BOISE Joseph A. Albertson, who built a Boise grocery store into one of the nation's largest supermarket chains, died late Wednesday night at his Boise home after an extended illness. He was 86.

Albertson's Inc. would not comment on the cause of death.

''Joe wouldn't want us to cry for him because there's not another fellow in the world who's had as much fun doing what he's done and as much success doing what he's done,'' Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus said Thursday. ''He's one of the small handful of giants who created this state.''

Andrus ordered flags at state facilities lowered to half-staff until 5 p.m. Saturday in Albertson's honor, and the state Senate paused for a moment of silence at the start of Thursday's session.

With an emphasis on innovation and service, Albertson's grew to become the nation's sixth-largest retail food and drug chain with 651 stores in 19 states in the West and South. It employs more than 70,000 people and has annual sales of more than $10 billion.

Joseph Albertson's personal stock holdings in the company were worth about $1.07 billion when the market closed Thursday. His 22 million shares accounted for about 16.5 percent of the corporate stock. Forbes magazine ranked Albertson as the 80th richest person in the country last fall, estimating his worth at $930 million.

Albertson quietly gave millions of dollars to various causes, including nearly $35 million to the College of Idaho in Caldwell, a private liberal arts school that was renamed Albertson College of Idaho in 1991.

''It's heartbreaking. He's been a part of our lives here at the college ever since he and Kay went to school,'' Albertson College President Robert Hendren said. ''He was a friend. He was a resource. Having access to him and his kind of tower of wisdom is the great loss.''

Albertson also contributed heavily to Boise State University and area hospitals. He donated 41 acres along the Boise River to the city in 1989 for what became Kathryn Albertson Park, named for his wife. Their home overlooks the park.

He was born Oct. 17, 1906, in Yukon, Okla., and grew up in Caldwell, about 20 miles west of Boise. After graduating from Caldwell High School in 1925, Albertson took business courses for two years at College of Idaho.

He met his wife, the former Kathryn McCurry, in a chemistry class at the college. They were married by the school's first president, William Judson Boone, on New Year's Eve 1929.

Albertson went to work in 1927 as a clerk at a Safeway store in Caldwell and within a few years was supervising more than a dozen stores. He opened a Boise grocery store with two partners as the first Albertson's Food Center on July 31, 1939. They opened stores in Nampa and Caldwell in 1940.

The first store introduced a number of services unheard of in markets of the day, such as a bakery, a magazine rack and homemade ice cream cones.

The partnership was dissolved after World War II and the growth of Albertson's was dramatic. By 1964, it was the nation's 25th largest food retailer. Albertson turned over management to Warren McCain in 1976 and resigned from daily involvement with the company in 1989.


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