|J. R. "Jack" Simplot|
John Richard Simplot|
January 4, 1909
May 25, 2008 (aged 99)|
Morris Hill Cemetery|
|Other names||Jack, J.R., John|
|Education||Eighth grade dropout|
chairman emeritus of
J. R. Simplot Company,
of the Forbes 400.
|Net worth||$3.6 billion|
(m. 1972-2008, his death)
Ruby Adeline Rosevear
(m. 1931-1960, divorce)
Richard R. Simplot|
Donald J. Simplot - (b. 1936)
Gay C. Simplot - (b. 1945)
Scott R. Simplot - (b. 1947)
Charles Richard Simplot|
Dorothy Ann Haxby Simplot
John Richard ("Jack" or "J.R.") Simplot (; January 4, 1909 - May 25, 2008) was an American entrepreneur and businessman best known as the founder of the J. R. Simplot Company, a Boise, Idaho based agricultural supplier specializing in potato products. In 2007, he was estimated to be the 89th-richest person in the United States, at $3.6 billion. At the time of his death at age 99 in May 2008, he was the oldest billionaire on the Forbes 400.
Born in Dubuque, Iowa, he was the third of six children of Charles R. and Dorothy (Haxby) Simplot. His maternal grandmother was English, as were both parents of both his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. Both of his paternal grandfather's parents were French. A year later in 1910, the family relocated a thousand miles (1,600 km) west to homestead in the newly-irrigated Magic Valley of south central Idaho; the Minidoka Dam on the Snake River was completed a few years earlier.
After differences with his authoritarian father, Simplot quit school in the eighth grade and left home to strike out on his own at age 14 in 1923. He then worked on a farm near Declo where he developed a creative method for feeding hogs, before getting into the potato and vegetable processing business.
In 1967, Simplot and McDonald's founder Ray Kroc agreed by handshake that the Simplot Company would provide frozen french fries to the restaurant chain. Previously, restaurants had cut potatoes at each location for fresh french fries, but the favored russet potato was not available for three months in the summer, leading to a quality control problem. Simplot was able to supply frozen russet potatoes all year long. By 1972, all fries were frozen. The frozen fry deal led to expansion of Simplot potato processing plants and construction in 1977 of a new plant at Hermiston, Oregon. By 2005, Simplot supplied more than half of all french fries for the fast food chain. Simplot also produces fertilizers for agriculture.
Simplot retired as president of his company in 1973, but remained as chairman until 1994. He held the title of Chairman Emeritus until his death in 2008. Simplot received an honorary degree from Utah State University in Logan in 2001, honoring him for his many contributions to the agricultural industry of America, particularly the Intermountain West.
Further enhancing his enormous wealth, the J.R. Simplot Company provided startup capital in the early 1980s for the fledgling Micron Technology, a Boise-based manufacturer of computer memory chips. Additionally, he invested heavily in Remington Oil.
In 1961, Simplot financed the Brundage Mountain ski area near McCall, two hours north of Boise. The Simplot Company sold its 50% interest in Brundage in April 2006 to the longtime co-owner, the DeBoer family. In the early 1950s, Simplot was the benefactor to the fledgling Bogus Basin ski area near Boise when it had financial difficulties; the base area lodge is named in his honor.
In 1995, the J.R. Simplot Company expanded into Australia, acquiring iconic food brands like Birds Eye, Leggo's, Chiko and Edgell.
Simplot's first marriage was to Ruby Rosevear of Glenns Ferry, whom he had met on a blind date; he proposed to her in his Model A Ford in 1931. After 29 years and four children, the marriage ended in divorce in 1960, when she suddenly left Simplot for another man. Years later, Simplot admitted that while he was growing his business empire in the 1950s, he had not spent enough time with his family.
He and his second wife, Esther Becker, a former opera singer, met in the mid 1960s in New York. He was on a business trip and she was working as a receptionist for the Henry Phipps Foundation; they were married in 1972.
Before his death, 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 hilltop home, in Boise's north end, to the state of Idaho in 2005 for use as a governor's mansion. (Known as "The Idaho House", the residence was demolished in January 2016.)
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 cranial hematoma. 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.
Simplot died suddenly at his home on May 25, 2008, with his wife at his side, following a bout of pneumonia from which he appeared to be recovering. His death occurred moments after he had invited a friend to his home to play cards.
Simplot, age 99, was survived by his wife, two sons, Don and Scott, and his daughter, Gay; his eldest son, Richard (Dick), died in 1993. He was also survived by 18 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. He was interred at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.