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Battle with cancer reminds Lanners he's blessed

Jack Lanners of Woodbury has been through a fight with a brain tumor. And Norma, as usual, is right by his side. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)

Cancer has a way of changing a person.

It even slowed down Jack Lanners, an active Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce and Woodbury Community Foundation board member and owner of MGM Wine & Spirits in Woodbury.

"Having a near-death experience certainly magnifies your priorities," Lanners said. "Things and status are not priorities. Priorities are people and causes."

For Lanners, overcoming a brain tumor and being in remission has made him reflective and appreciative of life. He's had to step back a bit at work and limit his volunteerism.

During a recent interview in his office above the liquor store, Lanners told about an outpouring of support, from not just family but also friends from across the country, as he went through a yearlong battle with a brain tumor that came as a complete surprise.

Woodbury Lions Club members quickly adopted "Pray for Jack" headbands at last year's pancake breakfast fundraiser.

College friends came to his aid and wrote letters of support.

"You only have lasting relationships with integrity," Lanners said. "So choose your friends wisely, because they'll direct your path the rest of your life."

His church, St. Ambrose Catholic Community of Woodbury, expressed its faith that he would be healed. A local parishioner kept a candle going for him for the past year. Then he heard from Arizona and Tuscaloosa, Ala., that his plight made it to their prayer chain.

"It's like 'wow,' knocks your socks off," Lanners said.

His treatment included chemotherapy and visits to Noran Neurological Clinic in Lake Elmo and Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. It was no typical year.

A man who boasts only of good genes and a positive outlook, Lanners underwent treatment with hope based on his faith and the gift of many friends' support.

"And strength to get you through it," said Norma, encouraging her husband of 40 years and business partner.

Backing off

People in Woodbury know Lanners for not only his church and business involvement but also his involvement in local nonprofit groups.

While it was hard to let go of commitments in lieu of rest and treatment, Lanners has stayed on the board of the Woodbury Community Foundation because it "represents all the principles that I live by."

Lanners is proud of the foundation's involvement with youth and the Citizens Academy it runs. Woodbury has a volunteer corps that is "second to none," Lanners said. "There's plenty of great people coming up."

Involvement is not embodied by donations to a cause, but "doing it," Lanners said. "Money's not the answer. The joke is whatever the question is, 'money' is the answer."

Being involved with the foundation has been honorable. The group, Lanners said, has a high level of integrity.

When he went missing from organizational meetings, people noticed and told him that they needed him — a humbling experience for Lanners.

He decided: "I'm not going anywhere," he said.

Building a business

After college, Lanners and his brother bought a hardware store in Wisconsin. There, he got married and they started a family. He was involved in the hardware business for five years until 1980, when he became manager of one of the first MGM liquor stores, on the east side of St. Paul.

He was responsible for the store's opening, management, sales and providing a return.

While interest rates increased, MGM was blessed by owners with money and the will to weather the economic storm in a low-margin field of business.

In 1988, Lanners bought the company and got to work on a 15-year plan.

"And that's where I got all my gray hair," Lanners joked.

He's been a part of all sorts of business ventures, he said.

He owns six MGM locations. But at his peak, Lanners owned 15 stores.

His least-tenured manager has 12 years of experience, he said.

The Woodbury MGM, located near the intersection of Woodlane Drive and Valley Creek Road was one of the first redevelopments in the city.

"It was kind of a novel thing," Lanners said of MGM's 1994 opening in Woodbury, a fairly young town where redevelopment can be more costly than buying and developing farmland.

Lanners bought a former bank, added to a strip mall to the lower level.

Giving back

Lanners got involved in Woodbury upon arrival in town, when he joined the Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce and transferred to the Woodbury Lions from the Battle Creek Lions Club in St. Paul.

A former president of the Lions, he knew the value of the organization.

"Creating leaders and doers is right up their alley," Lanners said.

He aided with efforts to bring a YMCA to Woodbury, and has been a big boost to the Friends of St. Paul Public Library. He's a supporter of Washington County libraries. He served on the Center for the American Experiment board.

Lanners is a lifelong learner.

"I love being involved with brilliant people," Lanners said. "I love business. I love buying, selling, making deals. I love people."

It's the little things that tell you about a person's qualities — is she attentive, good, helpful? Lanners said.

He's also been a Woodbury Citizen of the Year.

"I'm so blessed," Lanners said.

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