Wilt Croonquist, businessman and former EDA director, dies
WILLMAR -- Willmar businessman Wilt Croonquist, who had served as Kandiyohi County's first full-time economic development director, died Saturday morning at his home of cancer. He was 69.
Born and raised in Kandiyohi County, Croonquist lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, for many years while working for Firestone tires as the manager for the western states, according to Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Falk, who said he was Croonquist's "oldest friend."
Croonquist came back to Minnesota and opened his own business, Kandi Tires. In 1989 he was hired to oversee the county's first formal venture into economic development.
As director of the Kandiyohi County Economic Development Partnership and the Kandiyohi County Rural Finance Authority, Croonquist helped develop various business funds, including the women's business revolving loan fund and the emerging entrepreneur fund and he worked to bring new industry to the area.
"Wilt was a dynamic person in our community," said Falk. His death "is another big loss."
In May of this year Croonquist was given a special lifetime achievement award during the annual appreciation and awards banquet of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
Croonquist developed the "Bring Them Back Home Campaign" which encouraged people who grew up here and moved away to come back to the county to live and work -- much like he did.
"He was a man with a lot of great ideas" said Paul Vollan, an area banker who served on numerous committees and boards with Croonquist. "He didn't take much credit for himself," he said.
Vollan said it "meant a lot" to Croonquist that he was able to come back home and use his education and talents to help his home community.
"He just encouraged all of us to be really proud that we lived here, which most of us are, but we don't verbalize it," said Falk. "He really was our community's cheerleader."
"He gave more than he took," said Vollan, who called Croonquist "one of my best friends."
When they were boys, Falk said he spent a lot time at Croonquist's farm in rural Kandiyohi playing baseball. They went to high school together in Willmar.
"We have a group of people who went to high school together who are very, very dear friends," said Falk. "Of that group, he's the first one to pass on."
"It's a real loss, but he set a good example for others to follow," said Vollan, who praised Croonquist for accomplishing a lot for the county in a short period of time.
Croonquist held the county economic development job for 14 years. His success with launching the program was marred by a sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed in 2002 by Caryn Wilde, who provided office space and office management services to the Kandiyohi County Economic Development Partnership. Wilde was awarded nearly $150,000 as a result of the lawsuit.
"I don't know anybody who hasn't made mistakes in his life," said Falk, who said the lawsuit was a difficult time for Croonquist and his family. "I've always had a lot of respect for him," he said.
Croonquist was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. "He knew it was terminal," said Falk. But even into late summer Croonquist was still involved with efforts to make lasting improvements to the community by raising funds for his most recent passion, the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.
Vollan said Croonquist also spent much of the last year with his family, including his grandchildren. "His family meant a lot to him," said Vollan.
Croonquist is survived by his wife, Betty, two children and several grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending with Peterson Brothers Funeral Home of Willmar.