Don Craighead, a St. Paul native and engineer, was a successful technology entrepreneur who ran his own industrial-automation firm for 30 years before selling it to employees in 1990.
Craighead, who never took another paycheck, paid it forward for 30 years as volunteer to the disadvantaged, mentor to students and young technologists, and friend and connector to hundreds on behalf of schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses.
Craighead, 86, died at home in the presence of his family on Dec. 18.
He started Power/Mation on a pingpong table at his home in 1961. He grew it to a profitable, $30 million-revenue enterprise before he sold.
"It wasn't fun anymore," Craighead told the Star Tribune in 1996. "We were doing very well, but I decided there was a life beyond next year's higher sales quotas."
The sale secured the Craighead family's financial future and gave him the opportunity to help others.
Jim Bensen, a 40-year acquaintance and friend, knew Craighead during years as dean of the College of Industry & Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and as president of Dunwoody Institute.
"Don had a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship and the future," Bensen said. "We exchanged ideas, connected with change agents, promoted Rotary and youth development …
"Some of his ideas were to help people, others to help organizations and frequently to better society."
Craighead had an endless supply of business cards. His and others.
Fred Zimmerman, a retired technologist and business professor at the University of St. Thomas, recalled meeting Craighead in an engineering-research lab at the University of Minnesota in 1953.
"We were undergraduate grunts and friends since," Zimmerman said. "He was our public relations person for a while at St. Thomas. He wouldn't take money. We gave him UST business cards.
"Don was always helpful. And unforgettable. People who he met decades earlier could still count on him when needed. He was known for promoting a 'can-do' attitude in engineering projects and business ventures. He handed out lapel pins that said, 'Attitude.' "
A daughter, Janine Olmscheid, worked with her father last summer to organize his home office. She came to realize there were 200-plus organizations that her dad had worked with over 60 years, including SCORE, the senior-volunteer business consultancy; Century College; Union Gospel Mission, which feeds and houses the homeless in St. Paul, and YMCA Camp St. Croix.
"I told him how proud I was of how he helped everyone and the service he had given to community," she recalled. "He told me … that service to others brought him joy. I believe when COVID-19 hit he lost his ability to connect to one of the most meaningful purposes in his life."
Craighead was preceded in death by a son, Jim. In addition to daughter Janine, he is survived by Sandy, his wife of 54 years; a son, Dan; another daughter, Wendy, and six grandchildren. Private family services will be held Jan. 2. A public celebration of life will be held later.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144