DSU great Wald a self-made business leader
Lavern Jessen remembers Tony Wald as the natural leader on some of Dickinson State's best basketball teams.
So, he isn't surprised by the amount of success Wald has achieved as a business leader.
"He was always a very focused individual who was willing to put in the extra time to do whatever it took," said Jessen, who coached Wald from 1964 to 1969.
Wald, a self-made man by any standard, is the CEO of ToBa, Inc., in Grand Island, Neb.
He and his wife, Barbara, founded the company in the early 1980s while living in Brooklyn Park, Minn. There are now eight companies under the ToBa, Inc., banner ranging from the foodservice industry to real estate and fundraising.
Wald, 64, spoke Tuesday at the Strom Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by DSU's Strom Center at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lounge. He hosted sessions about entrepreneurship and human resources planning.
"I've always had an affinity for business," Wald said.
After graduating from Dickinson State College with degrees in commerce and physical education, Wald spent four years as a teacher and a coach in Killdeer before entering the business world.
He ended up as a vice president for the Nash Finch Company, Fortune 500 wholesale foodservice distributor.
"While I worked there, I owned a couple of small businesses on the side, so to speak," he said. "Somewhere along the line, I decided to go out and strike out on my own."
In the late 90s, ToBa purchased The Thompson Company, a foodservice distribution company in Grand Island. From there, ToBa grew into what it is today.
"I feel fairly fortunate that I've been pretty successful in almost everything I've done," Wald said.
However, Wald said being a successful businessman wasn't always his goal.
He grew up in a family of meager means with seven siblings.
His father had an eighth-grade education and worked as a laborer. His mother's schooling ended in the third grade. He said she was illiterate and never learned to read or write.
"Initially, I wanted to be a basketball coach because I came from a very poor beginning," Wald said.
He graduated from Bismarck St. Mary's Central High School in 1964 and came to Dickinson State on a basketball scholarship.
At Dickinson State, he was a member of three NAIA national tournament teams and helped the then-Savages to the national quarterfinals. He ended his career with 1,478 points, which was second only to Bob Waldal, his teammate of four years who still owns the school record with 1,832 career points.
This past season, DSU standout Nathan Lebsock passed Wald for the No. 2 spot behind Waldal.
Wald laughs now, saying he never knew he ranked anywhere on the team's all-time scoring chart until he was told Lebsock was on the verge of passing his mark.
Wald said he cherishes the memories he made playing basketball for Dickinson State, especially the lifelong friendships he formed with his teammates, a who's who of DSU Hall of Fame basketball players including Waldal, Duane Heckaman, Bobby Edwards, Herb Chambers and Don Blevins.
"If you think about the cast of characters who ended up here by pretty much accident or happenstance and ended up having a successful run at it," Wald said. "That was lots of fond memories. Today, I remain good friends with several of the guys who were on that team.
"I have a high degree of respect for the coach (Jessen). I think he helped me learn how to be a human being."
Steve Glasser, the executive director of the Strom Center, said bringing in an alumnus like Wald to speak to DSU students was a bit of a coup.
"He's got a wealth of knowledge to share," Glasser said. "Tony has been very gracious with his time. For him, it's his way of giving back to Dickinson State."