Some say Myron Kunin, founder of Regis Corp., never met a business he didn't like. Others insist he never saw a piece of art he didn't like. Both are understatements.
Kunin, who took over his parents' department store hair salon business in 1958, had a passion for both art and business that grew from its start in Minneapolis and now spans the globe — from the Regis hair salon empire to his renowned early American art collection to philanthropic projects that stretch to museums, galleries and universities around the country.
Kunin, 85, died Wednesday from pneumonia after battling leukemia for nearly a year.
"We were lucky," said his wife, Anita. Kunin rallied "due to a miracle drug and had a renaissance from July on." But then, she said, he caught what seemed to be a cold, was hospitalized Saturday and died Wednesday.
Kunin is perhaps best remembered for turning his parents' 15 department-store-based barbershops and hair salons into a public company with $2.7 billion in annual revenues and 1,340 (owned and franchised) stores in the United States, France and England.
"Myron played a pivotal role in the history and growth of Regis Corp.," said Regis CEO Dan Hanrahan in a statement Thursday. "We have lost a visionary and a friend." Kunin left the company's board in 2008.
"He never met a business he didn't like," said Burt Gross, Kunin's childhood friend and attorney. "He owned a chain of radio [stations] in small towns in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. He owns about 25 [radio] stations and about six TV stations. He loved the business."
Kunin also invested in St. Paul real estate, a popular St. Paul-based children's product store and the electronic manufacturing firm Nortech Systems Inc. in Wayzata.
He shunned ties, preferring sport coats or sweaters.
"And he could schmooze with the best of them,'' said his longtime friend and art curator Martin Weinstein, owner of the Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis. "He loved being by people from all walks of life. For all his success in business and his great art collection, there was nothing fancy about Myron. He lived very modestly. He drove a van."
Kunin is known as a man who loved his family. "But art was a close second," Weinstein jested. "Myron was one of the truly remarkable and passionate collectors of American art. Not only in this state but in the United States.''
His collection is best known for its early 20th century American paintings by artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Stuart Davis and Andrew Wyeth. He sponsored the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis and spent $15,000 annually on its ceramics lecture series, said director emeritus Emily Galusha. He sponsored the film series at the Walker Art Center, and was a life trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Kunin served on the MIA's board for 35 years.
"His collection of that 1900-1945 period rivals that of the Whitney Museum of American Art," said Elizabeth Armstrong, MIA curator of contemporary art and a longtime friend. Kunin's gifts to the MIA include 230 paintings, drawings and other works.
Besides his wife, Kunin is survived by his sons David, Tim, Andrew and Bill; his sister Diana Lewis; and seven grandchildren. The family will hold a private funeral service. On Sunday there will be a memorial reception for friends and associates at Temple Israel in Minneapolis from 5 to 7 p.m.
Staff writers Patrick Kennedy and Mary Abbe contributed to this report.