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Profile: Former state senator has lived a challenging life

Even in the first grade, he was prone to speak up and was dubbed the class storyteller by his teacher and many classmates. Little Jimmy was destined to continue to speak up, without hesitation, and at an early age he developed the confidence need...

Even in the first grade, he was prone to speak up and was dubbed the class storyteller by his teacher and many classmates.
Little Jimmy was destined to continue to speak up, without hesitation, and at an early age he developed the confidence needed to compete with his older brother and two sisters. He was the caboose of the Gustafson family and had to stand tall at all times or get lost in the shuffle.
James F. Gustafson was born on Sept. 8, 1938, at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. His dad, Albin B. Gustafson, owned and operated the A&E Supply Company downtown. His mom, Mabel E. (Turnquist) Gustafson, had been employed in the office of the U.S. Steel Plant in Morgan Park.
James generally responds to the name "Jim"; a number of close friends call him "Gus." He has two sisters and a brother: Betty Celusta Eichorn is now living in Bloomington; Earl Gustafson, a retired judge, lives in St. Paul; and Carol, a retired school teacher, is currently living in Wellesley, Mass., with her husband Roger Johnson, a 1948 Denfeld graduate.
The family home was in the Chester Park area, and Jim relishes his camping experiences with Boy Scout Troop 44 in an open field where the UMD campus is housed today. He loved scouting and achieved the rank of Star Scout before other pursuits consumed his active mind. One of his cherished buddies back in his early childhood was Bill Jacott. Today, Dr. Bill Jacott is an active administrator at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis. Another lifetime buddy is Dr. Vern Amundson. Today, Jim and Vern are closely associated.
The Gustafsons owned a cabin on Pike Lake, where Jim spent his summers swimming, doing a little fishing, joining the Auto Club and enjoying other opportunities to have fun.
Dad was part of his early childhood memories as well. As a small merchant, he spent a great deal of time at the store six days a week, but Jim remembers skating and tobogganing in the Chester Park area with the family. His mom wasn't part of the excitement, however. She had been ill for many years with high blood pressure.
The family originally attended the First Presbyterian Church. Dad was an elder, and in later years Jim also achieved that honor at Glen Avon Presbyterian Church on Woodland Avenue. The family did attend Lakeside Presbyterian for a short period, but joined Glen Avon where he remains active today.
When Jim was 13, the family moved to the Mount Royal Manor to make it easier for Mom. They were the first or second family to move into the new facility. Jim was the only kid living in the building, and he became isolated from his normal pursuits with friends in the Chester Park area. Jim survived and was quick to make friends and enjoy the many opportunities in school.
He attended East Junior High School and played in the school band. He was the last trombone, and friend Bill Abalan was the first. For those not familiar with the structure of a band, let's just say Jim was never called upon to play a trombone solo. So much for his musical talents.
He also played on the school football and basketball teams so he was back in his circle of friends, although still isolated at Mount Royal Manor. Bob Williams was his coach, and he had high expectations for Jim because his brother Earl, who had preceded him at East, was a great athlete.
He liked school and social studies was his favorite subject. Jim was very outgoing and quick to make friends. In the eighth grade he was elected homecoming king, just beating out Peter Bowman by a fraction (two votes). Normally he would have stayed at East as it converted to a senior high school in the early 1950s.
His mom's health continued to deteriorate, and his mom and dad were then in their 50s. Having an active teen-ager around the apartment was sort of a strain, so one day his dad called Jim aside and broke the news to him that he had other plans for his son's future. Jim was only 14 when he left home, and went on to Shattuck Military School in Faribault for the 10th grade. This was certainly a change in Jim's sheltered life pattern, but he quickly adjusted and found to his disbelief that he really liked it at Shattuck. He realized he had really left the nest for good.
At Shattuck he played football and was the captain of the team in his senior year. He played guard. He also participated in school plays and had the lead in "My Three Angels." Also, as a senior, he was the company commander of his barracks overseeing 75 of his peers on a daily basis. He set the rules and administered discipline at times. The military life was starting to set well in the mind of young Jim Gustafson.
There was a girls' school nearby called St. Mary's. It was a frequent hangout for the boys, including Cadet Gustafson. Because like his other musical talents he wasn't much of a dancer, he elected to take some dancing lessons. When the football coach found out about it, he strongly suggested Jim forget that folly and concentrate on the real world around him. The response, "Yes, sir!" ended that interest and continued to limit his social life at the time.
