Heartland Express founder and longtime leader Russ Gerdin, 70, passed away Friday evening peacefully at his North Liberty, IA, home with his family, after many years of health struggles.

“Russ Gerdin was a visionary and a respected leader in the trucking industry, and was a tireless worker who led by example. He lived his life with a passion to be the best, unwavering in his commitments. He demanded a lot but was quick to recognize loyalty and a job well done,” a company statement said.

Gerdin oversaw the growth of Heartland Express from four employees and 16 trucks in 1978 to one of the top truckload carriers in the United States. The company’s revenue has grown from $21.6 million in 1986, when it went public, to $499.5 million in 2010, and its net income has grown from $3 million to $62.2 million over that period.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Gerdin received a liver transplant in 2006. He returned to work, but took a leave of absence in late January of this year because of a variety of health issues. The company announced his retirement on Sept. 2.

The son of a truck driver, Russ Gerdin had more than a dozen years of experience working for his father’s company and then owning or co-owning several other companies. He bought Scott’s Transportation in 1978 and renamed it Heartland Express.

“He was driven at making Heartland Express the best company he could and doing the best at anything he tried,” said his son Michael Gerdin, who was appointed to the leadership role after his father’s retirement last month. “He was always focusing on giving 100%. We will miss his leadership and industry foresight,” Gerdin added.

Gerdin and his wife Ann, were among Iowa’s leading philanthropists, donating tens of millions to Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, Gerdin’s alma mater, Moorhead State University in Minnesota, and many other causes.

The Iowa State University College of Business building and the University of Iowa Athletics Learning Center were named after the Gerdins. Gifts from the couple also made possible the construction of the Hope Lodge, for families of cancer patients visiting the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. A gift to the ISU College of Business enabled it to launch its first doctoral program.

Gerdin also established an Educational Trust Fund that was set up to educate the children of Heartland Express. To date, over 300 children have been a part of this program.

Russ is survived by his wife, Ann, their three children and their spouses; Michael and Nicole (Fountas) Gerdin, Eric and Julie (Gerdin) Durr, and Brian and Angela (Gerdin) Janssen, and 10 grandchildren.

A visitation will take place Tuesday at the Solon Methodist Church from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and pick up again from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Gerdin’s funeral is Wednesday at 10 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, 214 E. Jefferson St. in Iowa City.

Donations are asked to be sent in lieu of flowers to the Russell and Ann Gerdin American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, 750 Hawkins Dr., in Iowa City, or to Iowa City Hospice, 1025 Wade St.