Karl ELLER
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ELLER, Karl Advertising Pioneer and Business Visionary, Dies at 90 "Make absolute integrity the compass that guides you in everything you do. And surround yourself with people of flawless integrity." That was Karl Eller's response when asked which words he hoped he'd be remembered by. And Karl Eller was a man who practiced what he preached. An advertising mogul, an entrepreneurial titan, and a dedicated philanthropist, Eller died on March 10, 2019 at his home in Phoenix. He was 90. His death was confirmed by his wife of 66 years, Stevie. Eller was born in Chicago in 1928. As a boy he moved to Tucson with his mother after his father left the family. It was from that 1,700-mile drive that Eller's infatuation with outdoor advertising sprang: he passed the countless miles memorizing Burma-Shave ads – small, brightly colored signs with only a few words on each one, grouped in sequence along the highway so their clever messages could be read in order from passing cars. After graduating from high school in 1946 and serving in the U.S Army, Eller returned to Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in business. It was there that he met and married his true love, Joan "Stevie" Stevens. Eller began his advertising career in 1952 with New York-based Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Agency. After seven years learning the ins and outs of the advertising business, Eller joined Needham, Louis & Borby Advertising Agency, where among his many other accomplishments he pioneered the concept of the miniature candy bar for Mars Candy, which still fills Halloween bags to this day. Eller had that unique entrepreneurial talent for seeing the future. He could not shake those colorful Burma-Shave ads from his mind, and as America's love for the automobile and the open road grew, he knew that billboards, still in their industrial infancy, were the future of advertising. In 1962 Eller acquired the Arizona operations of Foster & Kleiser, renaming it Eller Outdoor Advertising. He transformed billboards into an international industry as he spread across the world, constructing many of the billboards that still stand in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Times Square, Toronto, London, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, and Tokyo. Following the purchase of several newspapers, television and radio stations, Eller morphed the outdoor advertising company into Combined Communications in 1968. As he acquired numerous other major metropolitan news stations, publications, and advertising agencies in the United States and Canada, Eller forged Combined Communications into one of the largest and most profitable media conglomerates in the world. Eller served as CEO of Gannett following its merger with Combined Communications, before becoming president of Columbia Pictures in 1980. His vision of merging Columbia Pictures with the Coca-Cola Company would result in a $1.6 billion gain for Coke by the time they sold Columbia. Never content to rest on his laurels, Eller dove into the convenience store business when he became president and CEO of a small regional chain called Circle K, in 1983. "He only did that because it was a 'K', and he's a 'K' Karl," joked his wife, Stevie. Whatever the reason, Eller continued his streak of innovation, contributing what was then the novel idea of including fuel pumps at convenience stores, revolutionizing yet another industry. He built it into the largest publicly owned convenience store company in the U.S., with over 4,000 stores and more than $3.4 billion in annual revenue. But by his own admission, he had misjudged the market, grew too fast, and by 1990, Circle K had declared bankruptcy, almost taking Eller with it. If Eller could do one thing better than any another, it was bounce back. With the encouragement of his longtime friend, Bruce Halle, founder of Discount Tire, and the backing of investors who trusted him for his business sense and work ethic, he secured funding and returned to outdoor advertising in 1992, forming the Eller Media Company. He sold the company to Clear Channel Communications in 1997 for $1.15 billion, and Eller became CEO of the outdoor division, where he would serve until his retirement in 2001. While Eller loved business, his passion was philanthropy. "The more you give, the richer you are," he would often say. He served as chairman of United Way, sat on the board of The Salvation Army Phoenix, was recognized by the NCAA for his athletic scholarship donations, and was honored by the Arizona Historical Society as an Arizona Historymaker. His profound contributions to his alma mater led the University of Arizona to rename their college of business The Eller College of Management in his honor. A lifelong athlete, Eller realized his dream of bringing professional sports to Phoenix. Not only was he responsible for the inclusion of Arizona State and the University of Arizona in what was then PAC 8, he was also a founding member of the Fiesta Bowl, through his ownership brought professional hockey and basketball to Phoenix with the Roadrunners and the Suns, and was instrumental in bringing the Cardinals to Arizona. His book, Integrity is All You've Got, is essential reading for any ethically minded businessman or woman. He was the first Arizonan inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, among numerous other awards. And still, there is so much more; in the life of Karl Eller, there seems to be more that he did accomplish than what he did not. Eller leaves behind a legacy of honesty and commitment, the classic American image of working hard with a smile on your face. He is survived by his wife, Stevie, and his children, Scott Eller and Elissa Goodman; six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. His longtime assistant, Kim Rogers, recalls him often saying, "For every 20 deals or 'great ideas' you have, you'll be lucky if you hit a home run on one." "It didn't bother him when deals didn't go," said Stevie. "He always felt that he hadn't done enough homework. He'd go through every avenue to try to save something, to try to fix it. But if it didn't work, he could walk away, and then he's off in something else. He's just so unusual in that aspect. Things really just didn't get him down." Integrity is all we have, and Karl Eller kept his until the very end. A private service is planned for the family; a Celebration of Karl's Life will be held at a later date, to be announced. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that memorial donations may be made to the Karl Eller Scholarship Endowment at the University of Arizona Foundation. Checks may be made payable to UAF/Karl Eller Scholarship Endowment and mailed to the University of Arizona Foundation, 1111 N. Cherry Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85721. Online donations may be made at www.uafoundation.org/karlellerscholarshipendowment



