For years after the Tonka Toys plant shut down in Mound, Lloyd Laumann worked to keep the memory and history of the famous company alive.
Laumann, 78, of Waconia, who died Nov. 22 after years of heart disease, co-authored a book on the Minnesota company he had served as vice president. He also donated hundreds of vintage toys and memorabilia to a local history museum for generations to enjoy and learn from.
“He just loved Tonka Toys,” said John Profaizer, a friend and former engineer manager for the company. “Everything about him was Tonka.”
Born in Waconia, Laumann graduated from Waconia High School in 1955 and began working at Tonka Toys.
The company had started in 1946 as Mound Metalcraft Inc., before manufacturing its first toy — a steam shovel — and renaming itself after nearby Lake Minnetonka.
After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, Laumann returned to Tonka, going from packaging toys on the assembly line to becoming a vice president overseeing manufacturing operations for nearly 30 years.
“He grew up with that company,” said Ron Pauly, who was a model maker and Tonka toy designer. He described Laumann as a down-to-earth, honest, hardworking leader — “one of the good guys.”
At its peak, the company made 325,000 toys a week and employed more than 2,000 workers in Mound, winning nationwide fame. But Laumann was still a people-oriented leader who often walked the factory, Profaizer said.
“It was a fun place to work because people knew what they were doing was bringing joy to a lot of children around the world,” Laumann told the Star Tribune in 2006. “And we had an unusual workforce. Early management’s philosophy was that the people represented the most important asset to the company.”
The last item rolled off the Mound production line in 1983, and the company moved production operations to Texas and Mexico (to be later acquired by Hasbro Inc.).
Laumann retired the following year, cheering for Waconia High School sports teams and volunteering at Ridgeview Medical Center. But his passion for Tonka never waned.
“He really loved the company,” said his wife, Jean.
Over the years, Laumann wrote articles about the company’s history and co-authored a book called “Tonka,” dedicating it to the former employees who had made it “one of the best toy companies in the world.”
“He truly was proud of the company — not just the product, but the people,” said his son, Gregg, of Savage. “He wanted to make sure the Tonka name and legacy continued on.”
Laumann collected more than 300 Tonka toys, some dating back to the late 1940s. And starting in 2005, he began donating company annual reports, catalogs and newsletters — and hundreds of vintage toys — to the Westonka Historical Society. Half the museum’s 500 Tonka toys came from Laumann, the largest donation from a single person, said Pam Myers, president of the historical society.
The collection draws visitors from across the country as well as locals from sixth-graders to senior citizens. The museum even hosts Tonka employee reunions.
“He cared a lot about the community,” Myers said. “He was determined to do his part of preserving the history.”
Besides his wife and son, Laumann is survived by his daughter, Ann Rogers, of Savage; brothers Gerald and Denis, both of Waconia, and James of Minnetonka; and four grandchildren. Services have been held.