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Pact led Jorgensen to top of Kahler Corp.

By Heather J. Carlson

hcarlson@postbulletin.com

What started as a pact between boyhood friends would lead Earl Jorgensen to become one of the city’s most well-known hoteliers.

Friend Roy Watson Jr. remembers the day he and Jorgensen made the pact as teenagers while riding in a car driven by Watson’s dad.

"We went over the railroad tracks on North Broadway right there by the Marigold Dairy, and we made a school-boy pact that someday we would run the Kahler Corporation," Watson said.

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And they kept that pact. Both would serve as president of Kahler Corp., with Jorgensen leading the company from 1977 to 1982. Jorgensen died last week at age 87.

Goal: To be liked

Friends and family describe Jorgensen as an outgoing man with a knack for making friends with virtually anyone he met.

"I said in my eulogy that (Earl’s) greatest goal in life was to be liked, and he reached his goal," Watson said. "I don’t know of a soul — man, woman or otherwise — that ever had a bad thing to say about him."

Jorgensen was born in St. Paul on March 22, 1921, and moved to Rochester at a young age. In junior high, he met Watson, and they soon became close friends. Watson said they befriended two other boys, establishing a group of buddies that would be known as the "gruesome foursome."

It was during these years that Jorgensen developed the nickname "Nosey," for what his mom described as his "button nose." It would stick with him throughout his life.

Service in WWII

Before Jorgensen and Watson could make their hotel dreams become reality, World War II intervened. Jorgensen served in the Air Force as a bombadier, flying on B-17 bombers. On July 16, 1944, Jorgensen’s plane was shot down during a bombing run over Vienna. During the attack, shrapnel struck Jorgensen’s right knee. As the plane spun out of control, he managed to get out of the plane and landed in a potato field. Nazi soldiers soon captured him, and he would spend several months as a prisoner of war.

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Watson and Jorgensen were reunited after the war and went to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to study hotel administration. It was there that Jorgensen met his wife, Betsy. It didn’t take long for her to realize that Jorgensen was "the one."

"As soon as I met Earl, I thought he was the nicest guy I ever met, and I was 25 years old and I had met a lot," she said.

A great loss

After working for a hotel in Oregon, Jorgensen returned to Rochester in 1950 to work at the Zumbro Hotel, which was owned by the Kahler Corp. The company, which owned Rochester’s Kahler Grand Hotel, is now owned by Sunstone Properties.

Jorgensen’s friend and coworker John Kahler said Jorgensen helped guide the company during a time of tremendous growth. But he was not a man to tout his accomplishments.

"Earl wasn’t the type of guy that was looking for credit for things. He wanted it to work right, and he was more than willing to give the credit to the people that were right there on the frontlines during the work," Kahler said.

Jorgensen also was active in the community, helping raise money to build Mayo Civic Center and chairing Rochesterfest in 1985. In his later years, Jorgensen continued to serve, volunteering at Ronald McDonald House with his wife.

"He was the best friend and the best husband for almost 60 years," his wife said. "It’s a great loss."

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