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Published in Arizona Daily Star on Mar. 13, 2019.
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27 entries
April 26, 2019
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April 13, 2019
And I will add, impossible to quantify all the joy, and positive contributions made to our community by Karl.
Bruce Taylor
April 13, 2019
Dear Stevie, Scott, and Elissa,

We are especially grateful to you, Stevie, for your lifelong friendship, and kindness to George and Leslie May. The "parents" so enjoyed your community activities together; trips to San Diego; and your help with St. Joe's when Dad was in the hospital is not forgotten.

On a more personal level, Karl helped me with my business, and we came within a whisker of hitting a homer. Alas, due to conditions largely beyond our control, my venture was sold--my dream unfulfilled.

Karl, with his business acumen and life experience, understood, and we remained friends.

Interesting to see both Karl and George lived Horatio Alger starts after losing their fathers at young ages in the Midwest.

Now, of course, a football story for you that I failed to recollect during my eulogy for Dad. Dad has been gone 11 months now, and I so miss those phone calls that led to the following:

The Patriots were playing the Giants here in the 2008 Super Bowl and, as usual, the week prior was full of excitement, predictions, rumors, etc.

So I call Dad with the latest gossip: Tom Brady was questionable from a sudden ankle injury. The next day the buzz was the ENTIRE Giants team had fallen ill with the flu.

So Dad says, "Well you know Bruce, first liar never stands a chance."

Karl was a Lion. His dignity, and friendship will be missed.

With Love,
Bruce Taylor
Phoenix, AZ
Bruce Taylor
March 31, 2019
My life and career was greatly enhanced because I had the privilege of working with Karl and experiencing his commitment to unselfish service, absolutely integrity and and unwavering determination. Karl and I have been friends since the early 1970s spanning my years in San Diego, Miami, Madrid and back to La Jolla. Throughout it all Joan and I stayed in touch with Stevie and Karl who lived such as uplifting example of lifetime commitment and a loving partnership.

Karl never gave up, he never gave in to the ethical shortcuts of others. He was often described as an ultimate dealmaker in business whose many successes were built on his willingness to leave the operating actions to others because he selected those whom he could trust.

Karl's legacy is huge and we all are grateful for the fact that he and Stevie have passed our way.

