Ralph Kriesel rose from humble beginnings to create a financial empire of automobile dealerships, banks and credit companies.
Born in southeast Minneapolis in 1899, Kriesel was the son of a tool-and-die worker. He worked several jobs to build enough savings (with a partner) to establish the first Chevrolet dealership in Saint Paul. At a time when Fords were dominating the market, the odds were against his success.
Flash forward. Kriesel beat the odds and eventually bought out his partner to expand his business, acquiring more dealerships and creating multiple credit companies. In time, he held controlling interests in eight banks as well.
An energetic and competitive business man, Kriesel also was known as a generous man who lived simply — and drove a white Chevrolet. A friend said of him, “He treated everyone the same. The shoeshine, the table waiter and the chairman of the bank. You could spend a lot of time with him and never know he had any money.”
Today, his generous and humble spirit lives on in the Ralph R. Kriesel Foundation, administered by The Saint Paul Foundation, to help others achieve their dreams.
Established in 1971 with $258,833, the Ralph R. Kriesel Foundation has made 732 grants totaling $20 million. Today the Foundation is worth nearly $24 million.
- Although he acquired many dealerships across the state, Kriesel was known best in Saint Paul as the man who owned the Midway Chevrolet.
- Kriesel shared his successes by helping his managers buy most of his businesses over time.
- Not surprisingly, Kriesel lived a quiet life. Although he owned a condo in Florida, Kriesel, his wife and two children lived in a Saint Paul apartment within a building he owned.
- The Kriesel Foundation helped support first-year operations for the Hmong American Partnership, which promotes the strengths of Hmong culture.
- Kriesel’s legacy includes supporting the restoration of the Como Conservatory.
- Housing for low-income residents through the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Family Housing Fund benefits today from Kriesel’s generosity.