The grandson of Gardner Cowles, Sr., David Kruidenier was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 18, 1921, to Florence Cowles Kruidenier and David Kruidenier, who operated an automobile dealership which sold Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles and LaSalles. After attending Des Moines public schools through the ninth grade, Kruidenier graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale University and received a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University.
During World War II, Kruidenier served as an Army Air Force officer in the capacity of navigator aboard bombers in the Pacific. He was credited with thirty-four missions and awarded the Air Medal with three Clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His newspaper career began in 1948 when he trained at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. In December of 1948, he married Elizabeth Woodwell Stuart, who later became a Des Moines lawyer and civic activist alongside her husband.
In 1952, Kruidenier came to the Des Moines Register and Tribune as assistant business manager, the beginning of a career spanning 33 years and different positions with the paper. In 1971, he was named president and publisher of the company and in 1982 became chairman and CEO. He was also president, CEO and chairman of Cowles Media Company from 1973-1993.
As Register staff writers stated in Kruidenier’s obituary in the Des Moines Register (1/10/2006), “Under Kruidenier’s leadership in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Register sharpened and deepened its coverage of business, politics and agriculture, and won three of its 15 Pulitzer Prizes. Aggressive coverage of business news caused some criticism of the Des Moines newspapers, and of Kruidnier personally from people in the business community who labeled the coverage as negative or anti-business. These critics sometimes went privately to Kruidenier to complain that as top man at the newspaper he should step in and either direct that certain stories be done or direct that certain stories be withheld from publication. Kruidenier’s response was that a newspaper performs best by not being a mouthpiece for any one point of view and that the community is better off when a newspaper talks openly about the strengths and weaknesses of the community.”
In the same obituary, James P. Gannon, editor of the Register, said “Kruidenier always showed a keen understanding of and appreciation for the need for a vigorous, independent news department. He was a great publisher in supporting the news effort with the needed resources and then leaving it to operate independently,” Gannon said. “I never saw a single example of any effort on his part to interfere with editors’ decisions on handling the news.”
In 1985, The Des Moines Register was sold to the Gannett Company for around $200 million and when the stockholders of the company approved the sale on July 1, 1985, the obituary states that “Kruidenier noted that the action marked the ending of a partnership between the Cowles family, Des Moines and the state of Iowa that had lasted 82 years.”
Kruidenier was known for his long and vital commitment to the metro area, including the Des Moines Civic Center, Nollen Plaza, Simon Estes Amphitheater, Forest Avenue Library, the renovation of Gray’s Lake and the new downtown public library. As his obituary states, “ After leading the fund drive that resulted in the construction of the Des Moines Civic Center, Kruidenier served as chairman of its board of directors for a number of years. He was also a trustee of the Des Moines Art Center for years, and his personal art collection was extensive. Kruidenier was a member of the boards at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Drake University, the Cowles Foundation, the Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation, Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, Greater Des Moines Committee, the Menninger Foundation, Grinnell College, Des Moines Symphony and the Civic Music Association. He was a member of the Des Moines Club, Wakonda Club, Rotary Club, Iowa Society for Crippled Children and Adults, Junior Achievement and the Governor’s Committee on Mental Health.”
David Kruidenier was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 1993 and named one of the state’s most influential people in 2000. Other honors include the A. Arthur Davis Award from the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, University of Minnesota Distinguished Journalism Award and the Des Moines Philanthropist Award.