Dick and Joan Capen
La Jolla, CA
Ambassador Dick and Joan Capen
Friend
March 27, 2019
Dear Stevie,
Where have the years gone - football games at NU and meetings at the Evanston Jr. Women's Club. Sorry to hear of Karl's passing. You and the family are in my thoughts and prayers.
Mary Ann Anderson
Friend
March 20, 2019
John Milligan
March 19, 2019
Stevie and Family, this is a tough path to walk. Each of us and our children were blessed to have a giant of a man to walk us through life. Each gave such strength, love, wisdom and wonderful smiles to all of us. My family and I are heart sick for all of you. We are in the second year after loosing Craig and still have aching hearts. We send you strength, love and hugs. Nancy Berge
Nancy Berge
March 19, 2019
Karl Eller was and will remain a giant among men! To say he will be missed is not adequate.
Betty H McRae
March 18, 2019
To the Eller family and circle of friends missing him... you each have my sincere respects and prayers for comfort. No man could walk the walk any finer than Mr. Karl Eller. Since I arrived in Tucson in 1980 and through my time there until last year, there was never a week that went unnoticed where he and your family did not give back in some small or very grand way. The depths of which many of us were probably never even privy to. His educational contributions and warm hearted sponsorships will be forever felt. God speed and kind thoughts to your loved one. I am only one of thousands who are grateful. We shall meet him on the other side some day. And hopefully we shall have learned something from his life practices and live in his light.
Shanon Easterday-Skellett
March 17, 2019
I am so sorry to hear about the death of Karl. I was one of the bankers involved in his successful second act; we all adored Karl. Unlike many of our customers, he took the time to really teach us the billboard industry and to tour the properties with us. He was often up and at work in Arizona before we were in NY! He was a pleasure to work with and to know. Deepest sympathies for the loss of a wonderful person.
Deborah Strek
March 16, 2019
Stevie and Family, I am so sorry to hear of Karl's passing, My deepest sympathy and condolences to all. I have such warm memories of him and your family. I will continue to keep you in my prayers.
Claudia McGuire
March 15, 2019
As the eldest daughter of Rudy Castro, I grew up hearing the name, Karl Eller from a young age. He was Dad's high school friend and fellow UA alumni and Dad always referred to him as, "one hell of a guy." His integrity, honesty and ability to make this world a better place put him in the same category as some of my heroes, John McCain, Mo Udall, Raul Castro, RBG, Pres. Obama to name a few. Tom and I send our deepest condolences to the Eller family.
Linda Spencer
March 14, 2019
2012 Book Signing at The Stockyards
My most sincere condolences! Signs of Arizona was my Arizona Centennial book dedicated to the one-and-only Karl Eller. He encouraged and assisted me in so many ways. No one has placed more signs than Mr. Eller and he leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten.
Phillip Waring
March 14, 2019
Dear Stevie, Elissa and Scott, I will miss the presence of Karl in our community. In the 50 years I've lived in Phoenix I revered him as an entrepreneur. I heard him speak innumerable times. Serious, dignified, and smart, he was one of our most important leaders. He also recommended me as an Eller Fellow at the University of Arizona, which I felt was an incredibly high honor. Men of his ilk are very rare.
Francine Hardaway
Friend
March 14, 2019
Karl was tough but good. He helped me at some very difficult moments in business. Ill be grateful always. Stephanie and I always enjoyed seeing and talking with Karl and Stevie at the Mackays and a few other social moments in recent years. Over 15 years that GO Media Cos. was the Fiesta Bowls production company I had the pleasure of doing a video on FBs start and it of course featured Karl. The great things said about Karl were many and effusive. And heres a glimpse of Karl on a personal level... Karl surprised his dear friend Bruce Halle with a 70th birthday tribute video that I was honored to produce. Then, Bruce had me produce a Karl retirement video that had about 40 of the most famous people in America singing the praises of Karl. That doesnt just happen. Its earned. Rest In Peace Karl!
Gregg Ostro
Friend
March 13, 2019
My deepest condolences for the loss of your dear loved Karl. May our Lord fill you with love and support in the days to come.
Tracy Lee
March 13, 2019
Dear Stevie, Eiissa and Scott, My sincerest condolences to you, the grandchildren and Kim. What can be said about Karl? Well, on one hand he was the larger than life man in the world of business, yet on the other just a husband, dad, grandpa and friend. I used to so enjoy sitting and talking with him as he was always down to earth and informative yet, I believe, genuinely cared about what you had to say. He will be greatly missed and always remembered. Kathy Duke
Kathy Duke
March 13, 2019
May the many memories Karl helped create find root in your heart and bring special recollection as you both mourn and celebrate his amazing life...and may God bless the Eller family as they deal with his passing.

I was a graduate of U of A Law School - January, 1961, and a partner with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix. We knew Karl when he dealt with Circle K. He was a super great man with super great business acumen.
Bernald Porter
March 13, 2019
I would get so excited when Karl would drive up our driveway at Christmas with Mars bars! My condolences .
Posey Moore Nash
March 13, 2019
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March 13, 2019
The God of all comfort will strengthen you and give you peace Jeremiah 29: 11, 12.
V .
March 13, 2019
There won't be anyone like Karl Eller to come around for another 90 years.
He was a great person, very friendly, very approachable, extremely generous and inventive. He had no reason to be welcoming to me but always was. His life was for a blessing.
Bruce Ash
March 13, 2019
My sincere condolence, when someone you love becomes a memory, they become a treasure in your heart forever. May your treasured memories fill your heart with love and bring you peace. May the words of 1st Thessalonians 4:14 give you comfort and hope.
March 13, 2019
When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. May the wonderful treasures fill your hearts with love and bring you peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time. Hosea 13:14
March 12, 2019
Dear Stevie & Family -

Karl really was a golden boy! Everything he touched was spot on & Ron thought the world of him. Karl was his idol.
I am sadden to hear about his passing. He lived a great life full of wonderful accomplishments, but always putting You & Family first.
I know you will miss him. But he will forever be with you in your heart.
No doubt he will start an empire up above!
You take care & if I can be of any help with anything, please don't hesitate to call me.

Hugs & God Bless -
Jane Ellen
Jane Ellen Bergamo
March 12, 2019
Dear Scott and Family,

Heartfelt condolences from the Pakis Family.

He was a wonderful and generous man. I gave my son Geoff the book, integrity, when he graduated from college. Truly words of wisdom.

Fred
Frederick Pakis
March 12, 2019
Jane Ellen Bergamo
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