« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Helmut Schmidt, Published August 08 2012

Bloomquist, credited with growing region’s sugar industry, dies at 91

MOORHEAD – Aldrich “Al” Bloomquist, a key player in turning American Crystal Sugar into a grower-owned cooperative – and sugar beets into a nearly $5 billion industry for North Dakota and Minnesota – died Monday at age 91 in Eventide Lutheran Home.

Bloomquist was for years American Crystal’s spokesman and the co-op’s man in Washington. He eventually served as Crystal’s president and CEO from late 1990 to early 1992.

“He’s a personal hero of mine,” David Berg, president and CEO of American Crystal, said Wednesday.

Bloomquist was a man of integrity, decency and intelligence, Berg said.

“He had a great sense of humor. He was quiet. He was a journalist by training, and he really wanted to understand what was going on,” Berg said.

Bloomquist’s idea – to have growers buy Denver-based American Crystal Sugar and turn it into a co-operative – was derided as “socialistic” in the early 1970s, Berg said.

Now, with most of the U.S. sugar beet industry using that model, he is seen as visionary, Berg said.

“Al was a forward thinker, I’ll tell you,” said Tom Sinner of Casselton, N.D. “He was a real diamond. He was pretty smooth.”

Sinner served on American Crystal Sugar’s first board of directors when the co-op formed in 1973.

“Al was a very quiet man. He didn’t make a lot of splash or anything, but he really did make it possible” for the valley to become the center of sugar beet growing in the U.S., Sinner said.

Bloomquist was born March 20, 1921, in Willmar, Minn., to Aldrich Albin Carl and Leola Hannah (France) Bloomquist.

He graduated from high school in Willmar in 1939 and attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.

He interrupted his studies to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Bloomquist married Meredith Scheid on Dec. 24, 1943, and after the war, he returned to Gustavus, graduating in 1946.

Bloomquist worked as a journalist at the St. James (Minn.) Plaindealer. He later worked at Gustavus Adolphus, and as an editor at the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press, before working with the St. Peter Chamber of Commerce, Jostens and Bring’s Press.

He joined the sugar beet industry in 1955 as a regional manager for the Western Beet Sugar producers in Minneapolis.

“I wouldn’t have known a sugar beet from a load of turnips when I saw my first sugar beet,” Bloomquist told The Forum in October 1999.

But he learned fast.

In 1961, he became executive secretary of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Through the late 1960s, the sugar beet industry grew and prospered in the region, but by the early 1970s, American Crystal had cut factory repair and maintenance to a minimum and there were signs factories could close.

In 1972, Bloomquist wrote American Crystal president C.W. Briggs, proposing that beet growers buy American Crystal’s stock at book value, about 66 percent above market value.

An $86 million financial package sealed the deal in 1973.

“It would not be unreasonable to say, that if (growers) had not taken those steps” that sugar beet production in the Red River Valley “would have just gone away completely. I don’t think that’s a stretch at all,” Berg said.

Bloomquist’s wife, Meredith, said it was “a pretty exciting time in his life. He wasn’t really one to be proud of himself. He enjoyed it. He enjoyed the whole thing of the local growers owning their own business.”

Bloomquist spent nearly two decades as Crystal Sugar’s vice president of public affairs, often working in Washington for protections for the sugar beet industry. In the process, he became known as a top expert on the U.S. sugar industry.

“You don’t get a lot done by being flashy. You work with the people in power. He was very good at that,” Sinner said.

Bloomquist also started Sugarbeet Grower magazine.

After his time as president and CEO of Crystal Sugar, he served as a consultant to the co-op.

“He liked to work. He worked five or six years beyond retirement and loved every day of it,” Meredith Bloomquist said.

In 1977, Bloomquist was given the Dyer Memorial Award as the “Sugar Man of the Year.”

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from NDSU in 1992.

In 1994, Crystal Sugar growers established the Aldrich C. Bloomquist Lectureship Series endowment fund at NDSU.

That same year, he was awarded the University of Minnesota’s Siehl Prize for Excellence in Agriculture.

He entered Eventide two years ago, his wife said.

She said he had multiple health problems, and that his death came after a decline due to old age.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother-in-law, Donald (June) Scheid, and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother and sister-in-law, Ross and Lavinia Bloomquist, and a niece.

A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Aug. 16 at Wright Funeral Home, Moorhead, with a gathering one hour before at the funeral home.

Interment is at Prairie Home Cemetery in Moorhead. An online guestbook can be accessed at www.wrightfuneral.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583