Philip Von Blon, a Guthrie Theater founder, dies

Original Guthrie facade
Philip Von Blon was one of the founders of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the mid-1960s, and a key supporter of the organization since its beginnings.
Photo courtesy of Ralph Rapson

Philip Von Blon, who helped start the Guthrie Theater in the early 1960s and had remained an active board member, died Wednesday from complications from a fall. He was 88.

Von Blon died at his home in Tucson, Ariz., according to an obituary his family had published in newspapers in Minnesota and Arizona.

Von Blon was a member of the steering committee that founded the Guthrie Theater, which had its first production in 1963. The committee raised more than $2.2 million to build the theater next to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Joe Dowling, the Guthrie's artistic director, said he first met Von Blon 15 years ago when he came to the Guthrie. Von Blon was always committed to the theater and remained engaged until the end, Dowling said.

"He was at most opening nights, he was very supportive of new work," Dowling said. "He had kind of a zest for life and enthusiasm about the work that really belied his age."

Dowling said Von Blon and his wife, Joanne, were among the biggest supporters of the Guthrie's 2009 production of Tony Kushner's play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures." Dowling said the play and its title attracted some controversy, but Von Blon and his wife Joanne asked perceptive questions about the play and its themes.

"Both of them engaged Tony in spirited conversations at parties," Dowling recalled. "They were always looking for new experiences and new adventures."

Von Blon moved to Minneapolis in 1945 and joined the International Milling Co. Fifteen years later he became vice president of finance for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co.

Von Blon had become a Walker Art Center board member in 1958 and eventually became an honorary trustee of the arts organization.

In 1970, he started the Minneapolis office of what is now Alliance Bernstein, a global investment firm.

Dowling said Von Blon's daughter, Margaret Wurtele, has continued her father's support of theater and the arts. The Guthrie's thrust stage at its new building on the Mississippi River is named after Wurtele and her husband, Angus.

A memorial service for Von Blon will be held at the Guthrie, but a date hasn't yet been set. Dowling said the theater and arts communities have lost a great supporter.

"You always came away from a meeting with Phil feeling better about yourself and better about the world. He was much, much loved in this community," Dowling said.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.