Banker, arts advocate, community-builder, Andy Boss’s long career has touched all corners of the city
What’s the key to good leadership?
“Get to know people,” says Andy Boss. And over his long career as a bank president, arts supporter and community leader, the 80-year-old Boss insists that it is the relationships built between people that gets things done.
Boss—the former president of St. Anthony Park Bank (now Park Midway Bank), founder of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation and the guy who in 1974 initiated the newspaper you are now reading—was honored on Oct. 23 at a celebratory event for a fundraising campaign for Park Square Theatre’s new 200-seat Andy Boss Thrust Stage. A longtime Park Square subscriber and donor, Boss serves on the steering committee for the theater’s $4.2 million “Next Stage” campaign.
The event was billed as part of the last leg of Park Square’s capital campaign, but for many of Boss’s friends and colleagues in St. Paul, it was a tribute to a career that touched nearly every corner of the city—from public housing, education and the arts to many institutions in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood, Boss’s home for most of his life.
Held at Park Midway Bank on Como Avenue, the event’s guests included three past St. Paul mayors and the current mayor, Chris Coleman. During the party, a scroll was unrolled from the bank’s second floor that contained the names of nearly 60 nonprofits where Boss served as a founder, director, officer or funder, and sometimes, all four. That two-story resume spanned education—Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Voyageur Outward Bound School, Friends of the St. Paul Public Library—government—St. Paul Public Housing Agency, St. Paul Port Authority, St. Paul Riverfront Corp.—and St. Anthony Park institutions—Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, St. Anthony Park Home, Music in the Park Series, to name a few.
Park Midway President Rick Beeson describes Boss as a “volunteer extraordinaire—someone who has really touched all the sectors: education, business, the arts, housing—and a leader.
“He’ll be most remembered for his mentorship of hundreds of business and organizational leaders who relied on him for his good judgment and highly developed sense of governing,” Beeson says.
Ellen Watters agrees. “I can trace my career and all of the boards and volunteer activities I’ve been in in the last 15 or 20 years and it all goes back to Andy, which is really remarkable,” she says. Now a community-development consultant, Watters met Boss while they both served on the St. Anthony Park Community Council. That relationship led Watters to work for the St. Anthony Park Business Association, then the Midway Chamber of Commerce and then the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
“He introduced me to a ton of people and got me involved in many things,” she says. “Once you get in Andy’s network, it’s a pretty boundary-less network. It goes everywhere.”
Watters is now chair of the board of directors at the Northern Clay Center, a nationally recognized center for ceramic arts, which Boss was instrumental in founding in 1990.
Boss insists that his involvement in so many things was that he was genuinely interested in “getting to know people who were interested in the same things I am.”
The clay center—which first opened in a building at Raymond and University and is now in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis—“really came out of a number of people just getting together and talking about how it can be done,” he says. Once the center was built, Boss participated in the center by not only serving on the board of directors but by taking pottery classes himself. “I made a few nice pots,” he says, and smiles.
In 1974, Boss approached Roger Swardson, the publisher of the Grand Gazette, about starting a newspaper in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood.
“I wanted to know more about putting a newspaper together,” he says. Within a year, Boss had helped establish Park Press Inc., the nonprofit board that has been publishing the Park Bugle ever since.
“This is a guy who saw things that needed fixed and said, ‘Let’s get that done,’ ” says Jon Schumacher, executive director of the 14-year-old St. Anthony Park Community Foundation.
“He started the community foundation,” Watters says. Initial planning for the foundation began in Andy and Linda Boss’s living room.
“He was a banker who was very much a part of the community,” Schumacher says. “He was so involved in the city that he knew that there would need to be more private involvement in city institutions. He had an idea that at sometime in the future, it would be nice to have a safety net for this community, and starting the foundation was a way to put money where it would continue to support this neighborhood when the city was not able to do that. And that certainly is what happened in the 14 years since.”
In the last few years, age and health issues have prevented Boss from being as active in community affairs as he once was, but “he still wants to know what’s going on with whatever organization you are attached to,” Schumacher says. “The last time I visited him, the first thing he asked was, ‘What’s going on with the foundation?’
“He was my mentor in terms of community building,” Schumacher says.
Real estate developer Steve Wellington—whose first project was the former St. Anthony Park Bank building at 2265 Como Ave.—says Boss showed him “that you can be a successful businessperson and an equally capable community leader.”
“His 24 years of service on the board of the Public Housing Agency was a tremendous gift to the community,” Wellington says. The agency’s headquarters, the W. Andrew Boss Building at 555 N. Wabasha St., was named after him.
“He worried about the city’s poorest,” Wellington says. “It’s hard to replace someone who cares as much about the Northern Clay Center as a high rise over on the east side.”
“He’s really sort of a George Bailey from [the 1946 movie] It’s a Wonderful Life,” Beeson says. “He’s the epitome of that. Everybody draws those parallels, but he’s as much of a Jimmy Stewart character as there is. It’s an amazing career—life.”
Boss was able to give the community a sense of strength and control, Beeson says. “That’s what building community is about is giving a sense of control of our destiny. Andy has a very clear sense about community and doing it the right way and balancing between the residential and the business side and also recognizing the power of not-for-profits and the need for those agencies in the communities. He used the power of his bank presidency to bring about community change.”
Beeson joined the bank in 1988 after working for the city for 10 years. “[Andy Boss] taught me how to be involved in the community from a business standpoint,” Beeson says. “There are business people who choose not to get involved for fear of controversy or fear of alienating constituencies, but Andy was able to navigate that.”
When Boss sold the bank in 1993, “he was careful who he sold it to,” Beeson says. “The Reiling family [owners of Sunrise Community Banks] has been an outstanding steward of the neighborhood and the community and kept the community-based focus. He could have sold it to anybody and made more money. That was a judgment on his part, to do the right thing. I don’t think a lot of people know that. He didn’t just look for the highest bidder. The community has been a beneficiary of that.”
Boss’s wife of 26 years, Linda, describes her husband’s leadership skills as “innate.”
“He loves people,” she says. “He loves to collaborate and he was good at connecting people.”
Raised in St. Paul, Boss attended the University of Minnesota and spent two years in the U.S. Army. After the service, he moved to Chicago to work for a bank “and quickly was president of the Jaycees,” Linda Boss says. “He meets and greets and makes people feel comfortable and excited about it.
“He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t see it as something he has done. It’s always ‘somebody else had a good idea.’ ”
An example: When asked if any project in his career stands out as one he’s particularly proud of, Andy Boss says he had “never stopped to think about it.”
Being a community leader is not something one plans, he says. “You get to know people. You ask about each others’ kids. You become friends and work together, talk together about what you can do to improve whatever is on the table.
“The relationships between people come into play quite often.” And for Boss, that has been “very satisfying.”
Kristal Leebrick is the editor of the Park Bugle.