St. Paul business exec, philanthropist John Nasseff dies at 93

Opperman's and Nasseff
From left, Fane Opperman, John Nasseff and Vance Opperman stand together in the former West Publishing office of Fane and Vance's father, Dwight Opperman, in St. Paul, Minn. Friday, May 29, 2015.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2015

Legendary St. Paul business executive and philanthropist John Nasseff has died at age 93.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Nasseff parlayed a ninth grade education into a job as a vice president at what was then West Publishing. He sold off his part of the firm and went onto a career of charity and community service.

"The rags to riches story has a few extra wrinkles," said Vance Opperman, a close family friend and business partner. "John was a mechanical genius, incredibly smart."

The key to unlocking that intelligence was his time spent in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, Opperman said. "That's really where he developed, or had a lot of mechanical ideas that he used later in life."

After climbing the ranks at West Publishing after the war, Nasseff used the money he made to help those in need.

"Graciousness was John Nasseff," Opperman said.

And a lot of his charity work was done right in St. Paul.

"I mean, he was born in St. Paul, lived in St. Paul, always planned to die in St. Paul," he said.

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