MANKATO — Joe Abdo loved to walk.
“At about age 50 he became the Forrest Gump of Mankato,” said his son, Jay. “He’d gone to a funeral of a dear friend who died of lung cancer and dad was a smoker. He walked out of St. Peter and Paul’s and crushed his cigarettes and became a runner, then later he’d walk every day all over town.”
And if there’s a perfect way to die, Joe Abdo may have accomplished it. He was taking his morning walk in Naples, Florida, where he and his wife of 69 years, Meredith, lived in the winter.
He passed a woman walking the other direction and said to her, “Isn’t it a beautiful morning?” A short time later someone came across his body a couple of blocks away where he’d crumpled to the ground. He was 89.
Abdo leaves behind a vast business, family and social legacy in Mankato. He founded what would become CPA firm Abdo, Eick, & Meyers that now has 170 employees and 20 partners with offices in Mankato and Minneapolis.
In 1981 after retirement from accounting, he started Abdo and Daughters Publishing, now Abdo Publishing, a nationally recognized children’s book company in North Mankato with more than 100 employees. He was also a founding shareholder in Northland Securities and BankVista.
Abdo was born in Mankato in 1930, the youngest of 13 children of Lebanese immigrant parents. He was a product of Mankato Catholic schools and deeply involved in the church throughout his life.
Retired Mankato businessman Fred Lutz knew Abdo for 50 years.
“I knew him through family and they were our accountants and he was in our coffee group the last 10 years.”
Lutz said Abdo had a strong philanthropic bent that many people didn’t see.
“He really helped a lot of people but he didn’t like to say anything about it. He liked to be behind the scenes,” Lutz said.
“He’d see homeless people along his walks in Florida and he would help them out. And he helped a lot of business people in Mankato get started and supported them as they got going.”
And most every accountant in Mankato had some connection to Abdo. He had many as interns or employees who went on to start their own firms.
Abdo served two years as a medic in Korea and then joined the National Guard. A lover of numbers and details, he went to Mankato State College on the GI Bill to major in accounting. With a growing family he needed to work full-time during college.
“He worked for George Schwickert, who owned Schwickert’s, and went to school at night. Schwickert’s became his first client after he graduated and three generations later they’re still clients of our firm,” Jay said.
It took him about eight years to finish his degree; at his graduation was his wife and five kids. He had the distinction of being the first in the nation to pass his CPA exam before he graduated from college.
Abdo had a lifelong love of golf, playing bridge and reading anything and everything.
Early on he qualified for a national bridge tournament in Omaha. He and his card partner had the distinction of playing against two young men who were partners in the tournament — Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
Jay, one of six kids, said his dad was loving and fun.
“He was a very loving father, a big hugger and kisser. It was always fun because my dad’s parents were Lebanese immigrants and my mother’s parents were Swedish immigrants, so we had a major contrast in grandparents. They were both very loving but very different in a lot of ways.”
Joe Abdo was on the board of directors of Child’s World book company, which was one of his clients. He invested a small amount in the company, and when it was later sold, he made a good profit.
“My two sisters were graduating from college and dad decided to put that money into starting his own children’s book company with my two sisters working with him,” Jay said. “It started in our garage and now we have a huge warehouse with a half million or million books in it.”
With the whole family now involved in Abdo Publishing, the company has the rights to 6,500 active titles.
One of Glen Taylor’s companies has printed and binded the Abdo books for the past 30 years.
Jay got the family into the banking and finance business — Northland Securities and BankVista — and his dad convinced Taylor to join Northland Securities, where he is now a large shareholder.
A memorial Mass will take place 10:30 a.m. Dec. 12 at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Mankato.