After roughly 16 years on the Jenkins City Council, it's safe to say Gary Hart has been part of a lot of decisions, big and small.
“I remember we had pretty tough meetings in those days,” said Hart, who decided not to seek re-election this year.
Hart started in north Minneapolis as the middle child in a small family. He grew up to go to a welding school and for 12 years raised his own family while living in Champlin and working in the steel industry. If the company he worked for hadn't folded, he may have stayed in Champlin. But as it was, he wound up out of a job and he and his wife looked for other options.
“My wife was from Longville and she thought, 'Well, let's move up north,'” Hart said. “I wasn't opposed to that. I like to fish and hunt.”
It wasn't just a change in scenery for the Hart family, but also a change in career. Instead of falling back into welding and metal work, Hart resorted to another skill he had learned over the years.
“It was about 1998 when we were all living in Champlin. I was working the weekend shift. My wife wasn't working because she was watching the kids and I had plenty of time to earn more income. I had my own Gary's Garage Door Business as a side thing. I ran into an old high school buddy that did wood floors. He needed some help and I just continued to help him during the week and did steel industry work during the weekend until the steel factory shut down. I thought I might as well keep doing the flooring.”
In the beginning, Hart kept afloat off local contacts and occasionally returning to the Twin Cities to help his friend with flooring jobs. After he established himself locally, he was able to stay home more and more often. In the meantime, Hart had dipped his toes into local government.
“There was a seat open on the council that Dale Daudt, kind of a shirttail relation, suggested that I should get into. I filed and I got the seat,” Hart said. “That was how that career began.”
Since then the Jenkins City Council has had many ups and downs, from a centennial celebration to an embezzlement scandal with the former clerk, and from the death of a young local resident to the expansion of many of the city's amenities. That proved to be one of the projects Hart could really get behind.
“We stuck to what we had to do,” Hart said. “Around that time, Todd Beyer at one point suggested updating the ballfield. I played a lot of softball and baseball. I thought, 'Let's see what we can do with it.' So that was a case where Todd Beyer and I kind of fired that up.”
Hart put in many hours volunteering to bring the ballfields into fruition. Today they are one of Jenkins' major attractions, and Hart didn't stop there. He turned his time and talents toward other projects, including Veterans Park and most recently the construction of the new Jenkins sign on the south end of town.
“(I enjoy) being involved with the community and trying to get Jenkins on the map a bit better than it has been,” Hart said. “We've got a lot of other good stuff going on here with Shiners operating and other things as well. Since the bypass went in it kind of changes the dynamics a little bit of our fine little city, so we're dressing it up.”
On the other hand, Hart said he didn't particularly enjoy the more onerous duties like budget discussions and workshops. Still, he kept filing for his position year after year when it seemed likely that nobody else was filing.
“For a lot of years nobody was putting in to run,” Hart said. “I thought I might as well stay on it. It hasn't been any kind of a hindrance.”
Now, with the upcoming election, Hart decided against filing for his seat, leaving it open for a new candidate. There was no big reason for the change. Hart just felt like he had already contributed to the city.
“I guess it boils down to I feel like I've done a lot of good things, the ballpark, the sign and other decisions we've made over the years,” Hart said.
As a small town where everyone knows everyone, there's a chance the council might still contact Hart from time to time with projects he could help out with.
“I'm not opposed to helping out with projects if time permits,” Hart said. “I still may try to be involved to some degree and go to meetings once in a while.”
Otherwise he sees it as giving him just a bit more time for hunting and fishing.
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.