Jack Lanigan Sr. was a pioneer in manufacturing cranes, and he went on to expand his businesses into a south suburban industrial conglomerate, incorporating everything from railroads to technology to heavy equipment distribution.

“He always felt that when you stopped growing, you start dying,” said his son, Michael. “He was always constantly looking at opportunities to diversify so that we don’t just rely on one market.”

Lanigan, 91, died of natural causes Dec. 2 at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, his son said. He had been an Orland Park resident for the past decade and previously lived in Tinley Park for a quarter-century.

Born in Chicago, Lanigan attended the now-closed Our Lady of Solace School. He served on a minesweeper in the Navy during World War II and was one of the first Americans to enter Nagasaki, Japan, after the detonation of the atomic bomb.

While working for the city, Lanigan encountered difficulty installing utility poles when cars were parked on the street, blocking crews from moving poles into place. That prompted him to devise a boom crane that could lift utility poles from the back of a truck and over parked cars.

“The problem was that when putting light poles in for the city, with cars that were parked and blocking things, he would have to find the car’s owner, and he couldn’t put the pole in the ground over the car,” his son said. “Removing a car sometimes took 10 minutes or two hours. So my dad, being creative, came up with this idea.”

Lanigan’s manager at the time took the idea to the newly inaugurated Mayor Richard J. Daley, who encouraged Lanigan to take a leave of absence from the city to develop the boom crane. Daley also pledged that the city would buy the first five of those cranes.

“Daley said, if it works out, don’t come back, but if (the company) doesn’t work out, you’ll have your old job back,” Mike Lanigan said. “Mayor Daley put him in the business.”

Lanigan named that company Mi-Jack after two of his sons. He later closed the firm and began selling Drott Travelift cranes for the now-defunct Gleason Cranes company. Lanigan resurrected the Mi-Jack name in 1967 to form a company, based out of his kitchen in Dolton, that distributed cranes.

Lanigan “was a larger-than-life personality who could charm, impress and conquer what he set his mind to,” said Frank Calomino, Mi-Jack’s executive vice president of operations who joined the company in 1979. “We would take his charge and try to keep up with him. His ideas and inventions were always going on and that was his passion. Sometimes he was so far ahead of the changing markets, most could not visualize his plan.”

Matt Ruisz, who started working for Mi-Jack in 1974 and is the company’s senior vice president of product support, called Lanigan “the true meaning of the word ‘visionary.’ ”

“Jack Sr. was one of the most compassionate and genuine people I have ever had the privilege and honor to know,” Ruisz said. “The key components to (his) wide success and what he taught to the masses were work ethic, team, pride, trust, dignity, image, self-respect and respect for others. And he always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and always approached everyone and everything with a positive and optimistic value.”

In the early 1980s, Lanigan expanded to manufacturing cranes. By the mid-1980s, with Mi-Jack cranes operating in railroad yards around the country, Lanigan broadened his company’s offerings to operating intermodal rail yards as a contractor for freight railroads. To run the intermodal yards, Lanigan formed a company called ITS Technologies & Logistics, which he later sold.

Lanigan expanded into other many areas, ultimately forming a Hazel Crest-based conglomerate called the Lanco Group. Among the companies in Lanco’s stable are Broderson Manufacturing, which makes rough terrain cranes; Greenfield Products, which manufactures specialized attachments for forklifts and all-terrain cranes; and numerous crane and heavy equipment distributors and dealers.

Lanigan later ventured into railroad operations. In 1998, the nation of Panama announced it was taking bids for a 50-year concession to rebuild and operate its 47.6-mile railroad stretching across the Isthmus of Panama. With Mi-Jack’s cranes having had a long presence in Latin America, Lanigan banded together with the Kansas City Southern Railway to submit a winning bid to operate the line, called the Panama Canal Railway Co.

Eventually, Lanigan’s Lanco Group grew to encompass nearly two dozen companies, and expanded to include a sports and entertainment division as well.

“His biggest attribute was that he always believed that people made the company and the company made the people,” Mike Lanigan said. “He was all about getting everything out of his people and treating them with respect.”

Lanigan never retired. When he wasn’t working, he spent time with his family and he gardened, his son said.

“His work was his life and his hobby,” Mike Lanigan said. “He always was the first one here (to work).”

In addition to his son, Lanigan is survived by his wife of 69 years, Patricia; three other sons, Jack Jr., William and Daniel; a brother, Patrick; 11 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren;

Services were held.

Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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