(AP) - Bill Leinenkugel, who expanded the markets of the tiny Chippewa Falls brewery his family founded in 1867, died Monday after a lengthy struggle with cancer, his family said Tuesday. He was 87.
Leinenkugel took over Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. as president in 1971. He expanded its market to the Twin Cities and Chicago during an era when other small breweries were closing under pressure from major brewers such as Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Miller Brewing Co. The Leinie Lodge, a tour center and hospitality stop in Chippewa Falls, was his idea.
"I'm just a beer salesman who had a good product to sell," Leinenkugel recently told The Chippewa Herald in describing his 39-year career with the company his great-grandfather Jacob Leinenkugel founded.
The brewery - the oldest business in Chippewa Falls - merged with Milwaukee's Miller Brewing in 1988, a year after Leinenkugel retired. It is now a staple for SABMiller's U.S. unit, which is now part of MillerCoors, a joint venture with Molson Coors Brewing Co.
"The entire MillerCoors organization is grateful for everything Bill did for the beer industry," MillerCoors spokesman Peter Marino said in a statement Tuesday. "Bill was a great leader, visionary and entrepreneur. He had a way of personally connecting to his customers and we will toast a Leinenkugel's beer in his honor."
Leinenkugel's son, Thomas "Jake" Leinenkugel, is now the family's fifth generation to head the company, which sells its 11 brands, four of them seasonal, in 38 states. It operates breweries in Chippewa Falls and Milwaukee.
Leinenkugel was born in Washington, D.C., the son of a U.S. government attorney. The family moved to Tucson, Ariz., after his father became ill. His father died when Leinenkugel was only 13.
Leinenkugel was attending the University of Arizona when World War II broke out in December 1941. He joined the U.S. Marines, serving in the Pacific with an artillery battery.
In 1947, when he was 26, he became a salesman for the family brewery, eventually rising to vice president of sales and advertising in 1965, to executive vice president in 1970 and president in 1971.
"All of a sudden, I was in a leadership role. It was on-the-job training," he recalled in 2002. "You were a jack of all trades and really, you were a master of none."
He is survived by two daughters, Kate Bugher of Madison and Lynn Harvey of Menomonie; three sons, Jake Leinenkugel of Chippewa Falls, Richard Leinenkugel of Menomonee Falls and John Leinenkugel of Savage, Minn.; and 11 grandchildren.
His wife of 57 years, Mary Louise Leinenkugel, died in 2004.
A visitation is planned from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Leinie Lodge.
MillerCoors has established the Bill Leinenkugel Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, which will be presented to an employee each spring to honor "prolific contributions" to the beer industry, Marino said.
Information from: The Chippewa Herald, http://www.chippewa.com
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)