Minnesotans remembered Bruce Dayton for building one of the state's most successful companies, helping its political leaders navigate tough choices and bringing the world's finest art to them.
"Bruce and I were close friends for years," former Vice President Walter Mondale said in an interview. "Even though he was a business leader and I was a progressive U.S. senator, we got along fine. He would help me relate to the business community."
Dayton, 97, died Friday morning at his home in Orono after a lengthy illness. His son Mark Dayton is Minnesota's governor.
Kurt Daudt, the speaker of the Minnesota House and the Capitol's highest-ranking Republican, issued a statement expressing sympathy to the Democratic governor and the Dayton family.
"Minnesota lost a visionary business leader and generous philanthropist today in Bruce Dayton," Daudt said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Gov. Dayton and his family."
Along with his four brothers, Bruce Dayton took over the Dayton's department store business upon their father's death and, later, built from it a discount chain that became Target Corp., now one of Minnesota's largest companies. For 75 years, Dayton was a trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and became its most generous benefactor.
The homepage of the museum's website on Friday morning carried a large photo of Dayton and special tribute that began, "The Trustees of the Minneapolis Institute of Art sadly announced today the passing of its life trustee, of great distinction, Bruce B. Dayton." Dayton made more than 2,000 gifts of art to the museum, it noted.
Mondale, now with the Minneapolis law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, recalled that, during his time as vice president in the late 1970s, Dayton traveled with him on several international trips, including to China.
"He would visit the great art museums with my wife, Joan. That was one reason you have a great permanent collection at the MIA," Mondale said.
While the Dayton family no longer has any direct involvement in the running of Target, it has kept in touch with the Minneapolis-based retailer's leadership.
Shortly after arriving at Target last year, Chief Executive Brian Cornell met Bruce Dayton at a cocktail reception hosted by Dayton's grandson Eric Dayton, who co-owns the Askov Finlayson men's shop and the Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis.
Dayton gave Cornell three books he had written about Target's history and his family. "There was something about the passing of things that was really pretty powerful," Eric Dayton said earlier this year when he described the meeting.
Cornell was touched by the gesture and read the books. He later said Dayton emphasized to him in that meeting the importance of giving back to the community.
Bruce Dayton and his brother Kenneth were the last members of the family to be actively involved in running Target. They retired from its board in 1983, ending 80 years of direct family involvement with Dayton Hudson Corp.
When Target celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, executives welcomed Bruce Dayton and his brother Doug onstage at one of its national employee meetings. The crowd gave the brothers a standing ovation as they stood and smiled.
"Bruce was a great man and a visionary retail and business leader," Cornell said in a statement on Friday. "Most importantly, he proved that you can both do good business and do good while doing business. The legacy of giving back that he championed so many years ago continues at Target today."
Target gives 5 percent of its pretax profits to charity, a practice that was started by the Dayton family.
"We are thankful for everything Bruce did for the company and communities across the country," Cornell added. "His family is in all of our thoughts."
Mondale said he believed Bruce Dayton was the "key businessman in the Dayton operations."
"He was the strategist and could see the big picture and figured out how to get there. He also was socially responsible. He knew how to make profit and also respond to the community, including donating 5 percent of pretax profits to community causes. And he and his wife were personally generous."