Bueter, a Marco's Pizza franchise owner.
Mr. Perretti's entry into construction was unconventional. He dropped out of Bedford High School when he was 15 to join a traveling carnival, and taught himself how to do the show's electrical and construction work, Mr. Bueter said.
He left the carnival when he was 18, later moving to Chicago for a job cleaning the facilities of the Dow Chemical Co.
In 1982, he married his wife, Lucy. They settled in Toledo, where he went into business for himself in 1986.
"If you met him and looked at his work, you would never believe the guy didn't have a college degree for all he was doing," Mr. Bueter said. "It was all self-taught."
In September, 1991, Mrs. Perretti gave birth to identical twins, Marena and Marissa Perretti. Weeks later, the Perrettis learned that they had a rare acute lymphocyctic leukemia.
The girls' ordeal soon drew national attention. They became the first twins in the United States to receive a bone-marrow transplant from the same unrelated donor the following March. Doctors said they had a 50 percent chance of survival.
"When we found out that the girls had leukemia, he took it really hard," Mrs. Perretti said. "But with the outpouring from friends, family, and all the people who supported us, that helped him to get through it."
Two months after the transplant, Marissa died of a heart attack. Marena returned home. After a relapse, she succumbed to a heart attack at 1 1/2.
"It was hard on both of us," Mrs. Perretti said. "The girls were always with him in his heart. And you try to go on and you try to get past it, but you don't ever forget it."
Mr. Perretti's business suffered during the ordeal and in 1994, the family declared bankruptcy. But then business rebounded.
Everything was going well again until 2003, when Mr. Perretti fell ill with a blood infection that spiraled into other ailments, his wife said. He closed his business in 2004.
"It was really hard for him because [the business] was what he really loved to do," she said. "He liked to look and see all the buildings that he built - and [closing] was one of the saddest things for him."
Yet Mr. Bueter said he never ceased to marvel at the strength of Mr. Perretti's outlook and ambitions. "Randy was the most positive guy you would ever meet. Even in his last days, he kept talking about getting well and building something big."
Surviving are his wife, Lucy; daughter, Marcella Perretti; son, Dominick Perretti; mother, Dolores Perretti; sisters, Sandi Miller and Becky Garcia, and brother, Joe Perretti.
Services will be at 10 a.m. today in St. Catherine's Catholic Church. The Walker Funeral Home is handling arrangements.