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Jack Cronquist, local Jack-of-all-trades, dies at 92

MESA, Ariz.-- John A. "Jack" Cronquist, a farmer, veteran and charismatic family man who owned a wide array of businesses in Gilby, N.D., and throughout the region, died Saturday in Arizona.

Jack Cronquist.
Jack Cronquist.

MESA, Ariz.-- John A. "Jack" Cronquist, a farmer, veteran and charismatic family man who owned a wide array of businesses in Gilby, N.D., and throughout the region, died Saturday in Arizona.

He was 92.

Born in 1925 in Erskine, Minn., Cronquist was raised in Gilby, where he spent his life as a farmer and entrepreneur who combined community service with successful business ventures.

Cronquist bought the Gilby Telephone Company in 1966 for $81,000 to keep it local, as he told the Herald in 1994.

The year he bought the company, a huge blizzard blew over most of the phone lines in Gilby. Cronquist responded by hiring a bunch of local high school kids to help him put the grid back together and bury the phone lines underground, according to cousin John Scott.

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"He was extremely determined," Scott said. "If he started something, he was going to finish it."

Cronquist sold the company to Polar Communications in 1990 for a half-million dollars.

He was interested in preserving Gilby, too.

In the 1980s, the Gilby Market was going out of business; the move would have left the town without a grocery store.

"The grocery store was going to close, and our dad believed our town needed a store, so he bought it," Lisa Hazan, one of Cronquist's three daughters, told the Herald.

He and his wife, Yvonne, ran the market.

"Anything he took on, he got very involved with personally," said Jack Cook, a longtime banker at Valley Bank who met Cronquist in 1961.

Jim Stow first met Cronquist in 1956, when the Gilby farmer came up to Manitoba to buy seed from the Stow family. They struck up a friendship that expanded beyond business and, in 1964, Stow and his wife stayed with Jack and Yvonne the night they were married.

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In the mid 1970s, Cronquist and Stow helped launch International Cooperative, Inc., a potato processing cooperative between farmers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba. The co-op later became the local Simplot plant.

"He was never too busy to have a conversation and help you with whatever problem you were having," Stow said.

Cronquist also helped bring cable to the area when he purchased a cable TV franchise at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

In the early 1990s, Hazan said her father met some Chinese business people who were stuck at an airport in a storm. He ended up investing in their ice cream factory in Zhangzhou, China, where he and family members made several trips over the years.

The family laughed as they recalled the venture.

As involved as he was in projects in Gilby and across the world, Cronquist will be warmly remembered as a family man. He is survived by his wife, Yvonne, five children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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