Rod Burwell, a former member of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees and the School of Law Board of Governors, died Sunday.
Burwell joined the St. Thomas board in 2004 and served until 2013. He also was a founding member, from 2001 to 2004, of the law school board. He was a generous donor of need-based scholarships to the Opening Doors capital campaign, and received the John F. Cade Award from the Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship in the Opus College of Business in 2007.
Born in Minneapolis, Burwell earned bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Dakota in industrial engineering (1960) and business administration (1961). He served as a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers in Germany from 1961 to 1964, returned to the United States to teach in the ROTC program at Pursue, and then worked on military construction in Vietnam.
After his discharge, he bought into his father’s janitorial business in Minneapolis and worked as the general manager of a fiberglass company. In 1969, Cargill came to Burwell with a request – to make a barge cover out of fiberglass – and his success led him to found Proform. The company and its successor company, Xerxes, developed other fiberglass products, including covers for rail cars and underground gasoline storage tanks.
Burwell had many diverse business interests. He purchased and sold Chippewa Springs, a water bottling company, and UnderWater World at the Mall of America. He also owned an environmental testing company, a dozen John Deere dealerships in five states and two hotels at Snowmass Village in Colorado, and his interest in movies led to an investment in a production company.
“I’m an opportunist,” he told St. Thomas magazine in a spring 2006 profile. “And an entrepreneur. I see opportunities and it’s hard to stay out of them. I like to buy value assets and I like tangible things. Sometimes when I see a business in trouble, I said, ‘I can fix that,’ and I do.”
He received the Sioux Award from the University of North Dakota in 1983 for outstanding career achievement and distinguished public service, and was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame two years ago.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara, and their three sons, Peter, Blake and Michael.
A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, April 10, at Christ Presbyterian Church, West 70th Street and Highway 100 in Edina. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9, also at the church.