1Dick Knowlton

Richard L. Knowlton

A native son of Austin, Richard (Dick) L. Knowlton was born here June 9, 1932.  He graduated from Austin High School in 1950 and went to the University of Colorado for a BA in Geography and Economics.  He and his wife, Nancy Van Derbur Knowlton, met at UC and married in 1954, the same year that Dick graduated from college and entered the U.S. Air Force for a two-year stint as an Intelligence Officer.

Dick had worked for Hormel Foods Corporation during his summers in high school and college, gaining experience both in the plant and sales, and after completing his military service he went to work for Hormel full time, starting as a Merchandising Manager at the Fremont Plant.  Over the next thirteen years he worked in management positions of increasing responsibility within the company: Manager of Minnesota Sales in 1959; Assistant Plant Manager of the Austin Plant in 1963; General Manager of the Meat Products Division in 1967; eventually becoming General Manager of the Austin Plant in 1969.  During his tenure as GM of the Austin Plant he completed the Executive Program at the University of Minnesota Graduate School, in 1972.  He went on to become Vice President of Operations in 1974, was promoted to Director the same year, was appointed a member of the Executive Committee in 1975, and became President and Chief Operating Officer of the company in 1979.  In 1981 he steered the company through challenging times as the President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, a leadership role he held until he retired in 1995, the culmination of more than thirty-nine years with Hormel.

After his retirement, Dick served as the Chairman of the Board of the Hormel Foundation from 1995 to 2011, a tenure that saw the expansion of the charitable and philanthropic activities of the Foundation in ways that had far-reaching benefits for the citizens of Austin.  In addition to his work with the Hormel Foundation, Dick was also deeply involved with the Mayo Clinic and the Eisenhower Medical Center in positions of leadership, and he and his wife Nancy were generous contributors to numerous community programs in his hometown.

Richard Knowlton 1

Dick is the Chairman Emeritus of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, an organization dedicated to honoring the accomplishments and achievements of individuals who have succeeded in the face of adversity by providing college scholarships to disadvantaged high school seniors across the country.  He remains the Chairman Emeritus of the Hormel Foundation, and is a past director of the American Meat Institute, Canada Packers, First Bank of Austin, First Bank of Minneapolis, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.  His other service activities include the Minnesota 4-H Foundation, the National Livestock and Meat Board, the University of Colorado Foundation and the University of Minnesota Foundation.

Dick’s lifelong commitment to community service and the advancement of education opportunities have been recognized by the numerous awards and honors he has received.  These include, but are certainly not limited to: the Carnegie-Mellon Outstanding Crisis Manager of the Year in 1987; two Gold, two Silver and three Bronze awards from the Wall Street Transcript for Outstanding CEO in Food Processing and Commodity Categories; the Man of Achievement Award from the Anti-Defamation League; the Future Farmers of America’s (FFA) highest award, the Honorary American FFA Degree; the Distinguished American Award from the Horatio Alger Association; and the Norman Vincent and Ruth Stafford Peale Humanitarian Award, presented jointly to Dick and Nancy together.

Dick’s contributions to and positive impacts on Austin as a city and a community span more than six decades, and will continue to benefit future generations for years to come.

Do you know someone that has made an impact on the City of Austin? Submit a Pillars of the City nomination for next year!