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Jim graduated from Shattuck in 1956, and that fall entered Ohio Wesleyan University. During his freshman year his mom died, and Jim returned to Duluth to help his dad get settled in his new life. Jim enrolled at UMD, and it was there he met his wife-to-be, Pat Scheiderick. They dated occasionally, but following his sophomore year, he returned to Wesleyan University and graduated in 1960 with majors in both history and economics and a minor in business.
Jim had joined the Marine Corps Reserve Officer PLC program in 1956 at Quantico, Va., near Washington D. C. He was a freshman at Wesleyan. That meant he had to spend two complete summers at camp learning the basics of becoming a Marine. Jim liked that a lot and seriously considered a career in the Marine Corps.
He signed up for four years of active duty with a lifetime career in mind. The year was 1960, he was about to graduate from Wesleyan, and everything was a go except for one thing. Dad had a serious heart attack.
Jim returned to Duluth to help his dad out. The Marine Corps gave him some trouble, but when all the cards were laid on the table, it relented, and Jim came back to Duluth. He was busted to a buck private and continued to attend drills at Park Point.
The year was 1961. Dad had survived his heart attack, was pretty much retired, and Jim was running the business. Jim married Pat on Aug. 11, 1961, about a month after her church, Elim Lutheran, burned to the ground. They were married at First Lutheran Church. Pat was teaching at the Jedlicka Junior High School in Proctor.
They have three children. Eric is a tech consultant for McGladrey-Pullen in Minneapolis. He married Lyn Tierny, and they have one son, Benjamin James. Stephen is the current president of Minnesota Blueprint in Minneapolis. He is married to Debbi Wright, and they have two daughters, Halle and Carlie. Jill works as an operations manager for US Bank in the Twin Cities. That's the family tree to date.
In 1962, the newlyweds had a home on Crescent View and Pat was teaching while Jim was the general manager of A&E Supply. Although the economy wasn't the greatest at the time, A&E was expanding and opened an office supply store in Hibbing as the taconite industry started to move along nicely. And then disaster struck. In 1968, a major fire destroyed the store in Duluth.
A&E Supply survived the fire, but things weren't the same. Business growth on the hill and a declining downtown retail base directed Jim to diversify, and in 1971 he purchased Minnesota Blueprint in Minneapolis. It was a good move, and that business flourished. His A&E Supply business in Albert Lea also continued strong.
During this period, Jim was the president of the Downtown Parking Association and was in the process of building a new parking ramp on West Michigan Street. Suddenly, he became more and more involved in the Downtown Business Association, and a diverse business career unfolded right before his eyes. He was instrumental in the development of the skywalk system that today is a modern miracle.
He continued as president of A&E Supply, the Downtown Parking Association and Hibbing Office Supply. He was a part owner and director in the Lyric Block Development Association; the State Bank of Littlefork; president of MinCad Systems and chairman of MnGraphics, Inc. He was chairman of Minnesota Blueprint; director of Norwest Bank, Minnesota North; owner of JFG Company (real estate and leasing) and chairman and CEO of Split Rock Consultancy. Not bad for a young man years ahead of the normal retirement age.
He had his fling in politics as well. He was appointed to the Duluth City Council to fill the unexpired term of Jack Arnold. He didn't seek election because his company was doing business with the city. In 1985, he ran for the Minnesota State Senate when Jim Ulland resigned his seat to take a state commissioner position. Jim was re-elected in 1986 and again in 1990, but resigned in 1992 to accept a Gov. Arne Carlson appointment as commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB). During his Senate career, he authored many major state bills, including the "Budget Balancing Act" which was strongly supported by then Gov. Carlson.
When Jesse Ventura was elected in 1998, Jim was replaced by a Ventura appointee who faced plenty of Iron Range opposition at first but had enough support to become the new commissioner of the IRRRB.
Today, Jim is the chairman of Split Rock Management Corporation, a consulting, mentoring service designed to assist promoters of special projects throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. He has 31 associates under contract; all are high level professionals with master's and doctorate degrees. Whatever your marketing needs, Jim's company can provide sound advice. The company was just launched in December 1999, and Jim is optimistic about its future growth.
Jim recently sold Minnesota Blueprint and his son remains on as president.
During the diversities of his life, he has always kept a sense of humor and a good rapport with almost everyone he has been in contact with.
Jim always took time to give as much as possible to civic and public commitments. He was president of the Duluth Retail Association; the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Development Association; chair of the Air Base Reuse Committee; director of the Independent Business Association of Minnesota; Outstanding Young Man of Duluth; campaign chair, United Way of Greater Duluth; and spokesperson for the city of Duluth All-American City Award Committee. He received the UMD Alumni Achievement Award and was the Business Person of the Year recognized by the UMD School of Business.
Is there more? Stay tuned.

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