Full speed ahead

Retirement life is full and busy for Mark Addicks, especially when the garden’s in bloom

Mark Addicks
Mark Addicks doesn’t just maintain his own garden (pictured). He volunteers to take care of 10 community gardens in the city of Minneapolis. Photos by Tracy Walsh Photography

Let’s say that on Friday, you retired from a 26-year career at General Mills. Come Monday, would you plan on sleeping late, puttering around and enjoying some much-deserved down time? Not if you’re Mark Addicks.

As one of the longest-tenured chief marketing officers in the food industry, he might be forgiven for a bit of slothfulness when beginning retirement.

But on the first Monday after leaving General Mills, he drove out to Chanhassen and took his place in a 200-person classroom at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, beginning the coursework that would earn him a Master Gardener certification.

“It was something I’d always wanted to do, so I started right away,” he said.

Big G

Addicks, 65, ended his climb up the General Mills’ career ladder with a 10-year stint as chief marketing officer, which ended with his retirement in 2015.

He was responsible for the brand-building of such well-known names as Betty Crocker, Cheerios, Gold Medal Flour, Häagen-Dazs, Lucky Charms, Old El Paso, Pillsbury and Yoplait.

“I loved the culture and the variety at General Mills,” he said. “I love marketing — the psychology of it especially. Every day was a new challenge. I had eight different titles before becoming CMO, so it was like being able to change jobs every few years, but still know where the restroom and cafeteria were.”

One of the projects he’s proudest of leading is the heart-healthy marketing campaign for Cheerios.

“We worked with different organizations, like the FDA, to communicate our message about oat bran being proven to lower cholesterol,” he said. “We did it in a way that was true to Cheerios, was engaging and didn’t overpromise. We focused on nurturing, and on demonstrating the way that Cheerios, which is often a first finger food, is a brand that nurtures. We told our stories within the architecture of someone nurturing someone else.”

The taxi tour

As successful as his career eventually proved to be, General Mills came close to being a no-go for Addicks. After completing his MBA from Harvard Business School — and before that an undergrad degree at University of Texas at Austin — he was recruited by General Mills and flew to the Twin Cities for an interview.

“Everything was perfectly fine, but all I’d seen was my hotel room, the Interstate 394 corridor, the General Mills campus and the airport,” he said. “I’d had offers from companies with headquarters in San Francisco and New York, so I was thinking I probably wouldn’t take the job here.”

On his taxi ride back to the airport, the driver asked if he’d seen anything of Minnesota.

“I said ‘no,’” Addicks said. “He took me on a tour around the Chain of Lakes and to Minnehaha Falls. It was a beautiful spring day. I was so impressed with what I saw, that I took the job. And if that taxi ride hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have ended up in the Twin Cities.”

Mark Addicks
Photos by Tracy Walsh Photography

An innovator extraordinaire

Now comes the big question faced by every retiree: What’s next?

“It comes down to a question of editing as to how I want to spend my time,” he said.

Using his marketing smarts and endless connections, Addicks has been the perfect person to spearhead the annual Manova Summit, which brings together innovations and ideas on the frontier of health and wellness — plus some famous speakers, including Katie Couric and Jane Fonda, to name a few.

He’s the CEO of 2023 Partners LLC, the business group for the international summit, showcasing the future of health in Minnesota, long an epicenter of medical innovation or “Medical Alley.”

It doesn’t sound like much of a retirement, does it?

The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal recently named Addicks a 2020 Business of Pride Career Achievement Honoree for his many accomplishments, board memberships (Artspace, St. Paul Academy, Walker Art Center, Planned Parenthood) and community contributions.

He’s also the guy behind the Minneapolis Good Chair Project: In 2016, Addicks founded the nonprofit, which equips Minneapolis parks with 200 custom wooden benches spring through fall.

The goal? Fostering community connections and personal reflection.

At the moment, placement of the beloved chairs is on hold until the Minneapolis Park Board gives him the go-ahead to put them out with pandemic safety in mind.

Unlike typical park benches, which are usually cemented in place, the good chair benches can be picked up, moved and rotated.

“They apparently have gotten pushback from people looking for our chairs,” Addick said of the MPB.

