On the spur of the moment, David C. Prosser spent $10,000 bailing out an activist he had never met. He wrote a self-help book and started two businesses. In his 80s and 90s, he traveled frequently to Haiti to help residents access clean water.
Family members and friends remember Prosser, who died Feb. 24 at 94 at his Shorewood home, for his quirky innovations, grand gestures and astounding generosity.
"He was always kind of a renegade," said son Daniel.
"He was someone who pushed us to take risks, someone who was able to bring about compromise and creative thinking and make things happen," said the Rev. Steve Geckeler of Fort Collins, Colo., who calls Prosser his mentor.
In the early 1970s, Geckeler was serving at a Spanish-language church in East Harlem when he got a call from Prosser, whom he'd never met. Prosser persuaded Geckeler to move to Minnesota to serve as associate minister at St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka and help oversee social justice projects.
The church had raised $200,000 toward a much-needed sanctuary. But at Prosser's suggestion, they instead contributed the money to charitable projects. They raised another $200,000 — far short of what they'd need for the sanctuary, but Prosser found an architect who would do it.
"The architect said, 'Yeah, I can do that, but on one condition,' " Geckeler said, in an anecdote that sounds like a fairy tale. "You've got to tell me, in three words, what you want. David said OK. It took them three months but they came up with the three words: Theater for action."
The sanctuary got built. "David was the guy who punched it all the way through," Geckeler said.
In 1973, Prosser heard that American Indian Movement leader Russell Means was jailed in St. Paul, awaiting trial for his involvement in a 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee. Others, including actor Marlon Brando, had contributed to his bail, but it was still $10,000 short.
"My dad said, 'Why don't we put up the money?' " Daniel Prosser said. They did. St. Luke Presbyterian later repaid Prosser his $10,000, though Prosser hadn't expected that.
He was a mechanical engineer at Green Giant and 3M, acquired a staffing service and founded a company that manages workers' compensation cases and an insurance firm. In 1979, he published "Peel Your Own Onion: How to Manage Your Life Like a Successful Small Business and Become Happier and More Productive."
With his daughter, Pamela, he was a co-founder and substantial investor in Hopkins-based Haiti Outreach. Even in his 90s, he made numerous trips to train Haitians to access clean water, she said. "It's not like going to Mexico; it's a very difficult trip," she said.
On Prosser's 90th birthday, he joined son Thomas and a friend on a fishing trip on Lake of the Woods. On the last day, just they were about to head home, Prosser caught a 12-pound walleye.
"We all gasped — it was gigantic," Thomas Prosser said. "It was the last fish he ever caught."
Immediately afterward, his pole fell into the lake and sank. "He sacrificed his pole to the lake he loved, and the lake gave him this giant fish."
Prosser was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret Feigal. Along with sons Thomas Prosser of Minnetrista and Daniel Prosser of Minneapolis, and daughter Pamela, survivors include children Polly Wolner of Rice Lake, Wis., and John Prosser of Mound; a sister, Betty Prosser of Oakland, Calif.; 14 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services have been held.