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Founder of Bigelow Homes dies following motorcycle crash

Joel Bigelow was 68.

Joel Bigelow Nashville
Joel Bigelow is pictured on a recent trip to Nashville, Tennessee.
Contributed / Melissa Swarts
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MANTORVILLE — Joel Bigelow created his own way, said his son Tony Bigelow.

"For a kid from a Claremont farm who never graduated from high school, he did pretty good," said Jeremy Bigelow, the eldest Bigelow son.

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Joel Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Homes, died Friday, May 27, 2022, following a crash on his motorcycle near Wasioja, Minn. He was 68.

Bigelow was remembered Monday, May 30, 2022, as a father and grandfather, as well an entrepreneur who helped meet the needs of a growing region, and a mentor to many.

"He was a people person. He loved the camaraderie, being with people and learning about people," said Benjamin Bigelow, his youngest son.

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Joel Bigelow's outgoing personality meant that he never left an airplane without the number of a new friend, and the family was always bound to run into to someone they knew on vacation, said the siblings, Jeremy Bigelow, Tony Bigelow, Melissa Swarts and Benjamin Bigelow.

Benjamin Bigelow said his dad was an avid University of Minnesota Golden Gophers sports fan (especially football and basketball), and an "eternal optimist with every facet of life."

Joel Bigelow began working in the construction industry in 1970. In 1983, he started his own business in Mantorville — Joel Bigelow and Sons Enterprises — which is now known as Bigelow Homes. The business moved locations twice before settling into Rochester in 2006.

Joel Bigelow and his three sons and one daughter stand in flannel shirts in front of a sign that reads "Cheers to 50 years."
Joel Bigelow (far left) and his children Jeremy Bigelow, Melissa Swarts, Tony Bigelow and Benjamin Bigelow pose for a picture at a recent birthday celebration in Nashville, Tennessee.
Contributed / Melissa Swarts

"Joel served the Rochester community for over 30 years, and his impact to the region through the years has been incredibly valuable and appreciated," Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Parsons said in a statement. "As both new and current families of the Rochester region grow and set roots, Joel was there to help them create their dream homes, where they can come together to make memories as a family."

Parsons described Bigelow as a "constant contributor to development" in the region. Along with his team, Bigelow helped meet the demands of regional growth "through hard work and service, creating homes for many throughout our community."

"Joel's story of entrepreneurship and hard work have impacted so many, and through the team at Bigelow Homes he will continue to impact the region," Parsons said.

Joel Bigelow Gophers Coaches Caravan
Joe Bigelow, center, poses for a picture with his brothers Bruce, Wallace and Jerome and close friend Steve Milde, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, for the Gopher Coaches Caravan.
Contributed / Melissa Swarts

Bigelow's entrepreneurial spirit extended beyond Bigelow Homes. In 2003, he led a group of about 50 local investors to buy Olmsted National Bank, now known as ONB, from an Iowa-based organization.

The bank’s main focus is on single-family construction, residential mortgages and business banking, and it flourished during the building boom in Rochester and Byron. It has two local branches.

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It was at ONB that Rochester Area Builders Executive Director John Eischen recently ran into Bigelow before his death. Eischen said the two chatted and Bigelow thanked Eischen for what he did.

"That was Joel," Eischen said. "He didn’t just build houses but built up the people around him."

Eischen described Bigelow was a quintessential family man who was produest that he'd been able to send all his children to college.

Melissa Swarts said her father loved when people came to him needing advice or help getting started — something he wanted to do more of once he retired.

As the news of the Bigelow patriarch's passing started to spread, the response from the community has shown just how many people he touched.

"He just could connect, and everyone felt his presence in the room," Swarts said.

In recent years, Bigelow started to transition the company into the hands of his sons Jeremy and Tony. Both said they felt their father would have never truly retired, but that he was easing into working only when he wanted to work.

“For me, I was lucky that my dad was my friend and someone that I worked with and got to see every day," Jeremy Bigelow said. "He’s been talking a lot about preparing for after he was gone, and now it came through sooner than we wanted and probably sooner than he wanted."

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A visitation is planned for 5:02 to 8:07 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at Community Celebration Church, 27277 County Highway 34 in Kasson. The funeral service will be held the following morning at 11:03 a.m., with a one hour visitation before. The memorial service will also be livestreamed on the Community Celebration Church's YouTube page at www.youtube.com/c/CommunityCelebrationChurch .

The time, Bigelow's children said, was in honor of their father's habit of never choosing a round number for a meeting time.

"He always said, 'If you set a meeting time like that, they won't forget that,' " Tony Bigelow said.

Post Bulletin reporter Jeff Kiger contributed to this report.

Emily Cutts is the Post Bulletin's public safety reporter. She joined the Post Bulletin in July 2018 after stints in Vermont and Western Massachusetts.
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