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John Rapanos shows off his new invention that soon will be on the shelves of giant retailer Meijer.

Midland Entrepreneur John Rapanos Now Also An Inventor -- See His New Idea

Versatile Businessman's Fireplace Majic Adds Efficiency, Saves Energy

September 12, 2007       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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John Rapanos of Midland wears many hats.

  • Real estate developer;

  • Property manager;

  • Hotelier;

  • Investor;

  • Arts patron; and

  • Philanthropist.

    Now the versatile business leader is also an inventor.

    His invention, called "Fireplace Majic," a trademarked carbon steel fireplace bed base screen, keeps embers from falling through the cracks, thereby making the blaze more energy efficient.

    Mr. Rapanos said he recently booked his first sale of 17,000 of the screens to Meijer, the giant Michigan-based department store-grocery chain.

    He expects to close sales to three other major chains within a year.

    The screens, machine produced in Midland, have a diamond-shaped pattern that helps prevent coals and burning embers from falling to the bottom of the fireplace, losing heat efficiency.

    The screens come in two sizes, 9 inches by 18 inches, and 12 inches by 24 inches.

    The carbon steel is used because ordinary wire quickly burns through, as Mr. Rapanos found out while testing the idea.

    The concept was developed, he said, while he was in Chicago visiting a former director of the Midland Center for the Arts. As the pair watched a fire in the fireplace, they noticed the inefficiency as the embers quickly fell through the open grates and the heat dissipated by being covered with ashes on the floor.

    "Let's invent something," he recalled saying to his friend. Thus, Fireplace Majic was born.

    Mr. Rapanos, who left the University of Michigan Law School in the 1950s to expand his ice cream business, has many tales to tell of business success. He started his career at age 12, selling ice cream bars at the main gate of The Dow Chemical Co. While at the university he expanded to Battle Creek, booming at the time during the Korean War, and devised an ice cream sales cart insulated with Dow Styrofoam (tm).

    He short-circuited his law studies when Midland community boosters asked him to develop a subdivision and a shopping center. That started him in a career in real estate development. A street in Midland bears his name and he developed the Valley Plaza hotel complex that is just inside the Bay County line on Midland Road (called Bay City Road in Midland).

    Along the way he developed baggage carts he sold to the airlines, trailers and other manufactured products.

    "Now I'm back in manufacturing," said Mr. Rapanos, who is a donor to many causes including Delta College, Northwood University and other educational and arts and culture organizations.

    He acquired the former Regina girls' Catholic high school on Wheeler Road in Midland, where his offices are located, and shares most of the structure with Delta College's thriving Midland campus.

    His wife, Judy, is chair of the Michigan Humanities Council and is well-known in Midland and statewide for her civic and philanthropic activities.

    He is writing two books, one on his battles with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over land use, and another book about his life. The latter may contain some startling revelations about the cause of the 1977 fire at the Wenonah Hotel, that he owned, and the response by fire departments to the blaze.

    So, Mr. Rapanos may soon be able to add another hat to the pile on his desk -- that of author.###

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    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
    respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
    (Contact Dave Via Email at

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