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Our View: Appreciate those who gave, now are gone

From the editorial: "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."

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Dave Whamond / Cagle Cartoons
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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 or said, they still deserve our gratitude and appreciation for the public service they offered and which came to an end this past year.

2022 featured its share of retirements, step-downs, and moves-on to other challenges. There also were, as always, deaths among those of prominence, some unexpected or shocking and all sad to someone. Our locals joined national lists that featured Queen Elizabeth II, Louie Anderson, Gallagher, everyone’s favorite big brother Tony Dow, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane in real life), Madeleine Albright, Meat Loaf, Bob Saget, and Oliva Newton-John, to name just a few we lost last year.

Locally, the mayor of both Superior (1987-1995) and Duluth (2004-2008), and a strong voice for gay rights in the Twin Ports, Herb Bergson — also a former Superior police officer — died of sepsis in February. He was 65.

Renee Van Nett, who in 2021 became the first Indigenous person to be elected president of the Duluth City Council and then was re-elected to a second council term representing Duluth's 4th District, died in June, She was 52.

Former Duluth City Councilor Dorothy Bohlmann was remembered for speaking her mind and for often casting lone dissenting votes after she died in August at age 89.

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Seven-term Iron Range state Sen. David Tomassoni died in August from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 68.

Another longtime Iron Range state senator, Doug Johnson, who served in the Minnesota Legislature for 32 years, died in November at age 80.

Ray “Skip” Sandman, died in November at 68. He was a Fond du Lac Band tribal elder, a respected healer, and one-time corrections officer who ran for Congress twice as a champion for clean water and the environment.

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College’s first female president, Stephanie Hammitt — whose accomplishments included securing the school's first four-year degree, the re-accreditation of its nursing program, and the creation of an outdoor classroom — also died in November, of cancer. She was 60.

The Fond du Lac Band's chief conservation officer, John A. Smith, who also served as interim police chief and as a representative on the band's Reservation Business Committee, also died. Last January, the Fond du Lac Resource Management & Tribal Court building was renamed in his honor as the John A. Smith Memorial Building.

Pioneering Duluth judge Jeanne Sederberg, who handled family law cases in her 22 years on the bench, died this fall. She was 96.

Eli Miletich, who served 33 years as a Duluth police officer, including 10 years as chief beginning in 1982, and who infamously grew up on Raleigh Street in West Duluth, died in March. He was 86.

Others well known or leaders in the Twin Ports who died this year include Mimi Parker, percussionist, vocalist, and songwriter for the band Low, of ovarian cancer in November at age 55; longtime East Hillside neighborhood activist Mona Johnson-Cheslak in August at age 70; environmental attorney Grant Merritt, who fought the iron mining industry his ancestors helped create, in May at age 88; Dennis Moran, whose Denny’s Ace Hardware became a Woodland neighborhood gathering place, of cancer in November at age 76; Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum founder David Karpeles in February at age 85; and University of Wisconsin-Superior defensive lineman Doug Sutherland, later a member of the Minnesota Vikings’ famed “Purple People Eaters,” in April at age 73.

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In addition, Great Lakes Capt. Adolph Ojard — who ran the Great Lakes Fleet of ships, the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway, and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority — died in December 2021, which was too late for last year’s roundup. He was 72.

Several elected leaders chose not to seek reelection in 2022, including state Rep. Jen Schultz of House District 7A in eastern Duluth; state Rep. Mike Sundin of Esko, who represented House District 11A; state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, who represented District 3; St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman, who stepped away after 20 years; and St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth, who was on the County Board since 2011.

Additionally, in January, Derek Medved announced his departure from the Duluth City Council after less than one term so that he could spend more time focusing on his business interests.

In the November election, Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown, a legendary Minnesota legislator of 46 years, lost her bid to return to St. Paul. So did Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls after eight years of elected service, and Rep. Julie Sandstede of Hibbing after six years in office.

Calling it an "honor and privilege" to lead the Duluth Police Department for more than six years, Chief Mike Tusken announced his retirement in June. A month later, Deputy Chief Laura Marquardt was picked as the first woman to lead the department as interim chief. She was replaced in October when Mike Ceynowa was hired as the permanent chief.

Superior Fire Chief Scott Gordon announced in September his retirement at the end of 2022.

Brian Hanson announced in June his departure as president and CEO of APEX, Duluth’s premiere private economic-development organization, for a vice presidency of corporate development for Involta, a computing and data services company.

Jeff Longenecker announced in February his resignation as executive director of Community Action Duluth, a post he held since July 2018.

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James Florey, a longtime Virginia-based jurist, retired April 1.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth, longtime men’s and women’s basketball coaches and then athletic-department administrators Gary Holquist and Karen Stromme — also husband and wife — announced their retirements in May after a combined 75 years at UMD. A month later, their retirements were delayed when Athletic Director Josh Berlo said he was leaving after nine years to head the athletic department at the University of Denver. Stromme was asked to take over as interim athletic director, a post she also held in 2013.

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 the passing 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.

May they all be remembered fondly and revered in these first days of a new year. 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.

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DNT

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