Merrill Kirsch, who bought the then 20-year-old Dart Distributing in 1985, died Feb. 20 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while recovering from heart surgery. He was 67.

Merrill Kirsch, who bought the then 20-year-old Dart Distributing in 1985, died Feb. 20 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., while recovering from heart surgery. He was 67.

Kirsch had a 45-year career in the music industry, working with Heilicher Bros., J.L. Marsh and Pickwick International before buying rackjobber Dart, which is currently based in Chaska, Minn.

"Merrill was a real gentleman, a great family man and a good businessman. He was very ethical in doing deals," says Navarre chairman Eric Paulson, who worked with Kirsch at Pickwick.

Kirsch sold Dart in 1997 to Cedar Creek Partners, a Milwaukee-based investment firm, but stayed on as chairman. He held that role until his death, although he had become less involved in day-to-day operations at the company.

"One of the things that impressed me the most about Merrill is the unbelievable number of key industry executives that he hired into the industry while he was working at Pickwick," says Dart president/CEO Les Baggett. Furthermore, Kirsch was responsible for introducing music to the inventory of a couple of big-box retailers that are now prominent players in the industry, Baggett adds.

Kirsch is survived by his wife of 40 years, Patty, and children Patrick and Tony, both employees at Dart, and Catherine (Keric) Seck, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A funeral mass for Kirsch is set for tomorrow (Feb. 26) at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Waconia, Minn.