Obituary: James 'Jim' Curry: Insurance firm founder, developer, civic leader

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 6:44 PM

Jim Curry grew up on a farm in Rogers with a brilliant mind and a horrible stutter.

By the time he was a high school senior, living on his own in Minneapolis, he’d worked with an expert to conquer that impediment. He became class valedictorian, then he went on to co-found a large insurance company and to develop what’s believed to be the first office park in Minnesota.

Curry, an entrepreneur, developer and civic leader, died unexpectedly Aug. 20. At his side was his beloved wife of 62 years, Barbara. He was 85.

Curry was a natural-born storyteller with a remarkable memory and a man who found the positive in nearly every encounter. He loved to learn details of the lives of everybody he met, yet when talk turned to him, he used self-deprecating humor, said Steve Curry, one of two sons.

“He had a double chin, and he used to tell us, my brother and I, ‘You know, boys, when they were passing out chins, I thought they said gin, and I asked for a double,’ ” Steve Curry said.

Young Jim Curry lived on his family’s farm in Rogers until ninth grade, when he went to live in Minneapolis with an uncle and aunt, Mike and Helen Curry.

A well-known teacher at Edison High School, she’d suggested that he would do better at a school where she worked. His aunt fell ill, though, when Curry was a senior. So he struck out on his own. In 1946, he graduated valedictorian of his class of 300.

Curry joined the Army and talked his way onto the staff of the Pacific Stars and Stripes military newspaper. In 1947, when he was only 19, he became editor in Tokyo.

Back home, he attended the University of Minnesota, earning a four-year degree in journalism in 2½ years.

He met the love of his life, Barbara Williams of Hibbing, at the Canterbury Club, an Episcopal campus ministry. They married in 1950.

The next year, he began selling life insurance for MONY. Later, he and Ed Dunn became partners and merged 27 independent insurance companies into their own.

In the 1960s, they developed a 21-building office park, Pentagon Park, at Interstate 494 and Hwy. 100 in Edina. It was the first of its kind in Minnesota, Steve Curry said.

The partners went on to develop land in what was then the farm communities of Eagan and Chanhassen.

When not working, Jim and Barbara spent time with family and friends at a cabin they bought on Lower Hay Lake in the Brainerd area. There and elsewhere, Curry relished telling funny life stories.

His newsman’s curiosity never faded, nor did his hunger to learn. He asked nearly everyone he met about their lives and families and made them his new friends.

Steve recalled his dad taking the family to see “Mary Poppins,” the 1964 musical motion picture. Back home, Jim Curry sat down and effortlessly played the theme song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

As a child, he had watched his mother, Florence Johnson Curry, take piano lessons. He later taught himself to play by ear, using seven or eight fingers, and never knew how to read sheet music.

Jim Curry served leadership roles in many civic and religious organizations, including Project Concern, a global nonprofit providing health care, clean water and more. As Minnesota chairman, he arranged fundraisers including Walk for Mankind.

“If there isn’t a sign that says you can’t do something,” he once told son Steve, “that means you can do it.”

In addition to Barbara and Steve, survivors include a brother, Jack; son Paul; four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Services have been held.

Joy Powell • 612-673-7750

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