Joe Lueken invested a lifetime into his grocery business and could have sold it for a fortune.
Instead, he turned his three stores over to his employees, making them all owners.
“The grocery business is who Joe was,”
said Tom Welle, president of First National Bank in Bemidji, one of his early lenders.
“It was his life and his passion, and he did everything he could to see it successful and leave it that way.”
By the time Lueken was 7, he worked in his father’s bakeries in Springfield and Mitchell, S.D. He graduated from high school in 1959, met his future wife, Jan, at a dance and
married her in 1962.
The couple moved to Bemidji four years
later to manage a downtown grocery store, which Lueken subsequently purchased from his brother.
From the beginning, business was a family affair. Joe, Jan and their four sons – Michael, Jeffrey, Joseph Jr. and David – all played a role.
“Some of my earliest memories were of going to work with my dad on Sunday evenings to change prices,” Jeff Lueken said. “When we were done, we got pizza at Dave’s and went home to watch ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘FBI.’”
In his iconic green apron, Lueken worked side by side with his employees in Bemidji and
“He wasn’t going to ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do himself,” said Barry Bower, Wahpeton store manager. “You’d see Joe in the back crushing cardboard boxes and you’d think, ‘That’s the owner of the company.’”
Lueken loved the grocery business.
He was a master of merchandising and knew his inventory like the back of his hand. He’d often show up by 3 a.m. to stock shelves. Every day before opening, he’d walk the aisles with the eye of a drill sergeant.
He earned everyone’s respect – from his customers to his suppliers.
“Most people give lip service to humility,” said Brent Sicard, Lueken’s president and CEO. “Joe lived it. He was always sincere. He never did things for show.”
While Joe and Jan gave generously throughout the community, they remained particularly vested in the success of the university.
Joe joined the BSU Foundation in 1973 and later served on its board of directors.
He was an original full-tuition scholarship donor, a gift that came full circle later in life when he needed a procedure for Parkinson’s.
As it turned out, his Mayo Clinic surgeon was a BSU alum and recipient of one of the first Lueken scholarships.
In 2003, Joe was added to the BSU Founders’ Walk for his role in the development and growth of the university.
More recently, he initiated BSU’s Community Appreciation Day and last year’s inaugural Green and White Event, which raised $100,000 for student-athletes.
In another landmark gift, he and Jan launched an anti-bullying campaign in the Bemidji schools.
Once asked if he would do anything different, Joe said, “No, except marry Jan sooner.’”
As Lueken’s top executive, Sicard said, “You don’t replace Joe, but hopefully all of us have taken in enough of Joe to keep things going and do it well.”
With boyish delight, Lueken would say: “Give until it feels good.” And he did.
“He was just a great man,” said Dean Crotty, president of North Country Business Products where Joe was a board member. “The respect he earned is in how he handled himself. He gave not ever asking to receive.”
For Peggy “Marvin” Johnson, it was never enough to greet you at the door.
“She would take you over the threshold and into her life,” said her elder brother, Frank Marvin, who calls her “the good Marvin.”
His once freckle-faced little sister never outgrew her spunk.
If something needed doing in her family, her church, her hometown, her alma mater or her beloved vacation community in Kaua’i – Johnson was there.
“She had time to do something special for everyone and closed the door to no one,” said her sister, Susan Marvin.
Johnson remained deeply committed to northern Minnesota, especially to Warroad, where she grew up and where her family continues to manage Marvin Windows, a company founded by her grandfather.
She was also committed to Bemidji State University, where she was a cheerleader, met her husband, Sam, made lifelong friends and graduated in 1967 with a degree in physical education.
She taught in Mora and then International Falls, where she started the girls track and field program and coached the team to a 1972 state co-championship.
Years later, when asked to serve on the
board of the BSU Alumni Association, Johnson didn’t hesitate.
She served eight years, and together with Sam endowed scholarships in biology, physical education and music.
Her son, Jeff, noted that his mom wasn’t “on committees – she ran them, because if there was a project, she was going to get it done.”
Johnson received the Jaycee Key Woman Award and once served as state vice president. She was a scout leader, golf coach and always took the lead on the annual high school reunion, summer theater and so much more.
After the floods of 2002, she helped establish the Warroad Area Community Fund.
“She loved Warroad!” said her daughter, Paula Heppner. “She supported the people there with her life. No person, no project was ever too small or too big for Mom.”
Along with her mother, Peggy planned the Warroad library and years later built the
William S. Marvin Training Center. She visited museums all over the country to make sure Warroad had the best.
But what endeared her to so many was the way she welcomed people into her life.
When Asian refugees arrived in Warroad, she taught them English, bringing them into her home, learning their culture and recipes.
In her sophomore year at Bemidji State, she met Irene Kano, a Japanese student from
Hawaii, and invited her home for the holidays.
“That was just Peggy. She attracted people to her,” said Irene, who in turn introduced Peggy to Hawaii.
“She loved her life,” said her best friend,
Teresa Larson. “You’d call her up for a campfire – or to do anything – and she’d say, ‘We’ll be right there.’”
Johnson loved her family, the outdoors, walleye fishing, hiking, swimming, shish kabobs and red toenail polish. And she did the best cannon-balls into the pool. Just ask her grandkids.
Not even multiple myeloma could stop her from relishing every moment.
“She was always looking out for her family, especially after her diagnosis,” said Paul Koski, a BSU alum and friend. “She said, ‘I’m not going to miss one birthday party.’ And she didn’t.
“She outdid us all. And left us with some very special memories.”