by Paul Rignell
Elk River resident and businessman Jack Mowry grew up one of nine siblings on a farm near Pine City, Minn., with each of them having chores to finish when not in school.
Mowry was introduced to interests away from the farm, including time with a Scout troop, but he never went far with any of it during his youth in the 1950s.
“There was no time for scouting when you were on a farm,” he told the Star News this week.
But he was learning skills and life lessons on the farm, and he became an adult worker and father who shared an initiative to open a business and later mix in a form of recreation about which he had dreamed since his youth.
For the work and drive that Mowry has given his career, family and community, he was asked to speak about his life during an annual spring fundraiser breakfast for the Boy Scouts of America Central Minnesota Council. He accepted the honor and will address local Scouts and community members during the one-hour event to begin 7 a.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Elk River American Legion, located at 525 Railroad Drive.
Mowry did not spend all of his youth in Pine City. He spent his mid-teen years and graduated high school in Howard, S.D., about 70 miles northwest of Sioux Falls, where he met the mother of his children, Kay, who was a year ahead of him.
Out of high school, back in Minnesota and living in Minneapolis, he attended Dunwoody Technical College and began work as a machinist.
In 1973, when their son, Sean, was ready for kindergarten and their daughter, Trisha, was 18 months, Jack and Kay Mowry found a school district they appreciated in Elk River and moved there.
Jack Mowry continued traveling for work as a machinist, but to Hopkins at a time when the freeway system was not nearly as accessible. After five years of those miles, Jack Mowry cut his morning drive substantially when he started the machining business that has become Metal Craft, opening the firm with a business partner, Dick Pomeroy. They began in a space in Martin Plaza, off of Highway 10 in Elk River, with three workers and limited tools including two Bridgeport mills.
The list of jobs grew, and within two years they moved into 2,000 square feet of space in the rear of the McChesney Cabinets building on Meadowvale Road, where the business was operating when Mowry bought out Pomeroy’s share.
Not long afterward, in 1982, Metal Craft moved to industrial park space on Upland Avenue, expanding there from 5,000 to 25,000 square feet and moving once more, to 87,000 square feet at 13760 Business Center Drive, in 2009.
Metal Craft employs more than 100 people at its Elk River campus with 72 additional workers at a second machine shop in Chippewa Falls, Wis., owned since 1996.
Jack Mowry is now a senior adviser for the company, working with and still mentoring Sean, who is Metal Craft’s current president, and Trisha, the chief executive officer. Both of the Mowry children received business training in college, but they had learned Metal Craft’s work years earlier.
“I would bring parts home for them to assemble (in their youth),” Jack said, “and then they would work in the shop during the summertime.
“They both do a wonderful job.”
Mowry notes that he is a senior compared with just about everyone in the building.
“We’ve got a youthful group, with the exception of me,” he said.
The company has completed parts work for Honeywell and for DataCard Corporation, Mowry said, and for Deluxe checking when that company ran its own printing presses, but today Metal Craft meets market needs by putting about 90 percent of its efforts into building surgical instruments and implants.
When not farming or studying in his youth, Jack Mowry marveled at the photos of tropical or simply unfamiliar lands as presented in National Geographic magazine. He viewed the pages then as travel guides, often wondering “how can I get from here to there,” he recalled this week.
In 1992, at age 47, Jack Mowry was asked by Trisha, who was out of high school, if he would join her in enrolling for a sailing course that would take them to Lake Superior, offered through Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
He agreed, and since then his own 40-foot boat, “Breagan,” which is Gaelic for toy or plaything, has gone from seeing Bayfield, Wis., to the St. Lawrence Seaway, Norway, the Panama Canal and the Galapagos Islands among other locales. The boat is now docked and under repair in El Salvador, after Jack Mowry enjoyed a two-month winter’s vacation and break from Minnesota.
“Sailing was the only logical, practical way of getting around the world,” he said, adding that he wishes he would have started the journeys earlier. “You have to do it while you can, while you have your health.”
And seeing many different parts of the world, some without cherished amenities such as indoor plumbing, makes one realize there is no place like home, Mowry said.
“You almost want to kiss the ground when you come back home,” he said. “It really makes you appreciate what we have here, in our country, our state and our city.”
Jim Acers, event coordinator for the April 25 breakfast at the American Legion, said that though Jack Mowry may not have had a long, personal experience in scouting, he has lived his adult life with traits that the area adult troop volunteers want to model for the community youth.
“(Jack) is a true benefactor, in every sense of the word. Self-discipline and personal responsibility, that’s what scouting is all about,” Acers said. “Scouts are a spectrum of their community, and they give us what we give them. They don’t look into themselves. They look out into the community to see what they can give back.”
Walk-in guests are welcome April 25. Guests will be encouraged to make donations after the breakfast. Those giving $150 or more will be eligible for a door prize drawing. Questions may be directed to Acers at 763-441-6818.