Donald Lucker never had formal training in computers, or in business for that matter.
But after joining a Minneapolis metal fabrication company as an air combat veteran and aspiring music student, Lucker helped steer the firm to take advantage of the coming boom in computers.
Similarly, the St. Paul native had no expertise in the visual arts when he started dabbling in collecting prints. Yet he would go on to assemble a noted collection of paintings and prints, nearly two dozen of which were donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where he became an influential trustee.
Many of the paintings still hang there today, including a rare large-format work by Severin Roesen, an American still-life painter whose work also is in the permanent collections of the White House and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“He didn’t have a formal education, but he certainly studied,” said one of Lucker’s sons, Dean Lucker of St. Paul. “And that was true with business. He took an interest and then he self-taught himself. And then surrounded himself with people who did know and were good guides.”
“I think a lot of collectors actually train themselves, and Don was one who was good at doing that rather quickly,” said Patrick Noon, head of the Minneapolis Arts Institute paintings department.
Lucker died Jan. 25 in his Chanhassen home of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 88.
Donald Joseph Lucker was born in 1926 as the second child of a railroad worker. The family of eight lived in an upstairs apartment on 4th Street in St. Paul, where Lucker was forced to grow up fast and contribute money for bills when his father died in 1940. Lucker dropped out of high school at age 16 and took a job as a railroad yard clerk to help cover household expenses, according to a family history written by Lucker’s late brother, New Ulm Bishop Raymond Lucker.
Don Lucker joined the Marines to fight in World War II, going from work as a propeller mechanic to being a tail gunner in a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver two-seater in missions over the Philippines. He was honorably discharged in 1946.
Back stateside, music classes might have drawn Lucker toward a career in the arts but for the demands of marriage and family life, his daughter Paulette Sproull said. He began repairing aircraft for Northwest Airlines, but soon he and business partner Paul Hoaglund formed Precision Sheet Metal Co. in the proverbial Minneapolis garage.
The company boomed upon demand for metal cabinets for computers made by Control Data Corp. and Honeywell. Precision eventually acquired and became Aljon Tool, a metal fabrication business still based in Plymouth.
After his marriage to Donna Ahlberg ended in the 1970s, Lucker married musician Diana Lee Lucker in 1981. She helped him rediscover his interest in music, especially in the choir and playing saxophone, Sproull said. He started collecting prints and taking sculpture classes. He served two three-year terms as a trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, including work on the museum’s acquisitions and investments committees.
Though his children said Lucker may not have wanted to “stand out,” they noted that one of his favorite poems — Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” which was read during his memorial — makes mention of following in the footsteps of great men.
“And he did leave a footprint,” Sproull said.
Services have been held.