How One Alumnus Built a Local Legacy
By Meghan Feir
A couple blocks away from D-S Beverages in Moorhead, a family of 12 lived together in a small, two-bedroom house as the Depression tightened its grip on the income of families across America. Out of necessity, this era in U.S. history instilled frugality and hard work into the lifestyles of many. Don Setter Sr. ‘59 (business) was no exception.
As a child, he sold apples and newspapers, and as a young adult, Setter worked multiple jobs to support his loved ones. After marrying Pat Rush, the first homecoming queen of Shanley High School, they quickly had five children to provide for and love. He sold insurance, real estate and Anheuser-Busch yeast to make ends meet, traveling from one small town to the next.
In 1968 Setter took a risk that would result in years of hard work but eventual success by buying what would become D-S Beverages, his life’s work.
The business sense Setter intuitively had and honed at MSUM served him well as he continued to take risks and make quick-thinking decisions throughout his life.
Doug Restemayer, Setter’s son-in-law, has been president of D-S Beverages since 2000 when Setter handed him the reins. Yet before Restemayer and his family’s move to Moorhead, he barely knew his father-in-law.
“I bet you in the years I dated his daughter and up until we moved here in 2000, I could almost count on two hands how many hours we’d spent talking.” Restemayer said. “The first time I met him, I don’t even know if he said hi to me, but when we moved up here, he became like a second dad to me. I probably knew him better than anybody because we spent so much time together.”
Even after Restemayer began running the day-to-day operations, Setter continued to be an active part of the company and had an office where Restemayer and he would spend hours chatting.
“My best memories of Don are really just sitting in his office for a couple of hours. We would talk business for 15 minutes, but the rest of the time was about life and family and just stuff that had nothing to do with business,” Restemayer said. “He always made time for that. I learned a lot from those little interactions and watching how he did things.”
At the End of Your Arm
Beyond those treasured conversations, heated Whist games and an obsession with Notre Dame football, Restemayer often observed the other invaluable traits that made Setter so recognizable wherever he went. These “Donisms,” now remembered by many in Moorhead, were even handed out as business cards.
“Don had all these things he used to say, and we ended up calling them Donsense. He created business cards that had some of his favorite sayings on them, like, ‘If you’re looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your arm.’ He’d carry this big stack of cards and hand them out to people. People still have their Donsense cards.”
Along with his penchant for sayings, Setter was modest and generous, often doling out $100 tips to his grandchildren, unassuming priests, and waiters who knew referencing the “The king of beers” meant he wanted a Budweiser. He took Matthew Chapter 6 in the Bible seriously where it says to help others and do good without making a show of it.
“What I learned from him a lot was mostly on how to handle people. The thing that sticks out to me was that he treated the janitors and the doormen at a hotel as though they were the CEO of the company. He probably treated them nicer than he did the CEO. He preferred to talk to them.” Restemayer said. “That says a lot about a person—how you treat the ones who can’t necessarily do anything for you directly. You’re not using them for a political purpose or anything. He was a very sincere guy who loved people.”
Although his modest beginnings led to immense success, Setter was content to live without fanfare.
“He was a very modest guy. He always got the same color car because he didn’t want anyone to know he got a new car. He refused, up until almost the end of his life, to buy a Cadillac because he thought that was too upscale. He could’ve built whatever kind of house he wanted, yet he loved his little house where the kids grew up because that’s where all the memories were.”
Fifty years after its christening as D-S Beverages, the distributing company is doing better than ever. It took years of taking risks, time and elbow grease for it to become what it is today – a company with 80 employees selling 2.4 million cases of product. Since 2000, the company has more than tripled their sales and expanded its territory far beyond Fargo-Moorhead. Although Don Setter Sr. passed away in November 2016, his legacy lives on. Just like his second dad, Restemayer is a firm believer in taking calculated risks and making quality decisions.
“I felt very fortunate to have spent so much time with a guy like that. He had so many unique characteristics. Like they say, ‘They don’t make them like that anymore.’ They really don’t.”