Margaret [L] and Mary Tjosvold

Big birthday, big anniversary

Business founded by mother-daughter team goes the distance

By Kevyn Burger
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about half of all new businesses survive five years, and just one-third make it to the ten year mark.

So a family business that is still thriving after 40 years has beaten long odds.

That’s the story for Mary T. Inc.

The Coon Rapids-based provider of housing and services for seniors and people with disabilities got its start as America celebrated its bicentennial.

The business started when graduate student Mary Tjosvold and her mother Margaret, who’d had a career managing JC Penney’s Catalogue sales, co-founded a company because they wanted to help people.

Today, the business formed by mother and daughter operates with 800 employees, has a presence in four states and clocked $42 million in annual revenue last year.

Mary T. Inc. is celebrating its 40th birthday all year, but there are special festivities this week as the senior co-founder, Margaret Tjosvold, turns 98.

Described by her daughter as “sharp and active,” Margaret continues to spend time at facilities operated by the company.

“My mother has always embodied our values,” says daughter Mary. “She has always been optimistic about how we make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

The business started in 1976 when Margaret inherited 40 acres in Anoka County from her own mother.

“My mother called me up and said, ‘What should we do with grandma’s land?’ My grandmother had taken care of people her whole life. So I said, let’s do that,” Mary remembers. “Together we developed our dream of serving seniors and people with disabilities.”

They started by offering housing and services to the early wave of people with intellectual disabilities who were being released from Minnesota’s state hospitals.

“With our first license, we served 34 people in a community facility that had nursing care,” Mary recalls.

In the ensuing decades, the business expanded to offer care and services to people with brain injuries and accessible rental housing clusters for seniors. Mary T. Inc. now operates 52 communities.

Despite the longevity and growth of the company, Mary says that operations grew almost by accident.

“I never planned to be in business. I wanted to be a community activist. What I realized after a couple of years is that businesses have so much potential to improve their communities,” she says.

Mary also happens to own Crooner’s Lounge and Supper Club, a live music venue in Fridley. On Friday night, a champagne toast and dessert bar featuring singer Mary Jane Alm is planned there to honor Margaret’s birthday.

“Mom loves the live music, and she loves a party,” says Mary.