Beck Horton, one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities, shared his success by providing jobs to inner-city black residents, hoping to help revitalize north Minneapolis.
"If we had more Beck Hortons, I think the problems of the inner city would be quite different," said Joe Wierschem, longtime friend and co-worker. "He was a person who would be a model for others."
Horton, 72, died Dec. 13 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
The seventh of eight children, Beckwith Horton was the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating from the University of Kansas. He and his high school sweetheart, Gwendolyn, married and moved to Los Angeles for a job. They subsequently moved to Minneapolis in 1962 to be closer to family.
After working for Honeywell and a smaller company, Ault Inc., Horton decided to realize his dream of starting his own company. With $50,000 in savings and a rented mobile home, he launched a company that later merged with another to form Juno Enterprises Inc., a manufacturer of electromagnetic components in Coon Rapids.
Horton wanted to share his success with fellow African-Americans. Efforts, though, to bus black Minneapolis residents to Coon Rapids failed. "It's pretty hard to pull people from the inner city to do that," Wierschem said.
If he couldn't bring the people to the jobs, Horton decided he'd bring the jobs to the people. In 1988, he started Microtron Inc., an auto parts manufacturer in north Minneapolis. The company employed about 200 people, most of whom were black residents of north Minneapolis.
"That was his way to lift up the African-American community," said son Keith. "He wanted people to be in a better position."
At a 1998 event, Horton summed up his mission: "If a major role of philanthropy is to promote human welfare, the best way to promote it is to give them a job. We need to bring jobs back to the central cities to have a prayer of a chance of saving our inner cities."
Not all of Horton's ventures were a success. But "he was a dreamer," said Gwen, his wife of 51 years.
He also was a quiet philanthropist and mentor to other entrepreneurs, she added. "He always said sometimes it takes one small contribution to get someone going. He did that many times."
Outside business, the quick-witted, soft-spoken man loved to golf, travel with his wife, play poker and, above all, be with family.
"He always said that behind his business decisions was thought of his family," said daughter Pam. "That's the type of person he was."
She and her brother worked side by side with their father for years and now run the properties he acquired. Horton retired 12 years ago and lived part time in Golden Valley and in Arizona.
"He came from very humble beginnings and ... he went on to build a successful business," said longtime friend Frank Sims of Atlanta. "And in doing so, was always giving back to the community."
Besides his two children and wife, survivors include his two sisters, three brothers and three grandchildren. Services will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Speak the Word Church in Golden Valley.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141