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Thomas Dinndorf, pharmaceutical executive and aviation enthusiast, dies at 84

October 30, 2018 GMT

When Tom Dinndorf wasn’t working, he was chasing planes.

Dinndorf, who became a private pilot at the age of 16, spent many a day with a Diet Mountain Dew sitting in the lobby of the Baudette International Airport and watching the planes land and take off while chatting with pilots and the airport manager.

Dinndorf, an aviation enthusiast and community volunteer who also served as a former president of pharmaceutical manufacturing company Rowell Laboratories, died Oct. 19. He was 84.

“Tom was a bigger-than-life guy,” said friend Ted Rowell Jr., who would often go on hunting and fishing adventures with Dinndorf. “I liked to say he didn’t touch your life, he impacted it.”

Dinndorf was born April 25, 1934, in Albany, Minn. As a teenager, he worked at his father’s store, Dinndorf Drug, as a “soda jerk.”

Dinndorf later attended pharmacy school at the University of Minnesota where he graduated in 1956. He went on to serve in the Army Medical Corps as a pharmacist for two years before taking a job at a St. Cloud drugstore.

Dinndorf and his high school sweetheart Mary Fridland married in 1958, and went on to have four children together. The couple moved to Baudette, a small town just south of Lake of the Woods near the Canadian border, to work at Rowell Labs with Rowell, whom Dinndorf met in college.

Dinndorf started off as a production manager and worked on formulating new products. He would later lead manufacturing at Rowell Labs before becoming one of the company’s senior vice presidents of marketing.

“He was always happy and had the ability to do any job that needed to be done,” Rowell said.

In the mid 1980s when the company merged with Reid Provident Labs and later was sold to Solvay Cie, Dinndorf served as president of the company and lived in the Atlanta area.

Dinndorf eventually retired from Rowell Labs in 1989 and worked in the Twin Cities for about a decade, helping manage the business at pharmaceutical manufacturing company Paddock Laboratories, his children said. The company sold for $540 million company in 2011.

Dinndorf returned to Baudette and volunteered for the city fire department, ambulance squad, Rotary and others.

“He was always looking for opportunities to better the community,” said his daughter Ann Ellis. “It was very important to make sure that the town thrived.”

One of Dinndorf’s greatest passions was flying. He helped gain support and documentation to extend the runway at the Baudette airport. The runway is now about 5,500 feet long or, how Dinndorf used to joke, “more than a foot of runway per person” for all of the people in Lake of the Woods County, said airport manager Adam Forsberg. Dinndorf also helped the airport acquire customs and immigration services, which allowed it to become an international airport. In 1969, Dinndorf was named “Mr. Aviation of Minnesota” by Gov. Harold LeVander. “He worked very hard to bring attention to the airport,” Forsberg said.

At one point, Dinndorf served as the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Search and Rescue Unit, where he volunteered his time and plane several times to find hunters, anglers and others in need of help. A major point of pride for Dinndorf was how he restored a 1938 Stinson Reliant SR-10 that had been piloted by American aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle. The plane had been disassembled and was in hundreds of pieces when he bought it.

Besides his daughter Ann, Dinndorf is survived by children Kathleen Armstrong and Mike Dinndorf, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Services have been held.