Richard “Dick” Ames started a dirt-moving company with a single bulldozer and built it into a $1 billion business that shaped projects like Target Field, the St. Croix Crossing and Denver International Airport.
Ames, founder of Burnsville-based Ames Construction, died Wednesday at the age of 89 in Scottsdale, Ariz. A cause of death was not announced, though he was recently hospitalized with pneumonia.
Friends and associates remembered Ames as a kind, hardworking and generous businessman who never forgot his roots as a Minnesota farm boy, despite the national reach of his company.
“He was so generous to Burnsville, and to all the places where he had businesses, and a great friend to me personally,” Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. “I am going to miss him very deeply.”
He also farmed and bred draft horses. And he was a major donor to the University of Minnesota athletic department.
“One of my favorite sayings is a lot of guys are born on third base and think they hit a triple. Dick was as successful as you would want to be, but he wasn’t born on third base. He wasn’t born on first base. I’m not sure he was born in the dugout,” Glen Mason, a former Gophers football coach, said. “Everything he had was because of his hard work, his fortitude, his guts and determination.”
Ames was born May 4, 1929, in Hampton and grew up in Farmington, the oldest of nine siblings. He was an athlete — competing in high school football, basketball and track — before enrolling at Mankato State Teachers College to pursue his dream of becoming a coach. He left school after one year to move back home and help his grandfather on the family farm.
When he was 30, married and a father, Ames set out to find work outside of farming at his own father’s behest. For the next 10 years, he worked his way up from day laborer to the owner’s “right-hand man” at V.J. Volden Highway Construction Co., said Roger McBride, Ames’ executive vice president of safety and risk management.
In 1962, he bought a used Caterpillar bulldozer and started Richard J. Ames Excavating, which would later become Ames Construction.
His brother Butch Ames soon joined as a partner, followed by other brothers and family members. The company started out as earth movers for back road and county highway projects. By the 1980s, it was taking on some of the biggest excavation and grading work in Minnesota.
“Our business is very closely related to the American dream, and that’s automobiles,” Ames told the Star Tribune in a 1989 profile. “You have to have a road to drive it on, and that’s where I play in the picture.”
Ames Construction continued growing into a heavy civil and industrial general contractor that today employs more than 2,000 people, has offices in six states and annual revenue of more than $1 billion.
In the 1980s, Ames started raising and showing Percheron draft horses — which he grew up around on the family farm. Today, the Ames Percheron Farm in Jordan has more than 30 dapple-gray Percheron geldings. Next door, he started Cedar Ridge Arabians, which today breeds, trains and stables more than 100 Arabian horses.
Ames gradually stepped back from the company’s day-to-day operations, splitting his time between Minnesota and Arizona. He still filled the role of company figurehead, visiting the office daily when he was in town and talking with employees, said McBride.
“He was a great man,” McBride said. “People will never know how much he did to help people who were disadvantaged or in need because he did it without fanfare.”
Ames is survived by his wife, Lollie Ames, four brothers and three sisters, two sons, two daughters, two stepsons, one stepdaughter and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.