A legacy in pharmacy

Published 7:01am Sunday, July 27, 2014
Leonard Astrup, left, founder of Sterling Drug in Austin passed away last Tuesday. In this photo, he  stands with longtime employee Sharon Wagner during the company's 60th Anniversary. Wagner started with the business from the beginning and worked until 1994. Herald file photo
Leonard Astrup, left, founder of Sterling Drug in Austin passed away last Tuesday. In this photo, he stands with longtime employee Sharon Wagner during the company’s 60th Anniversary. Wagner started with the business from the beginning and worked until 1994. Herald file photo

Leonard Astrup’s family remembers him as a man who came from humble beginnings and built something great.

“I think his legacy is that he was a businessman that started with nothing, worked hard and built a very successful regional company,” said his son Chris Astrup. “I think he’s really proud of what has happened, it’s grown into a way larger company than he ever dreamed it would ever be, but I think it’s what he hoped it would be.”

Leonard, who opened the first Sterling Drug in Austin in 1952, passed away July 22. He was 86. He started a legacy in Austin, which grew to a company that now operates 22 stores in Minnesota and Iowa.

Leonard was born Aug. 3, 1927, in Grenora, N.D. He was introduced to business at an early age, as his father farmed in North Dakota and owned a farm implement dealership.

Leonard graduated from the North Dakota State University School of Pharmacy. He met Corrine Spoonheim at graduation and married her in 1955. They had four children, Ann Astrup, Chris, Dan Astrup and Susan (Astrup) Lundquist.

Leonard started his business in the second strip mall to be built in Minnesota, which was a risk at the time because strip malls were so new.

“Everyone thought he was crazy; it was out in the middle of the cornfield,” Chris said. “They’d stay open at night and be open during weekends, and that was just not the norm at the time.”

Leonard opened his second Austin store in 1960 and several stores followed in other communities.

Leonard’s business was a Walgreens franchise until the company dropped the franchise division in 1980, requiring the Astrup Drug Inc. stores to become self-sufficient.

Susan recalled the first store had a soda fountain and a lunch counter. According to Chris, the store sold anything that could be bought in bulk and resold, including snowmobile suits, garden hoses, goldfish, fireworks and more. Astrup Drug operated one of the few discount stores around at the time.

 A family man

Owning the business was hard, time-consuming work.

“He worked hours that a lot of people today would think were undoable, but he said that he really never worked a day in his life because he liked his work so much,” Susan said.

Despite his work ethic, he was a family man.

“If you’re going to do them both you almost have to integrate them, or he’d almost never see us,” Susan said.

Ann recalled interrupted holidays.

“I don’t think we ever had a Christmas Day where we made it through the whole day where somebody wouldn’t call him and he had to go down and open up the store and get a prescription,” she said with a laugh.

Not much could stop Leonard from getting his customers what they needed. Susan remembered him delivering prescriptions on a snowmobile during blizzards.

“Call Leonard and he’ll deliver your prescription through sleet or snow,” she said.

Ann remembered her father being visible to customers.

“People came in the store and they knew dad was going to be there. He’d wait on somebody just like any employee would,” Ann said.

Leonard valued customer service, and hired people with similar values. The first employee he hired was Sharon Wagner, who stayed on for 50 years. She did bookkeeping, was the office manager, and according to Leonard’s children, was very loyal and respected Leonard.

Yet she wasn’t the only person who respected him.

“He was a really well-respected man,” Susan said.

Leonard was also influential to those who worked at his store and those who knew him.

“He was a mentor to a lot of people over the years,” Susan said.

Susan said her father was generous with customers. If people were unable to afford something, he would let them take it for less and make payments.

Dan said their father was always willing to help customers.

ah.03.27.a“[He was] very frugal personally, but I think he was less so with people in need,” Dan said.

Yet while he was flexible in some ways, he was stringent in others.

“He would add a store as he could afford it; he was never a guy that believed in borrowing money,” Chris said. “He was a good negotiator; he could outlast anyone.”

Susan described her father as a strict man with with strong character and values.

“It was all because it was based on love and values and caring about our future,” Susan said. “We saw the soft side come out more with the grandchildren.”

“He was tough on the outside, a big guy — 6’4”,” Chris added. “He wasn’t very flexible, in that ‘this is the way to do things,’ but he was different on the inside.”

“Huge heart, just hard to get at it,” Dan added.

 A family legacy

Leonard’s sons followed in his footsteps.

Dan and Chris, twin brothers, graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy in 1981.

Dan started working at the store in Austin in 1982, and Chris started at the Fairmont store in 1983 before becoming store manager in Owatonna in 1985. Over time, the brothers bought the business from their father.

Even after his sons took over, Leonard’s way of running the company continued.

“Chris and I both believe in the way he ran the company and his values and his attention to the customer,” Dan said. “Things are a lot different these days, so we may do things differently, but basically we’re on the same course.”

Leonard was set to retire in 1993, but he remained involved until the last few years of his life. According to Susan, he would still check mail and kept his office in Austin.

“[He] never really officially retired.” Chris said.

Although she was not involved in her husband’s business, Corrine managed everything else so her husband could work, according to Susan.

“She’s an amazing lady, an amazing mom,” she said.

 A lasting legacy

Leonard’s legacy will continue beyond his children. Both Chris and Dan have children who recently graduated with pharmacy degrees from the University of Minnesota. They hope to pass the business on to their children when the time comes, if they are interested.

Outside work, Leonard also liked tinkering and could repair almost anything. Leonard enjoyed spending time with his family, and they had a cabin on Ottertail Lake. He was proud of his Danish heritage. Leonard was a member of the Lions Club, Sons of Norway, Masons, Austin Country Club and Sterling Shopping Center Business Association. He’d been an active member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church since 1953.

Susan recalled a saying of her father’s: “God, work and family, but at any given time one might have to come before the other.”


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