Family Ties: The Astrup Family and a Legacy of Patient Care as the Top Priority

Jessica Astrup

Independent, community pharmacy has seen many changes since 1952. Over the decades, the Astrup family has continued to adapt and grow its businesses with the overarching purpose of five-star pharmacy care for all.

The family legacy began when Leonard Astrup opened Sterling Drug as a Walgreens agency store in Austin, Minn. in 1952. He followed with other locations in Albert Lea, Fairmont, Owatonna and Worthington. When Walgreens moved away from its agency store model, the Sterling stores became independent and the growth continued to what is today 22 retail, long-term care and specialty pharmacy locations. 

Today, the Astrup family continues its commitment to independent pharmacies through the growth of Sterling and Smart-Fill Management Group—the family- owned business built to help independent pharmacies across the country thrive by providing the buying power, technology resources and consulting services previously only available to large chain pharmacies. This allows Smart-Fill member pharmacies to focus on what pharmacists do best: care for their patients.

“My grandpa was very much a person involved in everything in the community,” said Jessica Astrup, a 2014 graduate of the College of Pharmacy who today works for Sterling.

“We have photos of him delivering prescriptions by snowmobile in a snowstorm. He grew the business by taking care of patients, his entrepreneurial mindset and his commitment to organizations in the community.”

Jessica’s father, Chris Astrup, and his twin brother, Dan Astrup, graduated from the college in 1981, and Jessica’s cousin Mike Astrup graduated from the college in 2014. Today, all four work for the family-owned business in various roles at Sterling and Smart-Fill.

After graduation in 1981, Dan and Chris each spent some time away from the family business working for other pharmacy corporations before returning to Austin (Dan in 1982) and Fairmont (Chris in1983) to manage the Sterling stores. In 1987, Chris and Dan joined Leonard on the ownership team.

In 2003, Chris wrote a business plan that led to the launch of Smart-Fill. Today, Smart-Fill works with more than 600 independent pharmacies in 49 states by providing owners with the tools they need to remain independent.

“We certainly have a bond to the College of Pharmacy and strong ties to the University of Minnesota,” said Chris. “Being a graduate of the University and the College of Pharmacy is something to be proud of,” added Dan. “It was all about the people and we met so many good friends in the pharmacy world.”

In today’s world of large, chain pharmacy companies, all four Astrup family pharmacists encourage students to think outside the box. Mike’s advice to pharmacy students today? “Try something new in your rotations and make the most of your relationships with your fellow students, preceptors and professors,” he said.

“Being a graduate of the University and the College of Pharmacy is something to be proud of”

Dan Astrup

Dan encourages students to consider a career as an independent. “There are certainly advantages to being your own boss,” said Dan. “Independent ownership allows you to practice pharmacy the way it should be practiced and it’s immensely rewarding,” added Chris.

Jessica, who also earned her undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from the University of Minnesota, has a passion for both pharmacy practice and all
aspects of independently-owned businesses. “There is more of an opportunity to create your own job description and therefore broaden your community impact by working in an independent setting,” she said. “Remaining independent, forming community partnerships and putting your patients first allows you to practice pharmacy in a way that truly maximizes the impact of having a pharmacist on the healthcare team.”

To encourage new pharmacists to consider rural and independent pharmacy, the Astrup Family Foundation provides stipends for students completing a rotation in a rural setting. Although a graduate of the NDSU School of Pharmacy, Leonard Astrup served on the University of Minnesota Century Mortar Club Board and appreciated the education provided by the college to his family. “He hired many graduates of the college, and the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy was certainly a source of family pride,” said Dan.

Throughout the many changes to the pharmacy landscape over the last 66 years, the Astrup family remains dedicated to supporting independent pharmacists and pharmacies throughout the country, as well as continuing to provide the highest quality of care to patients and communities throughout Minnesota and Iowa.