Our Consultants

Bill Gessner, 1947–2019






Expansion Planning, Business Development, Financial Pro Forma, Capital Campaigns

Profile Video

  • Profile Overview

  • Articles from CDS Consulting publications

  • Articles in Cooperative Grocer

  • Other works by Bill Gessner, 1947–2019

Profile Overview arrow

  • Profile Overview arrow
  • Profile Overview
  • Articles from CDS Consulting publications
  • Articles in Cooperative Grocer or other publications
  • Other works by Bill Gessner, 1947–2019

Bill Gessner died on the evening of January 14, 2019, at Courage Kenny Center in Golden Valley, Minnesota, where he was in rehab following a stroke at the end of November 2018. A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held in the spring

Bill and a dear friend, Carolyn King, had enjoyed a wonderful night out for music, his first outing from rehab, but after going to bed back in his room, he suffered cardiac arrest and died quickly. His body will be cremated and the remains buried next to his parents in Walhalla Cemetery in eastern North Dakota.

Bill was described this way in his 2012 induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame: “Loyal, loving, generous, unassuming, humorous, playful, even quirky. Thoughtful, visionary, patient, determined, incredibly strategic.”

Bill loved playing tennis nearly every day for years with friends far and wide. Neither his busy schedule nor any physical limitations could get in the way of his tennis sessions with friends. Bill also loved songwriting and playing music and enjoyed a national network of musicians and music lovers. He recorded several CDs with his own compositions, beginning with “Welcome to Gessnerville, Pop. 19.” From his college years onward, his joy in songwriting and playing music was a permanent gift.

From his origins in Minot and at the University of North Dakota, he went on to a notable career in food co-ops: as a store manager in Grand Forks, N.D., and as part of the Common Health Warehouse, which served the northern regions; then as a member and manager at a worker-owned cooperative distributor in the Twin Cities, Roots and Fruits. With this background he began advising other food co-ops, also serving on the board of Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund.

This work led him to form a consulting team, North Country Development Services, in 1988, followed by the 1991 founding of Cooperative Development Services (CDS). For 17 years, Bill recruited many of our best food co-op leaders and trainers to this team, after which it moved out from under its parent organization to become CDS Consulting Co-op.

Bill was an advisor to the Midwest Cooperative Grocers Association, and he also was part of a respected co-op team that put together the initial proposal for the current generation of food co-ops' first unifying body, the National Cooperative Grocers Association, and was a key part of the team that led the successful reorganization in 2004.

Several years later, upon Bill’s induction to the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2012, CDS Consulting Co-op member Marilyn Scholl noted that, “Bill was instrumental in the growth from that humble beginning to an organization that today includes 22-member consultants, serves over 200 food cooperative clients... Bill’s influence set in motion the powerful idea that people and organizations could specialize in the nurturing of cooperative business—that it is good work, mission-driven, right livelihood.”

In the years since then, Bill’s impact and that of his colleagues has grown even larger. He has helped hundreds of food co-ops across the country through his astute grasp of the essentials of cooperative associations—balancing the needs of the business and the needs of the association, his kind but persistent questioning, and his gentle humor—even though he claimed he never could tell a joke. He left no immediate family connections beyond his cousins, but hundreds of close friends in remarkably diverse fields—music, tennis, and building successful cooperatives—will mourn his loss and celebrate his wonderful influence.

In co-ops and music and more, it would be impossible to count the number of people who will say, “I wouldn't be where I am without Bill Gessner’s support.”

To honor Bill and recognize his impact, please contribute to the Bill Gessner Memorial which will support these key priorities of his visionary work:

  • Support for startup food co-ops
  • Cooperative growth and development
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • International Cooperative Principles

Click here for more information about the May 18 celebration of Bill's life.