Jim Luger, businessman and social justice seeker, dies at 90

Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Businessman Jim Luger protested the Vietnam War and worked for civil rights for decades.

He also was an American warrior.

In 1950, Luger, a young athlete from south Minneapolis, dropped out of the University of Minnesota to join the Navy, then the Marines, to fight against North Korean and Chinese forces in Korea.

Luger, who volunteered as a forward-artillery observer, was inspired by Sgt. Carl Perryman, a Black man who joined the Marines to leave behind poverty, second-class education and other Jim Crow repression in Alabama. Perryman was awarded the Purple Heart after leading Luger and other Marines during close-quarter combat when their platoon was overrun and they had to fight their way back to U.S. lines.

After the war, Luger, also promoted to sergeant, studied the U.S. Constitution and history, including slavery and its vestiges. He got to know Black people in very white Minneapolis. He was upset that a U.S. Marine like Perryman couldn't eat at the lunch counter in his Alabama hometown.

"Perryman was fearless, and my dad … loved him," said James Luger Jr., one of Luger's eight children. "Perryman went home to Alabama and couldn't find a job. That bothered my dad.

"My dad was a patriot," his son said. "He also was a reader, thinker and strategist. He didn't feel Vietnam was a just war. He followed his own path. He was ahead of his time on civil rights, equal rights and gay rights."

Jim Luger died March 8 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 90.

The senior Luger joined his father's south Minneapolis business representing manufacturers in 1965. He eventually helped start at least two minority-owned business, including one that sold the rebar used to build the Mall of America in 1991-92, according to Mark Luger, another son.

Jim Luger worked on Catholic interracial initiatives and in the late 1960s befriended Joe Selvaggio, a former Catholic priest who wanted to do inner-city anti-poverty work.

"Luger asked me to wear my Roman collar to protest the Vietnam War when Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to the Guthrie to see a play about war, I believe 'Hamlet,' " Selvaggio said.

Luger was among the founders of Selvaggio's Project for Pride in Living in 1972. PPL has grown to be one of the largest local providers of affordable housing, counseling and job training for low-income people.

Luger brought Black and Jewish friends to the Lafayette Club and the Minneapolis Athletic Club before they were welcomed as members. And he took affluent friends on tours of inner-city Minneapolis.

Jim and his wife, Shirley, raised eight children on Lake Minnetonka.

Friends with the leader of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, Luger brokered a deal in the 1970s with General Mills to create a wild-rice product and gave his $60,000 commission to the tribe.

Mark Luger recalled that his dad told him it was better to be known as a "giver" than a "getter."

"He took great pride in teaching his children etiquette, honesty, integrity and treating everyone the same no matter their color, how much money they made or their religion," Mark Luger said of his dad.

Luger's wife, Shirley, preceded him in death. In addition to sons James Jr. and Mark, Luger is survived by sons Ted and Jeff; daughters Penny Roberts, Michele, Kathleen Asgrimson, Christine Myers and Malinda; a brother, Gerald; 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services will be held in the near future.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144