They served their community, sticking their necks out there and leaving themselves open and vulnerable to criticism and worse. Whether we always agreed with their decisions or their politics or their stands or the things they did and said, they still deserve our gratitude and our thanks and our appreciation.

Duluth City Councilor Elissa Hansen resigned over the summer, citing the demands of her new job as president and CEO of the Northspan Group, a regional nonprofit development organization.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, and St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina all decided not to run again for elected office.

St. Louis County Auditor Don Dicklich and city of Duluth Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery both resigned.

And St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, state Auditor Rebecca Otto, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, and state Rep. Jason Metsa all stepped down from their elected posts to seek higher offices.

Beyond politics and government, Minnesota Twins star Joe Mauer hung up his spikes - and will have his number retired; Cirrus Aircraft CEO and co-founder Dale Klapmeier announced he'll step down in 2019; former City Councilor Marcia Hales said she'll end her nationally famous walk-through lighting display on Park Point after this Christmas; and News Tribune outdoors writer, columnist, and author Sam Cook, as well as News Tribune photojournalist and author Bob King, both retired.

Those who died this year included Bob Dylan expert and the host of KUMD-FM's "Highway 61 Revisited" show, John Bushey; former University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs hockey captain Andrew Carroll; Minnesota Duluth hockey great Keith "Huffer" Christiansen; Minnesota Duluth football fixture and longtime city forester Kelly Fleissner; Davis Helberg, the longest-serving executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority; World War II "Flying Tigers" pilot Wayne G. Johnson, an attorney instrumental in incorporating Beaver Bay and Silver Bay in the 1950s; Twin Ports broadcasting pioneer Glenn Maxham; Duluth author, researcher, and historian Maryanne Norton; outspoken Iron Range lawyer Bill Ojala; former state Sen. George Perpich of Chisholm; United Piping and Minnesotans for Line 3 founder Bob Schoneberger; and distinguished Duluth surgeon Per Wickstrom.

We all have our lists of those who played roles big and small in our lives and in our communities, who left us this past year, and who we can recall now on the occasion of another New Year's.

It's no small commitment, this taking your turn in the public eye and in public service, whether as an elected official or in some other high-profile leadership role. Our communities depend on and need those who take on the responsibility and who are willing to sacrifice time with family, leisure activities, and other pursuits.

For most public servants, especially on the local level, it isn't the money that calls them. Or the notoriety. It's that need in every great community for great citizens to step up, to lead, and to make their corners of the world better, more prosperous, cleaner, and safer.

May they all be remembered fondly and revered. May they be thanked and appreciated.

And may they inspire others to also step up, to put themselves out there, to be willing - for the good of community.