Community Spirit: Dennis Frandsen

Among the several businesses that entrepreneur Dennis Frandsen owns is Plastech Corp., a plastic injection molding firm that operates a factory in Rush City, Minn. Photo: Dell Gross

After a lengthy entrepreneurial career, Dennis Frandsen of Frandsen Bank & Trust is giving back by helping Minnesota students pay their tuition.

By Ed Avis

Dennis Frandsen knows an opportunity when he sees it. The 85-year-old owner of $1.7 billion-asset Frandsen Bank & Trust, which has 35 locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, has been an entrepreneur since his teens. Over the next 60 years, he acquired nearly 50 companies.

So when Frandsen toured Pine Technical & Community College in Pine City, Minn., he sensed an opportunity to help his community. He committed to paying the tuition for any 2018 graduate of Rush City High School who wanted to attend the community college. He has since expanded that commitment to include 2019 graduates of Rush City High School and nearby Luck High School, as well as added Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College’s campus in Rice Lake, Wis., as an option for students.

“It gives these students the opportunity to go to school for a couple of years and go get a decent job.”
—Dennis Frandsen, Frandsen Bank & Trust

“When I realized that at Pine Technical you can become a nurse, an accountant, a plumber, an electrician, an auto mechanic, a welder or a couple of other trades, and I realized that we have a huge shortage of tradesmen in our area, I decided this was the right thing to do,” Frandsen says. “It gives these students the opportunity to go to school for a couple of years and go get a decent job.”

Twenty-five graduates of Rush City High School started at Pine Technical last fall on Frandsen’s dime. He’s paying for two years of tuition and up to $1,000 for books or tools.

Dennis Frandsen, owner of Frandsen Bank & Trust, met with seniors at Rush City High School in Rush City, Minn. Photo: Boyd Huppert, KARE 11

Early rejection

Frandsen was 17 when he started his first business, a logging company that harvested timber on his parents’ land outside of Luck, a small town in northwest Wisconsin. Two years later, in 1954, he learned of a nearby 200-acre parcel with decent timber that might be available and negotiated a deal with the owner.

However, the bank in Luck rejected his application for the loan he needed to close the deal. He eventually found a lender willing to take a chance on him, but he vowed he would someday own that bank in Luck. Fast-forward 30 years. In the decades after that successful land acquisition, Frandsen grew his real estate holdings and acquired Plastech Corp., a plastic injection molding firm.

Quick stat


Rush City High School graduates Dennis Frandsen sponsored last fall to go to Pine Technical & Community College

“I had a good relationship with a representative from U.S. Bank—it was First Minneapolis at that time—and one day, he asked me what I would like to do next in business,” Frandsen says. “Well, as I would drive around the countryside and go into small towns, I would always see a new Cadillac alongside the local bank, and inside there’s a banker in a suit and tie, and he was the man of the community. I told this guy from U.S. Bank that I’d like to buy a bank, because obviously it was a profitable enterprise.”

Six months later, the U.S. Bank rep came to him with interesting news: The bank in Luck was for sale. Frandsen had no experience as a banker, but he jumped at the opportunity to fulfill his vow of 30 years earlier, and he bought the bank. “We’ve been very successful ever since,” Frandsen says. “I realized that every bank had a back room, so I decided to buy another bank and consolidated the two. That worked well, so I bought more than 40 banks and still own 35 of them today.”

… I realized that we have a huge shortage of tradesmen in our area, I decided this was the right thing to do.”
—Dennis Frandsen, Frandsen Bank & Trust, who paid for Minnesota high school grads’ tuition at Pine Technical & Community College

Today, Frandsen Bank & Trust has $1.7 billion in assets. Frandsen tends to keep the local executives after an acquisition and allow them to continue running the bank.

“Each local banker has lending authority. They don’t need to get approval from corporate or anything like that,” Frandsen says. “They do a great job, and we’re doing well.”

Frandsen’s manufacturing holdings have also grown. Though he recently sold Kelley Beekeeping, he still owns Industrial Netting and Miller Manufacturing (which acquired his former company Springer McGrath), in addition to Plastech. He has more than 1,000 employees among his companies.

Frandsen is covering the cost of tuition and supplies for many of the school’s graduates who attend Pine Technical & Community College in nearby Pine City, Minn. Photo: Boyd Huppert, KARE 11

Philanthropic future

Frandsen’s commitment to pay students’ tuition is handled by the Frandsen Family Foundation, a 501(c)(3) he established to manage his philanthropic endeavors. Frandsen also supports the Mayo Clinic and the local EMS service. He donated a hangar at the local airfield that the EMS service uses for its rescue helicopter.

“I’m fortunate that [after] starting from nothing when I was 17 years old, I now have these businesses, and I’ve accumulated a reasonable amount of cash,” he says. “The amount I’m giving to the ambulance service and Mayo Clinic have been defined, and the balance will be for the scholarships. The trust will fund as many students annually as they have funds for.”

Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.