Businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist, mentor, friend
By Harold Miller
Central New York will surely miss the lifelong philanthropic efforts of Jack Bisgrove, who prematurely died of cancer in November. He was 78.
He was dedicated to his hometown of Auburn and lived here all of his life. His father, John Bisgrove Sr., began a humble business in Auburn at the turn of the 20th century — carting fruits and vegetables from door to door. Eventually his efforts led to the founding of Red Star Express Lines, which grew to be the largest regional trucking company in the country.
When Bisgrove Sr. retired he turned the business over to his sons Jack and Jerry, who continued to build and expand the business until they retired, at which time they sold Red Star to TNT, one of the largest transport companies in the world.
At this juncture the Bisgrove boys vowed to use their fortunes to rebuild Auburn to its former standing as one of the finest communities in which to live and work. Auburn, at the early part of the 20th century, was an industrial boom town with such companies as Columbian Rope, International Harvester, American Locomotive, Firth Carpet and General Electrical headquartering here. As time went on, Auburn fell victim to the same plague as other cities along the rust belt: high taxes, high utility rates and union problems. Eventually Auburn lost its manufacturing base as well other business that supported them.
Jack Bisgrove founded The Stardust Foundation in 2007 (thus named for the financial dust that accumulated from the sale of Red Star). The Bisgrove brothers pledged $15 million to support community organizations for health care, 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 foundation’s work stands the “Creative Corridor” — the renovation of abandoned buildings and other eyesores along the main streets of downtown into charming blocks of shops, stores and offices, which melds the Auburn of yesteryear into the functionality of today. The anchor of the Creative Corridor is the 88-room Hilton Gardens Hotel and Conference Center — championed by Jack and built by Michael Falcone — another native Auburnian and member of the Stardust Foundation.
Another major development built by Jack Bisgrove — in honor of his son, Brian, who succumbed to cancer in 1996 — is Everest Park, a 160-acre complex of rolling hills, athletic fields and wooded trails high on a hillside overlooking Owasco Lake. Five large lacrosse / soccer play fields sit atop this tranquil site. Each of these play fields is a memorial to athletic champions of Cayuga County – one of which is my son Ron.
The development that Jack was most proud of and where he spent his final days 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 his veranda overlooking the lake. You could find him most mornings at 6:30 reading the newspapers. He was a voracious reader and kept up with all that was happening in Auburn and America — both of which he loved.
There are only a handful of people who have profoundly influenced my life and career — Jack Bisgrove was at the top of the list. He is the only man I have ever known who could walk the narrow line between living a highly religious life while at the same time being a hard-core businessman. His stamp will forever be emblazoned on our beloved Finger Lakes region.