Obituary: Dale Olseth, business executive, volunteer

  • Article by: STEVEN FISCHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2014 - 8:26 PM

Dale Olseth never forgot where he came from.

Olseth, the former president and CEO of Tonka Toys, Medtronic Inc. and Sur­Modics Inc., died Feb. 11. He was 83.

In a speech given in 1995 at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, Olseth said: “Those who are happy radiate and do good.”

His brother, Bruce, thought the philosophy stemmed from an experience during their childhood in Mankato when the family’s house was flooded to the second floor. Olseth and his family escaped out a window in the attic onto a barge, part of a rescue mission by the Red Cross.

“Olseth was grateful for what the Red Cross did. He liked charities ever since,” Bruce Olseth said.

Daughter Cheryl Olseth said her father “would spend so much time volunteering … You can write a check, but it’s the people who do the volunteering and give their time that matter.”

Olseth, a University of Minnesota alum, was the longest-serving trustee at the University of Minnesota Foundation, serving more than 30 years.

“He would be the first to arrive to our meetings. He loved it. He could not wait,” said Jerry Fischer, former president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation.

His daughter said he was part of so many boards that it was hard to keep track.

As president and CEO of Medtronic, Olseth quadrupled the company’s revenues before being appointed chairman of the med-tech firm in 1985.

In 1986, Olseth joined SurModics, a biotechnology firm. The company was taken public 12 years later in 1998.

At that time, Olseth went door-to-door telling shareholders to gather their stock because the company was going to go public.

“Many people in northeast Minneapolis were made millionaires because of [the public offering],” said Cheryl, his daughter.

“A lot of people in his position like to work on their golf handicap, but Dale insisted on working on community development,” said Fischer.

Olseth, in an interview with the Junior Achievement Foundation, said: “The community is the foundation of life for the people who live in that community.”

Olseth was the type who never could retire, said Cheryl Olseth, recalling how he would sit on porch at their cabin captivated by business reports.

“He did not have an easy childhood,” Cheryl said.

At the age of 14, Olseth had a severe speech impediment, a stutter that impaired his ability to communicate. He credited one of his teachers, who made him speak in front of the class every day, for his overcoming it.

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