You’ve likely driven on a road, passed over a bridge or ridden on a rail line that Charley McCrossan’s company built.
The Rogers man and hardworking Irishman, who turned $1,000 in savings and two used dump trucks into one of the metro area’s largest construction companies, died June 27 at the age of 91.
He started C.S. McCrossan, a Maple Grove asphalt paving business, during the suburban boom of the 1950s and ’60s, tapping into the urgent need for streets, bridges and highways to connect the sprawling Twin Cities.
“He was a self-starter … and an innovator in the industry,” said Tim Worke, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota. “He defined a generation of people. His legacy is in the roads and bridges people drive on every day.”
McCrossan leveraged a drive that stemmed from his Duluth roots. Born Charles Stewart McCrossan, he was the third of four children. Their father died early on and the family fell into poverty, so he picked up jobs such as selling newspapers as a young boy. By 17, he had dropped out of school and was shoveling coal into furnaces on a Great Lakes ore boat.
“The war was on and there were jobs,” he said in a 1991 Star Tribune article. “There was money to be made.”
He fell in love with the water and joined the Merchant Marine, delivering materials to Allied forces during the war. By 1947 he was back in Duluth, where he received an economics degree in less than three years.
He fell in love with a student nurse, Helen Evans, but their plans to start a life together were interrupted when McCrossan was drafted to serve in the Korean War. When he returned, the couple married and moved to Minneapolis, where he planned to study engineering.
But his plans were interrupted again, this time by the birth of the first of their nine children. So he got a job at the Ford plant in St. Paul and ran a side business installing blacktop driveways.
In 1956 he launched C.S. McCrossan. To asphalt paving he added concrete curb and gutter work, then sewer and water, then highways and bridges.
“Charley started out putting in driveways and now we’ve built the interstates and freeways,” said his son, Tom, of Rogers, now the company’s president. “He had that vision.”
C.S. McCrossan’s trajectory mirrored the region’s growth, said family friend Deb Gelbach. “Everything needed asphalt back then,” she said, adding that McCrossan proudly paid back a thousand times over the public assistance that his family had received.
The company grew into a multimillion-dollar business, with 500 Minnesota employees, and landed contracts for big projects such as the Blue Line and Green Line light-rail routes, Hwy. 610 and Interstates 494 and 394.
That’s because the man behind the company had an unrivaled work ethic, fierce loyalty and humility, family members said. They said he was principled and sometimes gruff, fighting legal battles to protect the business. He was an “engaging, puckishly humorous gent, a man with a tousled shock of white hair, an Irishman’s gift of gab and a scholar’s love of books,” according to the 1991 Star Tribune article.
“Charley’s integrity and honor were irreproachable. It’s becoming really rare in business,” added Tony Phillippi, who owns Phillippi Equipment Co.
Services have been held. Besides his wife, Helen, and son Tom, McCrossan is survived by his sister Patricia Norberg and brother John, both of Gainesville, Fla.; daughters Mary of Wilmington, Del., Jane of Wayzata, Carol of Plymouth, Evelyn Doerr of Woodbury and Ann of Lake Bluff, Ill.; sons Theodore of St. Anthony, John of Maple Grove and Joseph of Glendale, Ariz.; and 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.