When planning its design, Mayo executives knew the Gonda Building in Rochester would serve for decades as the gleaming front door to the world-famous clinic.

It was important to find the perfect stone for the tower's exterior, but that proved harder than expected for the building's architects. The challenge ultimately prompted clinic leaders Craig Smoldt and Dr. Kerry Olsen to visit Austria and Berlin to review options.

When they found the winner on the interior walls of a German hotel, Smoldt suggested the clinic buy enough stone for all potential expansion projects rather than risk future supply problems, since the granite was quarried only at a small mine in Brazil.

"So, we purchased that stone and had it stored at our stone fabricating place in Italy," Olsen said. "If we ever do the final phase of the Gonda Building, the outside material has already been purchased and it's there."

Attention to detail and a long-term focus were hallmarks of Smoldt's five decades serving in various administrative roles at Mayo, colleagues said. During his career, Smoldt helped lead the clinic's adoption of electronic medical records and worked to transform Mayo's campus through technology and construction projects, like the Gonda Building, which opened in 2002.

Smoldt, who died of cancer Aug. 5, served eight-year terms on Mayo's board of trustees, which includes prominent public leaders, as well as its board of governors for internal operations.

He was also chair of Mayo's department of facilities and support services in Rochester, a group responsible for everything from maintenance and utility plants to a medical waste incinerator.

"If you think of what goes on behind the walls — what goes on that people don't see, what goes on that's very important in terms of the efficient running of the organization — I mean, that's his big legacy," Olsen said. "That's what he worked on."

Craig Smoldt grew up on a farm in central Iowa. He studied psychology and economics at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Vienna in Austria before earning an M.B.A. at Cornell University. Smoldt was a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps.

Near the end of his military service, Smoldt told his father he might like to keep working in medical administration, said his younger brother, Bob Smoldt.

"My dad said: 'Well, the best medical center in the world is 100 miles up the road at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So, Craig just drove up there right when he was visiting my parents. Went to personnel and filled out an application, and they hired him."

Bob Smoldt followed a couple years later and also worked as a long-term administrator at Mayo, rising to the position of chief administrative officer.

Success at Mayo requires buying into the clinic's unique culture where physicians — not hospital administrators — run the show, Bob Smoldt said. He and his brother were believers in the approach, in part because "there's a direct correlation between the people who are running the organization and the people who are taking care of the patients – very direct."

During a career that started in 1970 and ended in 2020, Craig Smoldt developed a deep knowledge of Mayo's values and history, including the clinic's connection with the Sisters of St. Francis. The Mayo brothers and their father partnered with the sisters, who ran St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, to make the city a medical destination.

Smoldt made it a priority to help the sisters maintain their headquarters at Assisi Heights, a large complex in Rochester.

"The handshake between the sisters and Mayo Clinic was kept alive by Craig Smoldt," said Sister Lauren Weinandt, archivist at the Saint Marys campus, in a statement. "He treated us with respect and integrity as he worked with us to restore our properties, and with compassion as we face the challenges of age."

Craig Smoldt is survived by his sister and two brothers. The family will hold a private service at his burial.