When the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis was re-christened the W Minneapolis Hotel in 2008, John C. "Jack" Dietrich was on hand to celebrate, wearing a dapper black polka-dot shirt and an impeccable sport coat and trousers. He also donned a beaver top hat — the same one that had been worn by construction magnate C.F. Haglin to the historic tower's original dedication in 1929.
That kind of aplomb defined Dietrich, 91, who died Aug. 31. He was perhaps best known as owner of the Wayzata Children's Shop, which opened in 1958, and dressed a generation of youngsters from Wayzata and beyond.
"He knew how to handle parents and kids, and how to make you look good," said Marisa Bowe, a Brooklynite who grew up in Wayzata.
Bowe distinctly remembers a pink-and-white dress with a Peter Pan collar bought at the Children's Shop that was memorialized in a class picture, as well as countless bathing suits purchased there. "They never faded or stretched. They were the best," she said.
Longtime friend Bette Hammel said Dietrich "was a born salesman." And he cut a striking figure on his own. "He was always dressed to the nines; he had extremely good taste," said his daughter Sarah Dietrich of Minneapolis.
Dietrich was born in North Muskegon, Mich., on April 7, 1924. A veteran of World War II, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, returning to graduate from the University of Michigan on the GI Bill.
He met his future wife, Ann, on the ski slopes at Lutsen, and the two married in 1954. "He changed his name from Jack to John when he got married in a church, because he thought he better have a Christian name," said his daughter Lisa of Seattle. Ann Dietrich died in 2010.
The Dietrich kids were the best-dressed in Wayzata, but Lisa recalls rebelling in her teen years. "When we left for school, we'd be in elaborate clothes," she said. "But we'd leave them in the playhouse in our backyard and change into jeans and sweaters from Ragstock."
Beyond raising a family and building the business, the couple traveled the world and were known as consummate entertainers. Recently, Lisa Dietrich discovered 1,000 notices bearing directions to her father's apartment — presumably for future party invitations.
When many of his friends moved to assisted living in recent years, Dietrich felt terrible that they no longer had a view of Lake Minnetonka. So he created the Red Door Bottle Club at his pied-à-terre that faced the lake in Wayzata. Every Thursday, his pals could visit, share a cocktail, and drink in the view, said friend Linda Mack of Minneapolis. "His hospitality was innate," she said.
The Dietrichs built a house on Madeline Island in Wisconsin in the late 1970s and helped found the Madeline Island Music Camp, which provides professional training for budding classical musicians. "He loved the natural beauty [of Madeline]. It was his haven," Hammel said. He soon became a fixture in the tiny island community, welcoming newcomers with baskets of homemade muffins and neighborly goodwill.
The couple were dedicated arts patrons, serving on boards of many organizations, including Minnesota Dance Theater and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Even in his final years, he began a fundraising effort to provide guitars to children in Troncones, Mexico, a tiny village where he spent winters.
"He never stopped trying to make the world a better place," his daughter Lisa said.
In addition to daughters Sarah, Lisa and Marti, Dietrich is survived by a son, Paul; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
A private celebration of his life will be held.