Getting up every day and doing something to make the world a better place… 

In 2019, 146 individuals, cooperatives, and other organizations contributed more than $85,000 to continue Bill’s legacy as a cooperative developer and Cooperative Hall of Fame member to live on! 

The goal was to raise funds to support these key priorities of Bill’s visionary work: 
• Support for startup food co-ops 
• Cooperative growth and development 
• Coaching and mentoring 
• International Cooperative Principles 

To celebrate the life and work of Bill Gessner, using the funds to which you contributed, the following grants have been made:

The creation and administration of the Bill Gessner Startup Food Co-op Award, a new annual award to recognize excellence in startup co-op development. The $2,000 annual award will be administered for at least 10 years by the Food Co-op Initiative which seeks to increase the number, success, and sustainability of new food cooperatives delivering access to healthy food in diverse communities.  

Support attendance at the annual CCMA conference by providing travel stipends to people who are awarded scholarships to CCMA. The Howard Bowers Fund will administer the funds, which will provide support for the next 10 years. 

The Bill Gessner GM Coaching award, an annual award to provide coaching to a general manager of a food co-op. The program will be administered by National Co+op Grocers for the next 10 years.

Support cooperative development through a grant to Cooperative Development Services. CDS will honor Bill’s life and work in the Twin Cities and Upper Midwest by hosting an annual event highlighting the impact of cooperatives in meeting the economic, social and cultural needs of individuals and communities.

We are grateful to the Cooperative Development Foundation for assisting us with administration of this memorial. 

Bill Gessner was a true Cooperative Hero. With his untimely death last year, the cooperative community came together to memorialize his life and to support the work most near and dear to his heart.

A sincere Thank You! to all of you who contributed to honor Bill and his immense contribution to the food co-op community.

The Bill Gessner Legacy Committee
   Dave Blackburn
   Dave Gutknecht
   Mark Goehring
   Pam Mehnert
   Marilyn Scholl, Chair

Contributions are still being accepted.

“I had known that Bill was a force – gentle and dogged and able to move even the most ragtag co-ops forward.  I saw how great this force could be when amplified with his deep well of generosity.  Together we can help ensure that his good work continues.”  
–Tim Bartlett, General Manager, Lexington Co-op, Buffalo NY 

“Bill always magically found a spark he could gently fan into a flame to pull us forward and together. Bill Gessner’s wisdom and work to build a better world has been central to nurturing independent cooperatives into a growing cooperative movement.”  
–Rochelle Prunty, General Manager, River Valley Co-op, Northampton, MA

Bill Gessner’s Memorial Slideshow Tribute – with his music.

Bill Gessner Cooperative Hall of Fame Induction Video

Bill Gessner Memorial Program: May 18, 2019

Bill Gessner pre memorial proceedings: May 18, 2019

Bill Gessner “Love is Large” at Esalen 2002

Bill Gessner “Rhode Island” Esalen 2002

Bill Gessner video singing Decorative Pillows


Bill started writing songs when he was about 30 and was inspired by the songwriting traditions of folk, country, and the musical theater. Along with his early fascination with the concept of the singing cowboy, his love of music and songwriting was fueled by the work of a wide and diverse range of songwriters including Gene Autry, Chuck Berry, Boudeleaux and Felice Bryant, A.P. Carter, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Steve Goodman, Woody Guthrie, Bob McDill, Johnny Mercer, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Mickey Newbury, Buck Owens, Utah Phillips, John Prine, Malvina Reynolds, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Ernest Tubb, Loudon Wainwright III, and Cindy Walker.

Bill’s songs aim to touch the listener with humor and heart, spirit and inspiration. He was attracted to singable melodies that are memorable in their simplicity. His goal as a songwriter was to be open and receptive to the world that he lives in and to pursue songwriting as a spiritual practice.

Welcome to Gessnerville was Bill’s first full-length recording, and is produced by Peter Ostroushko, who also plays mandolin and fiddle on a number of the songs. The all-star cast of musicians also includes Chris Rosser, Dan Newton, Rich Dworsky, Diane Tremaine, Kevin Barnes, Prudence Johnson (harmony vocals), and Bob Douglas (harmony vocals).

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I like that town, and I can’t wait to go back!”? Well that’s Gessnerville. I just hope that it keeps growing. Behind every song is a door into another home in town, with another interesting situation. You can sing a Gessnerville song, and you can visit, but you could not create another place like it, and you’d be crazy to try. Think about another cartoonist copying Snoopy or Charlie Brown, or another author rhyming like “The Cat In The Hat.” Some things can’t be copied. That is true uniqueness. A singer can copy Woody Guthrie, or steal a lick from Louis Armstrong, or Jelly Roll Morton, or Leadbelly, or Bob Dylan, but no one can copy Bill Gessner. Not possible! So I’m for letting Bill do his thing. Sometimes I wonder what “his thing” is, and maybe he does too, but I know that I can’t wait to go back to Gessnerville and really relax. —– Charlie Maguire,



Bill was known for instilling us with the spirit of generosity.

“Cooperation is a practice. Generosity pervades the practice of cooperation. The spirit of generosity, in its bold and subtle forms, broadcasts and cultivates the seeds of cooperation.”

Check out this article he wrote for the food co-op’s Cooperative Grocer magazine.

Bill Gessner’s involvement in the food cooperative community spanned 41 years and he is credited with having helped transform the community from a hodgepodge of individual stores into an integrated, values-driven national community of consumer-owned retail groceries that has changed the way America thinks about food. His commitment to developing people, organizations and systems is evident in his record of achievement. He recognized the need for co-ops to share information about operations and best practices and helped found the Cooperative Grocers Information Network (CGIN). He pioneered the concept of establishing food co-op consulting teams by bringing that focus to several cooperative development organizations before becoming a founding member of the CDS Consulting Cooperative. His work has resulted in the creation of many educational and measurement tools and he was instrumental in the creation of the development model which is at the heart of today’s new food co-op development. Recognizing the power of networking and collaboration, he helped establish a Midwestern regional Cooperative Grocers Association to enable that interaction to occur and he was a driving force behind the creation of the National Cooperative Grocers Association.