By ABBY HAIGHT
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Al Reser, a food company executive and Oregon State University benefactor whose name is on the football stadium, has died. He was 74.
A spokeswoman for Reser's Fine Foods said he died Monday in his sleep at his Florida vacation home. His wife, Pat, was on a walking tour in Spain with two of their children and was returning to Florida.
Reser helped to turn what began with a family potato salad recipe into a food empire.
He may have been better known in Oregon as a passionate promoter of Oregon State, donating millions to the school where he met his wife, Pat, and graduated in 1960.
His donations to OSU athletics -- including the $15 million that etched his name on the football stadium -- helped raise a football program from the butt of jokes to regular bowl appearances.
"Pat and Al said it really wasn't about naming the stadium," said university president Edward Ray, who got news of Reser's death at a stopover in Minneapolis as he was flying to Corvallis. "In fact, they felt a little embarrassed about it. They made a statement. Oregon State was on the move. It was doing things. This was a way to get people to take notice."
The Resers also gave $10.65 million toward the $77 million Linus Pauling Science Center currently under construction.
On Saturday, the Oregon State alumni association gave Reser its highest honor, the E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award. Reser's son, Martin, accepted the award.
In the 1950s, Reser's mother, Mildred, made potato salad, and his father, Earl, sold it door-to-door around Cornelius, Ore. The company took root when Safeway decided to sell the potato salad in all its Oregon stores.
Al Reser was 25 when he became CEO of the company, and built it into an $800 million business. The Beaverton, Ore.-based firm has manufacturing facilities in Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Utah, Kansas, Ohio and North Carolina, producing a range of food products from fresh salads to Mexican food to its trademark potato salad.
His son, Mark, took over as president in 2006.
Reser is survived by his wife, Pat; and children Martin, Mark, Michael, Michelle and Mindy. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.