John Tennis turned trash into treasure.

In 1966, he and his brother Wayne founded Tennis Brothers Sanitation in St. Paul Park. His wife Joan answered the phones and did the books.

He later drove a truck as the company's only trash collector. Meanwhile, he worked a full-time job in the stockyards in South St. Paul.

"He was just a hard-working guy," his son Willie said.

John Tennis died May 7. He was 83.

The business he founded now has a fleet of 70 trucks. Co-owned by Willie and his brother Greg, they provide residential and commercial trash removal as well as recycling and roll-off Dumpster rentals in Newport, Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Grey Cloud Island as well as their hometown.

Willie Tennis said they carry on their father's philosophy: "Hard work pays off" and "Be good to people."

Former St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke remembered John Tennis as a good neighbor and a generous supporter of community causes. His company provides free trash and recycling services for the annual Heritage Days Festival as well as for the Strawberry Fest in Cottage Grove.

"He cared about his community," said Franke, now a state representative. "He grew his business into a thriving industry here in St. Paul Park. It's almost the American dream right there."

Born in 1934 in Mankato, Tennis was a Cub Master and baseball coach. He served one term as a councilman for the city of St. Paul Park, Willie Tennis said.

He sold the trash collection business to Willie and son Greg in 1988. He and his wife moved to Siren, Wis., where they ran a business called Crossroads Antiques for 25 years.

Last year, which was the 50th anniversary of the founding of Tennis Sanitation, he and Willie and Greg walked onstage at the Heritage Festival to receive the Business of the Year.

Majel Carroll, founder of Stone Soup Thrift Shop in St. Paul Park, said that John Tennis often gave them furniture and other items that customers had left behind at the storage unit he operated.

"He gave it to the store so we could recycle it or sell it," Carroll said. "He was always very nice about it."

Veid Muiznieks, former St. Paul Park police chief, emphasized that Tennis cared about his community.

"He was more than just a businessman ... John did provide a living to other people," he said. "To this day Tennis Sanitation provides a viable income to many people. That's a legacy I think that goes beyond John's life."

Rivertown Multimedia reporter Katie Nelson contributed to this story.