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Hall of Fame--On Top of the Mountain

September 2000
BY ERIK CAGLE


Mora, Minnesota—population 2,500—is as obscure as any town in America. Boasting predominantly farm land, it may seem an eternity away from the excitement of the big city for someone who calls Mora home.

A. Oscar Carlson grew up there with his six brothers and parents on a dairy farm. Such an existence is not a way of life; it is life. From before the time the sun rises to a point beyond sunset, Carlson and his family knew what work had to be done. Something always had to be done, which didn't leave a lot of time for daydreaming about a better life.

Carlson left the daydreaming to others, and forged a life and a career enviable to those born into more favorable circumstances. He has made a name for himself and his company, American Spirit Graphics. It has been a career that certainly embodies the company's name, and merits a place among the commercial printing elite with his election into the Printing Impressions/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame.

Family Roots
Carlson has Mora and his brothers, in part, to thank for his success. It was during his childhood that he acquired the tools and hard-knocks education he would need to survive and thrive in his professional career.

"It was a seven-day work week for us," Carlson recalls. "We farmed on three other farms, as well. I learned to work hard, be responsible and make do with what equipment we had. It was a great place to grow up. As a family, we worked hard and we played hard. We only had one tiny bathroom, and we had to fight for that. We worked hard to get off the farm, because none of us wanted to continue doing that."

Carlson found an outlet for his home-grown aggressiveness and competitiveness in high school. Blessed with good speed, he ran track and played football. He continued track in college at St. Cloud University, where he graduated with a degree in business administration and accounting.

He followed in his older brother Lary's footsteps and joined a CPA firm in Minneapolis, where he remained for three years. The high-volume, 41⁄2-month tax season—reminiscent of a peak farming period—didn't appeal to Carlson, but the experience was invaluable. While doing audits, he was given a glimpse at the ways and means of running a successful (and unsuccessful) business—information he would draw upon later in his career.

 

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