Walter (Bill) Mickelson Jr. led his family's southern Minnesota newspaper business into the electronic age by moving into cable television. He gave back to the community by investing in foundations in New Ulm, Fairmont and other towns.
"He was a unique innovator in small-town Minnesota. They led the way to offset press at the New Ulm Journal and Fairmont Sentinel" in the early 1960s, said Mike Dupont, who worked on a book about Mickelson Media Inc.
In contrast to his outgoing father, Walt Sr., who started the family newspaper business, "Bill was more cerebral," Dupont said. "He took the business farther by dint of his intellect than his father did by his personality. ... He treated his people extremely well."
Mickelson, 84, died of respiratory pneumonia Sept. 4 in Minneapolis, said his son, Thor Mickelson, of Minneapolis. He had recently suffered a series of strokes.
Mickelson taught junior high Sunday school in Fairmont and was a New Ulm Scout leader honored by the Boy Scouts with the Silver Beaver Award.
"He had what I think was an amazing ability to imagine possibilities and then out-organize anyone in achieving a goal ... in part with a wonderful sense of humor," said Thor Mickelson. "He cared deeply about people and working to make things better."
Bruce Fenske, publisher of the Journal and Sentinel papers, was an ad salesman at the New Ulm paper for Mickelson. "He was a real gentleman. You could talk to him when you'd see him at restaurants or on the streets. After I started full-time in 1973, I was having lunch one day in a restaurant. He was there and bought my lunch," Fenske said.
He said Mickelson was good at promoting from within and in the mid-1970s was one of the first to acquire a shared computer system for advertising, photos and other uses for his newspapers.
After selling the family's newspapers in 1980, Mickelson bought more cable TV franchises, primarily in New Mexico, where he moved in 1983. His effort to set up cable franchises in the Twin Cities failed, said Thor Mickelson. But he said his father sold the 51-year-old family business for about $60 million to what became Comcast in 1989.
True to his Christian beliefs about sharing wealth, Mickelson set up two foundations. Scandia provided funds for education and economic development in Africa. The Mickelson Media Foundation offered challenge grants to community foundations for education and other needs in towns where the company had operated. It provided $100,000 for Fairmont which, in turn, raised twice that amount.
Mickelson gave another $300,000 to New Ulm in a similar challenge, said Denis Warta, who once led the New Ulm Area Foundation.
In addition to his wife and son, Mickelson is survived by a daughter, Kirsten, of Minneapolis.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, followed by a luncheon.