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Rochester businessman, philanthropist Al Tuntland dies

Tuntland was a conservative voice on education, a strong believer in free enterprise.

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Al Tuntland. Contributed

Al Tuntland, a Rochester leader who left his imprint on the city of Rochester through his efforts as a businessman, philanthropist and public servant, died at his home Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 81.

Tuntland built successful businesses as owner of GMC Truck Inc. and Schmidt Printing, then parlayed that success into a philanthropic career that benefited Rochester as well as entities outside his adopted hometown, including his alma mater South Dakota State.

Tuntland was a driving force behind FutureScan 2000, a community effort to invigorate downtown development, higher education and city-county consolidation, said Rochester businessman Steve Barlow.

"Al was a respected businessman, community elected official, family man, and musician," Barlow wrote in a tribute to Tuntland posted to Facebook. "I hope he gets his well-deserved respected place in history."

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Tuntland's wife, Sharon, used CaringBridge to describe Tuntland's battle with cancer and their lifelong journey together. The site recorded more than 106,000 visits from friends and others from around the country.

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Al Tuntland with a grandchild. Contributed

John Wade, president of Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. (RAEDI), said Tuntland committed himself to the things that he cared about, whether it was the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester or the community at large.

"I think about two things," Wade said. "A tremendous business mind and also a tremendous philanthropic commitment. (He specialized in) building successful businesses, growing them, successfully selling them and giving back to the community."

In 1989, Tuntland sold his business, Schmidt Printing, to the Taylor Corporation, owned by Glen Taylor, according to his obituary. He also donated the building to the Rochester Area Foundation, which in turn sold it to Taylor. The proceeds allowed the Tuntlands to set up the foundation's first donor fund, which they used to support a variety of charities.

"They let it sit in the Donor Advised Fund until it had grown," said Leigh J. Johnson, owner of Custom Alarm and a close friend of Tuntland's. "I remember a speech he did. Because of that, he said we are philanthropic beyond our means."

An estimated $2 million were donated by the Tuntlands over the years to organizations and institutions, Johnson said.

"The other wonderful component about Al's life was the very strong partnership with Sharon," Wade said. "They shared in philanthropy together."

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Al Tuntland, center, on a vacation with family, from left, Kristen Stamman, Meredith Tuntland, Sharon Tuntland and Sarah Truitt. Contributed

Described as hard-headed in a business sense, but soft-hearted in a charitable one, Tuntland championed education and free enterprise. He served on the Rochester School Board, a conservative voice on education issues. He supported "high quality private charter schools." He was worried about the direction of education.

"We all know that education has come under great assault in recent years," he told a group recently. "Quality has declined. Basic values have shifted."

Tuntland also loved flying, a passion that allowed him to channel both his business and charitable interests. He transported patients and their families to medical appointments at no charge. In 2010, he donated his beloved Jet Prop to SDUS Foundation, his obituary said.

In his final weeks and months, friends and well-wishers from Rochester and across the country traveled to Tuntland's home for one last farewell, friends say.

A month before he died, Tuntland gave a talk at the Rochester Golf & Country Club. Attended by 75 to 100 people, the gathering was a final opportunity to summarize his life and talk about his passions, including education and Hillsdale College, a private conservative liberal arts institution in Michigan.

Tuntland spoke knowing that his time was short but also with a sense of accomplishment, Johnson said. He credited his wife for getting him involved in charity work. He also expressed his love of Rochester.

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"The Rochester community has enriched our lives by allowing us to be all we could be," Tuntland said.

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