BSU mourns passing of Bemidji icon Joe Lueken

Bemidji State University joins the greater Bemidji region in mourning the death of Joe Lueken, who leaves behind an enduring legacy through his generous support for the university and its students.


Lueken and his wife, Janice, have been major benefactors of BSU, and the successful businessman also gave freely of his expertise, leadership and optimistic spirit, said university President Richard Hanson.

“Joe Lueken was compassionate, caring and courageous,” Hanson said Monday, “and he expressed those things in his service to the university. I think he really showed us the power of commitment as he interacted with us on almost a daily basis.”

He described Lueken’s death as “an incredible loss for the community and for Bemidji State in particular.”

“All of us will feel the loss of this powerful and giving individual,” Hanson said.

Lueken died early Sunday morning after battling cancer, his family confirmed Monday. He was 72.

In partnership with his wife, Lueken’s support for BSU grew along with his business, Lueken’s Village Foods, and so did his involvement with the university.

At BSU, the Luekens have funded and endowed numerous full-tuition scholarships and been major supporters of both the Music Department and Beaver Athletics.


Then-BSU President Jim Bensen invited Joe Lueken to serve on the BSU Foundation Board of Directors in 1999, and he continued to serve in a lifetime appointment.Lueken played a significant role in the university’s decision to launch Imagine Tomorrow, its first-ever comprehensive fund-raising campaign, and he confidently encouraged the BSU Foundation to set an ambitious goal of $35 million. He also helped inspire such special events as Community Appreciation Day and the Green & White Dinner and Auction.

“He challenged us to stretch,” Hanson said. “It was powerfully motivating. We’re really going to miss him.”

On behalf of the university community, Hanson said, “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the entire family and in particular to Jan, his lifelong supporter.”

Rob Bollinger, executive director for university advancement, BSU Alumni & Foundation, also expressed his deep sense of loss upon Lueken’s passing.

“Joe was one of the most unique and incredible people I have ever met,” Bollinger said. “It is impossible to replace Joe Lueken, but his legacy will serve as an example of service and commitment for many years to come.”

• The Bemidji Pioneer has a story on Lueken’s passing with additional information regarding his life and service to the people of Bemidji.