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Keith Jacob developed a keen eye for the perfect Christmas tree as a youth walking through forests in his native Wisconsin. After observing many self-generated seedlings, "I was inspired with the concept of planting conifers to grow our own Christmas trees," he wrote in a 2005 article that appeared in the Minnesota Christmas Tree News.
As an adult, Jacob sold his marketing business and made a career out of growing balsam firs, white spruce and other varieties of pine trees on farms in Shoreview, Anoka and Sunrise, Minn. His trees were sold at Bachman's, YMCA, nurseries and at small tree lots throughout the Upper Midwest.
He was selected to present the official Christmas tree for the Blue Room at the White House to First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1993 and 1994, family members said.
"He was an inspiration," said Pat Olive, vice president of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association. "He was extremely respected by both Minnesota and national tree growers, and was a mentor to many of them."
Jacob, 84, of North Oaks, died of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, on March 5.
Known as "Mr. Minnesota Christmas Tree Grower," Jacob planted his first trees in the 1950s. He joined the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association in 1957 and was on its board more than 45 years. He was elected president of the National Christmas Tree Association in 1987, and given its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007, an organization spokeswoman said.
He won several blue ribbons for exhibits showcasing his trees and trends in the industry at the Minnesota State Fair. His three farms, along with those of two men with whom he partnered for marketing efforts, became known as the "Blue Ribbon Tree Farms," said Jim Rogers, a retired Hennepin County district judge and past president of the National Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Jacob eventually sold his farms in Anoka and Shoreview, but continued operations in Sunrise.
Jacob brought innovation to the industry and is credited with introducing Canaan firs and Frasier firs to Minnesota.
"He was an innovator," Rogers said. "He was always trying new ways to improve the development and growth of Christmas trees, and trying things with new species."
Jacob, who was born in Rib Lake, Wis., majored in business administration at the University of Minnesota. He volunteered for several years with the University of Minnesota Extension Service of Ramsey County and served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy and Navy Reserves.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Hilda, and a sister, Bonnie Rasch, of Burnsville.
Services have been held.