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Warroad's Bill Marvin, 92, dies

Former Marvin Windows and Doors owners Bill and Margaret Marvin are shown at the company's annual meeting in 2005. Marvin died Monday morning at home in Warroad. He was 92. Pioneer Photo/Eric Hylden

William S. "Bill" Marvin, the pioneering northwestern Minnesota entrepreneur who led Marvin Windows and Doors into the international marketplace, died Monday morning at home in Warroad. He was 92.

He was surrounded by members of his family, including succeeding generations who have helped guide expansion of the company and its broad impact on the community and region through employment, civic projects and scholarship programs.

"Just look at the jobs created by a few large companies, through the exceptional nature of our entrepreneurs up here," said Leon Heath, executive director of the Northwest Regional Development Commission in Warren, Minn., who worked with Marvin and leaders of other large companies when they expanded operations in the region.

"When the pioneers came up here, this was an unsettled area, with adverse conditions, and these entrepreneurs wanted to create," Heath said. "They wanted jobs for their families, their families' families, their friends' families.

"They created what made it possible to live up here and have schools and stores and jobs, and Bill Marvin was the epitome of that. And with him, it went beyond just wanting to create a company. It was also about creating a community."

Dr. Joseph Bouvette, a Kittson County commissioner and former mayor of Hallock, Minn., also got to know William Marvin through regional economic development work.

"He was one of the real businessmen who built northwestern Minnesota," Bouvette said. "He went out and did what he had to do and got things done, and it was good not only for his own community but for all of northwestern Minnesota. A lot of people owe a lot to him for where they are in today's world.

"It's the end of an era for his age group, but his family will continue on," he said. "That family name will never die. It's so entrenched in our area."

Called home

Marvin was born in Warroad on Aug. 25, 1917, the year his father, George, founded the company that bears their name. He graduated from Warroad High School and the University of Minnesota, and he worked briefly for General Mills before returning to Warroad in 1939 at his father's request to join what then was called the Marvin Lumber and Cedar Co.

He was its eighth employee. Soon after he started, the company began to build custom wood window and door frames to keep its workers busy during the winter.

Later, Bill Marvin championed major expansion, eventually building the company into the world's largest manufacturer of made-to-order windows and doors.

He became president and chairman of the board in 1960. When fire destroyed the factory in 1961, he chose to rebuild in Warroad despite offers of ready-made plants elsewhere.

He was a member of the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame and was named by Builder magazine as one of the 100 most influential building industry leaders of the 20th century. He served as a member and leader of several state and national manufacturing associations.

He also devoted time and energy to many community organizations, including the Warroad Commercial Club, the local hospital board and the Warroad Fire Department, where for years he served as chief.

Daughter Susan Marvin, since 1995 president of Marvin Windows and Doors, said that her father received medical attention at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., about three weeks ago for "an aggressive infection" but seemed in good health and spirits when he returned to Warroad.

"On Tuesday (Aug. 25), he celebrated his 92nd birthday and partied all day and into the night with ice cream and cake for everybody," she said.

But the infection returned late last week, and he died about 6 a.m. Monday.

"We were all with him all last night," Susan Marvin said.

"He not only lived an incredible life, but I think he did a wonderful job of showing us how a life should be lived," she said. "He was a very principled man, a man of great integrity. I was always amazed by and proud of the great respect he showed everybody. He used to tell us that every individual has talent, and our job was to help that person find it and put it to work."

As a father, "he had a very strong sense of right and wrong -- no gray areas," she said. "He had no tolerance for excuses. He didn't want us to grow up entitled or spoiled, and he wanted very much for us to be people he'd be proud to have associated with this company he built and this community he loved."

Generous gifts

In 2007, the Minnesota Community Foundation announced the William S. and Margaret W. Marvin Scholarship Fund, a $15 million endowment designed to provide college tuition for many of the college-bound graduates of Warroad High School.

"This is one of the most remarkable and generous gifts to a community and its people that we have seen," Carleen Rhodes, the foundation's chief executive officer, said at the time. The Marvins' "precious gift of education" will benefit the children of Warroad and the community for generations, she said.

The Marvins' contributions to the school district also included a major gift to finance construction of the swimming pool at the high school.

Marvin married Margaret Wallin in 1941. She died in January 2007.

Survivors include children Frank Marvin, Margaret (Peggy) Johnson, John (Jake) Marvin, George Marvin, Susan Marvin and Robert Marvin, all of Warroad; 17 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and a sister, Mary (Mimi) Marvin, of Minneapolis. He was preceded in death by brothers Frank, Calvin (Cal), Jack and Randolph (Tut) Marvin, two infant children and a granddaughter, Alison Marvin.

The funeral for Bill Marvin is set for 11 a.m. Friday at the Warroad High School gymnasium. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the William S. Marvin Visitor Center in Warroad, and also one hour before Friday's funeral. Helgeson Funeral Chapel of Warroad is making arrangements.

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