J.R. Turns 96 Today, Gives Mansion Away

Published online: Jan 04, 2005
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J.R. Simplot, founder of the Simplot potato empire which now stretches into several million-dollar ventures, turns 96 today. At the same time, not exactly wanting birthday presents himself, he gave his Mediterranean-style mansion sitting high on a hill overlooking Boise, to the state of Idaho.

Simplot lives with his wife, Esther, in a condominium atop the Grove Hotel in downtown Boise. He remains in good health and is quite active.

The mansion or "house" as he likes to call it, and surrounding 36 acres, is valued at $2.8 million. The home is 7,370-square-feet. It was built in 1979.

"I think the world of Idaho. It's been awful good to me, and I'm pleased to let the Governor of this state have this house [to use as the governor's mansion]."

"All I ask is that a United States flag continue to fly over the house. That's the only condition I'm placing on this," he stated at a formal "passing of the key" ceremony attended by Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne.

"As governors come and go, I hope they'll enjoy it. They won't have any trouble from me, that's for sure," he stated.

Simplot's children include, Scott, chairman of the Company's Board, and Don Simplot and Gay Simplot, both members of the Board of Directors. Another son, Richard, died in 1993.

Simplot got his start as a high school boy venturing into agriculture in the rural community of Declo near Burley, ID. He started raising hogs but soon learned that potato growers were doing well. He started growing potatoes and the rest is history. He worked himself out of a field picking up potatoes to overseeing one of the largest potato processing empires in the world.

Simplot made the french fry popular, supplying McDonalds fast-food restaurants in the 1950s. His research and development teams found the secret to successfully freezing fries.