In Keith Meland’s eyes, Jim Heltzer was one of the most influential people to ever step foot in St. Louis Park.
Heltzer, who served on the St. Louis Park City Council from 1962 until 1973 and was active in other community groups, died on July 21 in hospice care after more than a decade battling mantle cell lymphoma. He was 77.
“He did a number of things to change the direction the city was moving in,” said Meland, who succeeded Heltzer as the city’s Third Ward councilman.
Perhaps Heltzer’s most long-lasting impact was his push to create a number of smaller, neighborhood parks, such as . Meland said Heltzer was the driving force in establishing at least a dozen parks in place of small strips of barren land owned by the city.
Meland said he thinks these parks go a long way in making St. Louis Park an .
“I think that’s one of the reasons,” he said. “The parks are a big part of the community.”
Meland said beyond being a mentor for him when he took over on the council, Heltzer was also a longtime family friend. The two lived in the same neighborhood for many years, and also attended summer classes together at the University of Minnesota in 1959, where they bonded over a love of politics and movies.
“There was always a connection there,” Meland said.
Lyle Hanks, who joined the St. Louis Park City Council in 1972 and then served as mayor from 1983 until 1993, said Heltzer had an influence on him, too.
“He was very intelligent,” Hanks said. “I always appreciated what he had to say.”
The former mayor added that he knew what kind of impact Heltzer on the city.
“He worked hard for the people of his ward,” Hanks said.
Heltzer continued to work hard for his constituents even after he left the council. In 1973, Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed him to be Minnesota’s commissioner of economic development. From there, he went to the Dayton Hudson Corporation, where he was governmental affairs coordinator. In 1981, he became executive director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, a position he held for nine years.
In 1990, he and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Bemidji, according to the Bemidji Pioneer. Right away, he became director of the Bemidji Housing and Redevelopment Agency. He held that post for three years until he was recruited to become executive director of the Washington County HRA in the Twin Cities, where he served until 1997 when he retired to Bemidji. In 1998, he ran for the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners and was elected. He was re-elected in 2001, 2005 and 2009, and held the position at the time of his death.
“He was the smartest man I ever knew,” Marilyn Heltzer told the newspaper. “He knew everything. It was a blessing to be married to him.”
A funeral has been scheduled for 2 p.m. on Aug. 19 at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Bemidji. The family requests memorials to the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, PO Box 191 Bemidji, MN, 56619; or to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 1700 Irvine Ave. NW, Bemidji, MN, 56601.