Dick Wilson was never at a loss for words or a tune to go with them.
Known in Twin Cities advertising circles as the “King of Jingles,” Wilson from the 1950s to 1980s created scores of commercials with catchy melodies for corporations and products, including Dairy Queen, Northwestern National Bank and Hamm’s beer. He wrote the lyrics to “We’re Gonna Win, Twins,” the snappy fight song that has been used in marketing campaigns and played at home games as the team takes the field since the team’s arrival in 1961.
“ ‘We’re Gonna Win, Twins’ helped introduce Major League Baseball to fans across the Upper Midwest,” said Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter. The catchy tune quickly became synonymous with Twins baseball at the ballpark, on radio or on television and, “with its exuberance, still resonates with fans of all generations. We salute Dick for his role in shaping the history of our franchise.”
Wilson was a devoted Minneapolis guy, said his daughter Sarah Wilson. But in recent years, he had been living at the St. Anthony Park Home in St. Paul where he died Aug. 29, a week after suffering a stroke. He was 83.
Dick Wilson burst onto the Twin Cities advertising scene in 1957 after earning a journalism degree from the University of Colorado. He started as a copy writer at ad agency Campbell Mithun. He left and co-founded his own firm called Wilson-Griak in 1968 before returning to Campbell Mithun as vice president in 1977. He moved to Carmichael Lynch in 1983.
He loved language, words and things that rhymed, his daughter said. Though he had very little in the way of musical training, Wilson could spontaneously come up with a beat and melody in his head. Then in his gravelly voice, he sang it to musicians and arrangers who put the final touches on the tune.
“He knew how to use music and words more than anybody else,” said longtime friend Terry Esau, who was mentored by Wilson in the 1970s. “He had a knack for creating earworms everybody would sing.”
Wilson’s short, simple ditties pushing products and services included “Let’s All Go to the Dairy Queen” and First Bank’s “Coming in First, Going for Blue …” He rarely gave clients more than one idea to consider. Sometimes that made for tense moments; he’d pound his fists on the table when pitching ideas that he was solidly sold on, Esau said.
“He convinced the client that if they didn’t go along with it, they had bad judgment,” Esau said. “He believed in it so strongly. He could convince anybody of anything.”
On the side, Wilson wrote a number of religious musicals. Several well-known Twin Cities singers, such as Mary Jane Alm, Gwen Matthews and Patty Peterson lent their voices to productions that included “From the Mountain Top,” “Bible Folk” and “He Lived the Good Life,” which was staged at the Guthrie Theatre.
Wilson struggled with bipolar disorder much of his life, and writing musicals helped him cope and heal. “He found peace and meaning in that,” his daughter said.
A native of Bemidji, Minn., Wilson enjoyed fishing, golfing and baseball. He loved friendship and honesty, and though he was brusque at times, “he had a kind gentleness that people will remember,” Sarah Wilson said.
Besides his daughter, Wilson is survived by his first wife, Joella Bangert-Wilson of Edina, and second wife, Anne Jeffries, of Minneapolis; two sons, Bill and Steve, both of Minneapolis; another daughter, Beth Gjerde of Afton; a brother, Robert of Bemidji; and a sister, Nancy Nelson of Seattle. Services will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at Macalester College Chapel in St. Paul.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768