Obituary: Clarence Alt, president and CEO of Rahr Malting Co.

  • Article by: PATRICK KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2014 - 7:30 PM

Clarence Alt in the late 1960s.

Beer drinkers who made a toast on St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day, owe a small nod to Clarence Alt, past president of Rahr Malting, one of the largest suppliers of malt to the brewing industry.

Alt, 106, died March 2 in Florida.

Rahr Malting was founded in 1847 in Manitowoc, Wis., and moved to Shakopee in 1962 after selling its Manitowoc plant to Anheuser-Busch. Clarence Alt was president as the company established itself at the newer, bigger Shakopee malting plant.

Malt is a primary ingredient in brewing beer, and the 1960s and 1970s were a critical time in the brewing industry as regional brewers battled for market share and to establish themselves as national brands.

Alt joined Rahr in 1936 and, in 1963, became the first nonfamily member to run the business. He retired in 1973 but continued to serve on the company’s board of directors at least through 1984; he was also a founding member of the Rahr Foundation board of directors.

The keys to Alt’s longevity, according to his son John, were “four strips of crispy bacon every morning” and true to his brewing roots “every night at 5 he had either a beer — always a Budweiser — or a shot of bourbon.”

William Rahr, great-great-grandson and namesake of founder William Rahr, is president of the company and will succeed Gary Lee as CEO when Lee retires in October.

Anheuser-Busch remained a major Rahr client. The Busch family was driven by high-quality ingredients and consistency in brewing processes.

“This same positioning regarding high-quality barley and consistent malt processing resonated back to Rahr as a malt supplier to AB,” Lee said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “Mr. Alt understood this mission and the same principles of customer satisfaction are in place today at Rahr Malting Co.”

Alt was born in Algoma, Wis., on Sept. 18, 1907, and married his wife, Beulah Nobles, on May 4, 1935, after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1934.

Alt always emphasized family before work and whenever he went on a business trip he gave Beulah the choice to accompany him. His children also remember him as an attentive listener. His son John said, “He always said he learned by listening not by talking.”

That attentive listening and the ability to give people his full attention were part of his leadership style. Bill Runge was the Shakopee plant manager at Rahr Malting and worked with Alt.

“When he talked to you,” Runge said, “you almost felt like you were the only person in the world. You always felt you were working with him, not for him.”

Alt was a head of the Barley and Malt Institute and was also a member of St. Patrick’s Church of Edina, and St. Michael the Archangel on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Fla.

Since 1972 Alt has lived in Florida. But he always spent the summer at his beloved cabin on Big Portage Lake in northern Wisconsin. In the last several years his son Orrin was in charge of fetching Clarence from his assisted living facility on Father’s Day weekend, escorting him to the cabin and returning his father to Florida after his September birthday.

Alt was an avid hunter, fisherman and golfer. He was treasurer of the Rahr Foundation in 1955 when the company donated 105 acres for the creation of the Rahr Memorial School Forest in Wisconsin.

The family celebrated his 106th birthday at the cabin.

Alt was preceded in death by his wife, Beulah Nobles Alt; and his son, Rowe Baker Alt. He is survived by daughter Mary Ellen Alt; sons John D. Alt and Orrin Alt, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Services have been held..

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