A teacher, too

Addicks is also a professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he teaches in the Executive MBA program. He taught in the night MBA program before he retired from General Mills.

“I come from a family with a number of teachers in it, and I love teaching,” he said. “Having that teaching background was the single most important thing that prepared me to be a CMO.”

Family also has been a major focus.

“I lost both my parents in the first 18 months after retirement,” he said. “As hard as that was, I felt fortunate for the gift of time to share with them. I was there with them at end of their life, and I was able to be with them all the way.”

The deeper meaning of that experience is still with him.

“As a society, we celebrate so much when someone comes into the world, but we do so little in helping them leave,” he said. “People who are dying need all the same things that infants do — looking in their eyes, talking to them, singing to them, soothing and comforting them.”

He recalled that in the last days of his mother’s life, she would express concern about completing household chores or about attending to the duties of one of her volunteer jobs.

“I was there to reassure her that I would handle it, and she would relax. It was such a profound thing,” he said.

This is a time of change in other ways, too.

Addicks’ son, John, 20, is on a gap year teaching English in his native Vietnam.

Addicks was single when he and a good friend, Kate O’Toole, adopted John. “We weren’t married, but we operated like a family,” Addicks said. “We had family dinner together every night. I coached his sports teams, and I spent every day with him.”

Master gardener

Another friend, Kathy Culley, met Addicks through the Vietnamese adoption community and Vietnamese culture camps and events.

“We also share a love of gardening, so when he became involved in city gardens, I wanted to work with him,” she said.

When asked to describe what makes him such a good friend, she said: “His heart. His endless enthusiasm. His smarts. It’s hard to choose one, because they are so entwined,” she said.

Culley said she hoped that more people would learn about Addicks’ contributions in building and maintaining Minneapolis community gardens. In fact, he built and now maintains 10 community gardens — one on Lake of the Isles; one on the corner of Fremont Avenue and Mount Curve; and eight along the mall between Hennepin Avenue and the lakes.

“They bring joy, beautify our city and create a sense of pride,” she said. She noted that giant purple alliums are something of a trademark for Addicks, so when you see them blooming in one of the 10 community gardens he supports, you have him to thank.

Mark Addicks and his husband Tom Hoch
Mark Addicks and his husband Tom Hoch bought and renovated the Schutt House, one of the first homes built on Lake of the Isles. They also renovated its extensive gardens and added 1,800 perennials. Before the pandemic, they frequently used the home and garden to host fundraisers. Photos by Tracy Walsh Photography

The lake house

Addicks is married to Tom Hoch, former president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust and a notable candidate for Minneapolis mayor in 2017.

“We were introduced by our city council person, Lisa Goodman, who thought we might be a good couple,” Addicks said. “We went on a blind date at Lucia’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, and it kept going from there.”

The couple bought and renovated the Schutt House, one of the first homes built on Lake of the Isles. Before the purchase, it had been in the same family for 100 years, ever since Mr. Schutt presented it to his new bride as a wedding gift.

“We did a serious rehab, down to the studs, and we also revived and renovated the original garden,” Addicks said. “The original gardeners were friends of Eloise Butler, but then it fell into disrepair.”

Showing the kind of horticultural enthusiasm that would later help him earn that Master Gardener certification, Addicks, with Hoch, planned and planted a garden with 1,800 perennials.

Hoch and Addicks host as many as 20 fundraising events a year at their home, for everything from political causes to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary.

“This ability to use the garden as a welcoming spot for fundraisers was one of the reasons we purchased the house,” Addicks said. “It’s historically significant, and it has views of the garden and Lake of the Isles.”

Between their gardens at home and in the community, Addicks and Hoch do much of their own work, versus hiring out.

“When we were working on the house and garden, people would be snooping around the garden, and when they’d see us, they’d say, ‘Don’t worry, we know the owners,’” he said. “I guess we looked like a couple of workmen, so they never imagined we were the owners. We would always just wave and smile.”

With the garden in full bloom, this is a great time to admire the Schutt House garden during your next walk around Lake of the Isles, where you might see a bench or two this summer, too.

And when you see the chairs or the Schutt House, if you’ve read this profile, you can feel confident in telling your walking partner, “I know the owner.”

Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.