John DuRand gave the disabled 'a chance to fail'

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2008 - 8:33 PM

The St. Paul businessman gave workers with developmental disabilities dignified employment.

John DuRand, founder of Minnesota Diversified Industries in St. Paul, showed the world how to create real jobs for people with mental disabilities.

He insisted such an operation be run as a real business, not a social service agency, and that model is now used in 35 nations around the world.

Durand died March 6 in Phoenix of a ruptured brain blood vessel and a stroke. He was 73.

His company's roots go back to a small St. Paul Catholic school for youths with disabilities, where he became an assistant to the director in 1964. DuRand did not like how the school's jobs program consisted largely of makework tasks with low pay. So he began to run the group like a business in the late 1960s, eventually leading to the creation of Minnesota Diversified Industries.

In another innovation, he mixed nondisabled employees with disabled employees, said Jerr Boschee of Dallas, formerly of Eden Prairie. "He was recognized as the father of the field," said Boschee, who with DuRand cofounded what is now called Workability USA, which promotes firms such as DuRand's.

Under DuRand's leadership, Minnesota Diversified Industries had 50 corporate clients, five plants in Minnesota and 1,000 employees, 600 of whom were developmentally disabled.

DuRand believed that everyone on the team could contribute. And it worked. The employees met their potential, Boschee said. "He called it giving people the opportunity to fail," he said.

The products of their work have been bought by firms such as 3M, Graco, the U.S. Postal Service and the former Dyco gas and oil investment firm of St. Louis Park.

Dyco retiree Ken Hiebel employed DuRand's workforce to put together information binders for investors. Durand's employees did the job faster and cheaper than others, Hiebel said.

After graduating from St. Paul's Cretin High School and serving in the Army during the Korean War, DuRand became a carpenter in St. Paul.

In the 1960s, he earned a bachelor's degree in special education from the University of Minnesota, and did business graduate work at what is now the University of St. Thomas.

Not long after retiring in the late 1990s, he moved to Goodyear, Ariz., where he became president of his church and turned his efforts to outreach, using his homebuilding skills to help people.

He was a skier and spent much of his time on the slopes teaching those with disabilities to ski.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Ardyce of Goodyear, Ariz.; son, Jacques of Knoxville Tenn.; daughter, Monique of Surprise, Ariz.; sisters, Donna Hickey of St. Paul, Gayle Garrity of Hudson, Wis., Richelle DuRand of Maplewood and Yvette Batterson of Maplewood; brothers, Skip of Springfield, Mo., Scott of St. Paul, Lance of Tucson, Ariz., and Leo of Somerset, Wis.

Services have been held.

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