He may have had only a seventh-grade education, but he went on to found and operate a successful southern Maine construction company while never forgetting about the South Portland community where he spent most of his adult life.

Louis “Big Lou” Maietta died Saturday after an 11-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 77.

Mr. Maietta and his wife, Roberta (Bobbi), still lived on Walnut Street in South Portland at the time of his death, a home that the couple built nearly 60 years ago.

Mr. Maietta was well known in South Portland, especially for his contributions to a sprawling athletic field complex located off Highland Avenue known as the Wainwright Farm Recreation Complex.

“He went to work (after leaving school) and just kept going and going. He worked his whole life. That was all he did,” said a son, Louie Maietta Jr. of South Portland. “My father was an amazing man and I’m not just saying that because I am his son. So many people loved this guy. He wasn’t a quitter and he always took the good with the bad.”

The son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Maietta was born in Portland to Aniello and Saveria Tenerillo Maietta. After leaving school in the seventh grade he went to work at his brothers’ meat market on Washington Avenue in Portland. He married his childhood sweetheart, Roberta L. Tinsman, on Nov. 13, 1954. Together the couple raised eight boys.

Mr. Maietta founded Maietta Construction Co. in 1968 with help from his father-in-law, Robert Tinsman.

The company started out with just five employees, one dump truck, one bulldozer, and one front-end loader with a backhoe attachment. But the company grew.

At its peak, Maietta Construction employed 150 workers. Maietta Construction, which is located on Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough, is still run by family members. Among those workers were Mr. Maietta’s eight sons.

“We didn’t play sports when we got out of school. We went to work,” Louie Maietta Jr. said.

In 1975, Mr. Maietta’s son Gary, who was 15, was killed in a construction-site accident on Sawyer Street.

“As hard as it was for my father to lose a son, he said he had seven other reasons (his sons) to keep fighting for. He just dug in and kept working,” Louie Maietta Jr. said.

The company became successful doing excavation and earth-moving work. It did site, road and drainage work on such developments as the Target Mall in South Portland, the Staples office store in Falmouth, and the Western Avenue Fire Station in South Portland.

Mr. Maietta’s son said his father had one firm belief that drove a lot of his business decisions: He tried never to lay off any of his employees. “No matter how bad the economy got, he just would not send anyone home. He kept a lot of families fed,” his son said.

In 2010, Maietta Construction filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. By that time, Mr. Maietta had taken a far less active role in the company’s day-to-day operations, but Louie Maietta said his father was still “devastated” because people had to be laid off.

After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Mr. Maietta received treatment and convinced his sons to be tested, Louie Maietta said. Six of his brothers have had prostate surgery.

“Early detection saved our lives and my father was a big part of that happening,” he said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com