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Hugo's president dies at 66

Curt Magnuson, the head of Grand Forks' largest chain of supermarkets and one of the largest independent chains in the region, died after a long illness Thursday night in his home.

Curt Magnuson, the head of Grand Forks' largest chain of supermarkets and one of the largest independent chains in the region, died after a long illness Thursday night in his home.

He was 66.

His death follows the death of his father and Hugo's founder Hugo Magnuson by just four years.

The Magnuson family, citing a desire for privacy, declined to comment at press time.

Like father, like son


While Hugo was always very well known in the community serving as a City Council member and mayor his son was a much more private person even though he essentially followed in his father's footsteps.

Like Hugo, Curt was president of Hugo's, taking over the job from his father in 1967. At that time, there were only two Hugo's stores in town and, under Curt's watch, the chain added six more stores: two more in Grand Forks and one each in East Grand Forks, Crookston, Thief River Falls and Jamestown, N.D.

At one time, Hugo's operated under the Piggly Wiggly's brand. When the Magnuson family decided to change the store name, there was a debate over whether to name it Hugo's or Curt's. Curt wanted the stores named after his dad, while his dad wanted the stores named after Curt.

Curt won that battle.

Hugo and Curt both were honored as North Dakota Grocer of the Year. Both were chairmen of the Chamber of Commerce. Both won the Chamber's Henry Havig Award for civic and business leadership.

"He led by example rather than by words, through his philanthropic efforts, through his caring," said Chamber president Dan Schenkein. "Curt didn't care if you had a million bucks or two cents in your pocket. He treated everyone the same."

Both father and son were deeply committed to the arts, with Hugo's winning a citation last year from The North Valley Arts Council for corporate sponsorship of the arts.

"Virtually every arts organization in the two cities has received assistance from Hugo's at some time over the years, and if they haven't, it's probably because they haven't asked," NOVAC said in a statement.


Both were active in the Boy Scouts, holding various leadership positions in the Northern Lights Council. Curt was an Eagle Scout, scouting's highest rank.



As a businessman, Curt was widely respected.

"He taught me more than anybody I've ever worked with before in my life and my career, not just in business, but in my personal life," said Larry Stammen, a former marketing chief at Hugo's. "He was a fantastic businessman."

Stammen has since gone on to mall manager at the Grand Cities Mall and a consultant for East Grand Forks' Riverwalk Centre mall.

Back in the early 1990s, when the national supermarket chain Albertson's opened a store in Grand Forks, Stammen remembers sweating profusely over the prospect of competing with such a giant. He recalled how Curt calmed him down: "Larry, don't worry about it. All we need to worry about is what we can control and that is quality of service. If we continue to provide quality of service to our customers, which is what it's all about, things will take care of themselves."

Hugo's did indeed survive and thrive. Albertson's closed up shop and left town.


When Wal-Mart began opening grocery stores in North Dakota last year, Curt took the same stance: "When the world's largest retailer comes in with millions of dollars in every market, disregarding whether they're needed or not, they will sustain themselves.

"So, you bet, the market changes. But we think we're well-prepared to continue to serve our customers well. That will continue to be our focus."

Curt's commitment to business amazed Stammen: "I had four new vehicles during the years I worked with him. He had one vehicle.

"He put every penny he had back into that business. He didn't live in a fancy house. He didn't go on vacations. He really felt deep down his mission in life was to provide this service to the community and to the people."

Tran reports on City Hall. Reach him at (701) 780-1248 or ttran@gfherald.com or see his blog at www.areavoices.com/ gfhcitybeat.

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