Bruce Dayton, governor's father and Target champion, dies

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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 10:57 AM
Bruce Dayton, governor's father and Target champion, dies

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Bruce Dayton, the father of Minnesota's governor and a key figure in building his family's company into the massive retailing business that became Target Corp., has died. He was 97.

Dayton, who also donated tens of millions of dollars in gifts and endowments to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, died at his home surrounded by family on Friday, according to the governor's spokesman, Matt Swenson.

Dayton was the father of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and the last survivor of five brothers — all grandsons of The Dayton Company founder George Draper Dayton — who expanded the company nationally from a single department store in downtown Minneapolis.

Those who knew him found Dayton direct in his views yet accommodating of other opinions, and someone with extraordinary business acuity and a dry sense of humor.

Born in Minneapolis in 1918, Bruce Bliss Dayton embraced the family's retailing heritage, taking a job in the store's merchandise receiving room in his early 20s and steadily climbing into the boardroom. Along with his brothers, Dayton helped grow the upscale Dayton's department store and its discount offshoot, Target, into nationally known chains.

He was president around the time of the company's initial public stock offering in 1967, and he later chaired the company's board, according to a Target company chronology. Dayton stepped away from the business' top ranks in 1983, ending 80 years of direct family involvement in one of Minnesota's most storied companies.

David Brennan, who worked in the Dayton-Hudson corporate offices in the 1970s, said Dayton and his brother, Ken, took Target to great heights by differentiating it from other newer discounters Kmart and Walmart.

"They were exceptionally innovative and calculated risk takers," Brennan, now a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, said Friday. "They exuded great confidence because of their innovativeness and their ability to stick with the plan."

A Yale University graduate, Bruce Dayton served in the Army and arrived in France two days after Germany surrendered in World War II, according to a 2013 family biography by author Kristal Leebrick.

He also carried on the family legacy of civic giving, particularly in the Minneapolis arts scene. Dayton was lifetime trustee of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where officials estimate that his gifts were valued at more than $70 million.

Museum President Kaywin Feldman said Dayton spoke his opinion but never protested or used his influence to sway a vote during his 73-year tenure on the board. Feldman also fondly recalled Dayton's efforts to inspire exhibits that could rival those in galleries in global arts capitals.

"You can't go into a single gallery at MIA without seeing works of art that Bruce Dayton either gave or funded," Feldman said. "He's in a category all his own."

In 1996, Dayton spent $1.9 million on nine pieces of 16th- and 17th-century Chinese furniture, with most of the pieces going to the museum. A year later, he and his wife, Ruth Stricker, gave $10 million for the museum's endowment. They contributed the bulk of new Asian galleries, including two original Chinese period rooms.

Dayton and Stricker also gave the state a 150-acre remnant of the Big Woods, the vast hardwood forest that greeted settlers in the Minnesota Territory. The tract west of Minneapolis has an appraised value of $3.9 million and will be preserved permanently. Wood Rill, the name Dayton gave the tract, was never logged and remained mostly timber.

The Dayton family is no longer involved in owning or operating Target Corp., and most of the former Dayton's department stores in Minnesota are now operated by Macy's. In 1969, the family company merged with Detroit retailer J.L. Hudson Co. to create the Dayton-Hudson Corp, which purchased Chicago-based Marshall Field's in 1990. A decade later, Dayton-Hudson Corp. was renamed Target Corp., which is now ranked No. 36 on the Fortune 500.

Dayton's son Mark chose politics over business. Currently in his second term as Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton also is a former state auditor and U.S. senator.

Along with his wife, Bruce Dayton is survived by his four children, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.