MINNEAPOLIS – 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, also an arts patron who donated millions of dollars 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.
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 its board, according to a Target company chronology. Dayton stepped away from the company’s top ranks in 1983, ending 80 years of direct family involvement in one of Minnesota’s most storied companies.
A Yale University graduate, 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. In 1996, he 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, and 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.