Dan Coborn, who led his family-founded chain Coborn’s Inc. for nearly 50 years, passed away Wednesday at the age of 86, the St. Cloud, Minn.-based retailer said.
Dan Coborn’s grandfather Chester Coborn founded a Sauk Rapids, Minn. grocery store that Dan and his brothers Bob, Bill and Ron later grew into the present-day operator of 120 stores in six states. Dan’s son, Chris Coborn, is the company’s current CEO.
“Dan led the company over the years with bold vision and resolve,” according to a release from the company. He found himself placed in charge of the Sauk Rapids store when his father Duke passed unexpectedly in 1959 and his older brother Bob was enlisted in the service. Dan served as CEO until 1999.
Coborn's CEO Chris Coborn,
daughter Emily and Dan Coborn.
The Coborn brothers, who grew up working in their father’s store, expanded as a means to support their families, purchasing a second store in 1963. “We were trying to eke out a living,” Dan Coborn said. “We needed to expand to support four families. One store was not going to do it.”
The company described Coborn as a gregarious, creative and optimistic leader who was not afraid to pursue unconventional ideas. He “bet the company” on expanding the nascent Cash Wise banner ahead of residential development in Waite Park, Minn., but the gamble paid off as the location is the flagship of the 17-store banner today.
That store was also the birthplace of a Dan Coborn pursuit that didn’t succeed, a self-serve bulk soda attraction with unusual flavors like peach, banana, sarsaparilla and piña colada known as Fountain Fresh.
“We made some bad decisions, but nothing that took the company down,” he said. “In the history of the company, we never missed a payroll except for four people —my brothers and me. And that didn’t happen very often. I never lost faith in the fact that it was a good business. People have to eat. They have to get their food from someplace.”
Dan was the third of seven children to Duke and Florence Coborn. He graduated from Sauk Rapids High School in 1948. He went on to attend Saint John’s University, where he played football and graduated in 1952 with a degree in economics.
That same year, he married Mabel Hansen of Rockville, Minn. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army where he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for two years. Upon discharge, he was accepted into law school at University of Minnesota but declined the opportunity and returned to Sauk Rapids to work for his father.
Dan felt a tremendous sense of duty to his community. In 1967, he and his wife Mabel became charter members of United Way of Central Minnesota. He was also a founding member of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Minnesota board, which both he and Mabel served on at different times.
In 1987, he was named Minnesota Grocer of the Year by the Minnesota Grocers Association. He also received accolades from College of Saint Benedict, National Grocers Association, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Cloud State University and United Way of Central Minnesota. In 2002, he received the Father Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award from Saint John’s University — the highest honor they bestow — for outstanding service to the Saint John’s community by an alumnus.
“Dan’s success in business created opportunities for him and the company to give back. His generosity touched many organizations and institutions but he had a special place in his heart for education. He provided gifts to Cathedral High School; College of St. Benedict; Saint John’s University; St. Cloud Technical and Community College; St. Cloud State University; and others,” the company said.
“He also tirelessly gave of his time. He served on countless boards and participated in many civic organizations, including CentraCare Health, Friends of the College of Saint Benedict, Sauk Rapids School Board, and others. He was a Sauk Rapids volunteer fireman for many years. While serving on both the MNSCU and St. Cloud Hospital Board of Directors, Dan learned about the shortage of nurses in Central Minnesota. He worked behind the scenes to connect the right people, lobby and advocate, and ultimately succeeded in helping to establish a nursing program at St. Cloud State University. Dan and his son, Chris, were instrumental in bringing Division I Hockey, Herb Brooks and the National Hockey Center to St. Cloud State University.”
In 1999, Coborn’s, Inc. was named one of the Ten Most Generous Companies in America by George magazine.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Mabel, and his five children, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild.