AUSTIN, Minn. – Richard L. Knowlton, formerly the president, CEO and chairman of the board of Hormel Foods Corp. died Feb. 1, after losing a battle with complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. Knowlton was 86 years old.

A native of Austin, Knowlton worked at Hormel as a summer job during high school and while attending the Univ. of Colorado, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954. He joined the company that same year, working as a merchandising manager in Fremont, Nebraska. He also served in the U.S. Air Force for two years before transferring to Austin in 1959, where he was manager of the Minnesota route car division. Knowlton advanced through the ranks and was appointed general manager of the company’s Austin plant in 1969. In the next 10 years he served as vice president of operations and joined Hormel’s board of directors and promoted to vice president of the operations group as well as being named to the executive committee. He assumed the roles of president and chief operations officer in 1979 and finally, was named CEO and chairman in 1981, retiring as CEO in 1993 and chairman in 1995.

According to the company, Knowlton’s vision helped grow Hormel’s sales from $1.4 billion to approximately $3 billion, which included record-setting net earnings and unprecedented stock performance. During his tenure, Hormel evolved as a company and shifted its identity from a commodity-focused pork processing company to diversified consumer foods company.

“On behalf of our entire Hormel Foods family, we extend our deepest condolences to Dick’s family, including his wife Nancy and his children Scott, Kim, Claudia, David and Julie, along with his grandchildren,” said Jim Snee, Hormel’s president, CEO and chairman.

“Dick was one of the most beloved and visionary leaders in Hormel Foods 128-year history. His legacy of ingenuity and excellence has left a monumental and enduring impact on our great company. He was an admired and compassionate leader, both at Hormel Foods and in the community,” Snee said.

Knowlton led The Hormel Foundation as chairman from 1995 to 2009, during which time the organization donated $87 million to support the Austin community. He was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2010.

“Dick and Nancy have had an unwavering commitment to his hometown of Austin, Minnesota, and countless other communities, organizations and universities. They have been more than just philanthropists, they have been humanitarians in the truest sense. Their commitment to giving back set an example that continues today in the work Hormel Foods does locally and globally. We will remember him as a great leader, ambassador and gentleman.”