Tuesday, March 20, 2012

John Cowles, Jr. - A Continuing Legacy

Legacies are largely defined by contribution to the well-being of others and have duration based on quality and value.  If that is true, John Cowles, Jr. will have left a meaningful and enduring legacy.  There can be little doubt about the lead role he played in defining our quality of life.

I remember arriving in Minneapolis in the fall of 1957 to do post-graduate work at the University of Minnesota.  That was the birth of a long love affair.  I further recall my disappointing impression of downtown Minneapolis.  It was a little more than another Albany or Wichita.  I hesitate to use the word dreary but would certainly suggest that the city was showing its age.

Eight years later as a newly elected member of the City Council and its soon-to-be Chairman of the Engineering Committee, I received a call from the office of John Cowles, Jr. at the Star Tribune requesting a meeting.  Nervous and inexperienced, I was ushered into a large conference room packed with people including John Cowles, Jr. and his management team and the top executives of Minneapolis led by the Daytons.

Jack McHugh, head of the Downtown Council and President of Northwest Bank, and his staff took over the meeting and introduced the Nicollet Mall Project.  Virtually every detail had been buttoned down and now the marketing effort was to begin.

Forty-seven years later, I still marvel at this business-civic leadership.  What vision, what boldness, what commitment.

I would contend that that project started Minneapolis on the path to today’s splendid city.

And John Cowles, Jr., as publisher of the Star Tribune, knew the importance of media leadership and personal involvement.  He saw Minneapolis not as it was, but as it could be and he committed all his energy and resources to building a modern and vibrant city.  You may say he was the last of the crusading editors.

That is why his fingerprints are on virtually every project from the Guthrie to the Cowles Dance Center in downtown Minneapolis.

But he also understood the value of shared leadership and competent staff.  The result was a newspaper of national stature.  His editorial and news personnel reflected the finest in journalism and he was not reluctant to unleash a Barbara Flanagan with her joyful creativity and enthusiasm for a vibrant and active downtown.

That marvelous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, taught us the meaning and value of community and John Cowles, Jr. lived it in every facet of his life.  This kind and modest man always brought out the best in us and made us a far, far better community.

His presence will always be with us and our gratitude will be demonstrated in our commitment to community.

Thank you, John, for being the finest.


  1. Dear Gov,
    I share your respect and honor for such a great man. I have known John as well as his son Jay for many years. They are a shining light for our community.They embody what it means to be a visionary pragmatist; an essential yet rare treasure.
    Terri Bonoff

  2. Thank you for providing such a touching tribute that helped me understand the impact that he had on Minneapolis and also on my life.
    Carl Holmquist

  3. Thanks, Gov; this is a wonderful tribute to an important Minnesotan. Write more frequently! Chas

  4. Thank you. It is so interesting to hear these snippets for those of us that do not know the history. I lived in Minneapolis 1979-1984, then again in the 2000's. I love how downtown is a thriving and exciting place to be.


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