My dear friend and mentor Jack Bisgrove slipped away quietly to be with his God on Sunday, Nov. 4 — the victim of a vicious cancer that invaded his brain. As with every other challenge in his life, he fought bravely against it until medicine could no longer contain the tumor — and then he put himself in God’s hands. We had several lengthy conversations during the last few weeks of his life and I was astonished at his spirit and positive attitude. He spoke openly about his passing and said “just hope I get on the right bus.”
We are sure he did.
There are only a few people who have influenced my life and career — and Jack was at the top of the list. He is the only man I have ever known that could walk the narrow line between living a highly religious life while at the same time being a hard-core businessman and developer.
Jack’s father, John Bisgrove Sr., started his humble business by wheeling carts of fruits and vegetables door-to-door in Auburn early in the 20th century. Eventually his efforts became Red Star Express Lines. When John Sr. retired, he turned the family business over to Jack and his brother Jerry. Red Star grew to be the largest regional trucking company in the country before the brothers sold it and retired themselves. At that time they made a vow to rebuild Auburn (that had lost all of its industry) to its former standing as one of the finest communities in which to live and work — and in the process attract new businesses.
The Stardust Foundation (thus named for the financial dust that accumulated by the sale of Red Star) was founded in 2007 and pledged $15 million to support community organizations for health care, education, youth care, arts and architecture and many other functions for the purpose of improving the quality of life in Auburn and Cayuga County. I was honored to be a part of that dynamic philanthropic organization. At the center of their efforts stands the “Creative Corridor” — the renovation of abandoned buildings and other eyesores into a charming block of shops, stores and offices with architecture that melds the Auburn of yesteryear with the functionality of today. The Creative Corridor is anchored by the Hilton Garden Inn hotel and conference center, which has been a great success and has enhanced Auburn’s ability to attract the burgeoning wine tours and vacationers in the Finger Lakes region.
Jack personally founded many other developments. Perhaps the most ambitious undertaking was to build Magdalen College in Manchester, New Hampshire, the first Catholic lay college in our country. Locally, he developed the Everest Foundation, which includes Champions for Life, the Brian Bisgrove Home of Courage (in memory of his son, Brian, who also died of cancer in 1996), and Everest Park (a 160-acre site atop a hillside which overlooks Owasco Lake). This serene site encompasses athletic fields, wooded trails and picnic areas. Each of the five athletic fields is dedicated to one of Auburn’s champion athletes — one of which is our son Ron.
The development that Jack was most proud of was Martin Point on Owasco Lake, which he partnered with myself and Al Bouley, a fellow businessman and developer. He spent his final days sitting on the veranda overlooking the lake and called it “magic.” You could find him most any day at 6:30 in the morning reading the newspaper. He was a voracious reader and kept up with all that was happening in Auburn and America. Jack loved them both.
Summarily, Jack Bisgrove was first of all a dedicated family man. He and wife Marsha sired a loving family — three daughters, Laura, Sherry and Rhonda and two sons, Brian and John Jr. Secondly, he was one of Auburn’s most outstanding citizens of all time — but he didn’t want to stand out. His favorite garb was a well-worn baseball cap and a well-worn flannel jacket. Finally, they will have to get ready for him in the other world because he will surely want to rearrange a few things and start a couple of projects.