J.R. Simplot Company's founder dies at 99

John Richard "Jack" Simplot, the founder of the J. R. Simplot Company, an agricultural supplier specializing in potato products, died of natural causes on May 25, 2008 in Boise, Idaho.

Born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1909, he was the third of six children of Charles R. and Dorothy Simplot. A year later, the family relocated to south central Idaho to homestead in the newly irrigated Magic Valley. J.R. quit school in the eighth grade, at age 14, and left home to strike out on his own in 1923. He then worked on a farm near Declo, getting into the potato and other vegetable processing business.

By World War II, the J. R. Simplot Company had become the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the nation. By the early 1960s it was the primary supplier of french fries to McDonald's; by 2005 it supplied more than half of all french fries for the fast food chain. Simplot also produces fertilizers for agriculture.

He retired as president of his company in 1973, but remained as chairman for the next two decades. He stepped down as chairman of the board in 1994, and held the title of Chairman Emeritus until his death.

Before his death, Jack Simplot and his wife Esther resided in the Grove Hotel building in downtown Boise, a few blocks from the company's headquarters. The couple donated their signature hilltop home, in Boise 's north end, to the state of Idaho in 2005 for use as a governor's mansion. Now known as "The Idaho House", the residence remains unoccupied.

On January 1, 2007, while attending the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, with his wife and son, Simplot fell from a motorized scooter and suffered a hematoma in his head. He was taken to St. Joseph 's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where he spent his 98th birthday. Simplot returned to Idaho several days later for further rehabilitation. His prognosis was at the time considered good.

In 2007 he was estimated to be the 89th-richest person in America, at $3.6 billion. At age 99, he was the oldest living billionaire on the Forbes 400.

Simplot has left the wife, Esther, two sons and a daughter.

Photo: www.mts.net