With a smile and a laugh, Tyler Gardner said it was fate that he would settle down in Pequot Lakes, the city where he grew up and now serves as mayor.
“My senior year in high school, I was voted most likely to stay in Pequot,” he said last week while sitting at his mayor’s desk at city hall, a place where he’s been spending a lot of time.
Gardner certainly tried to leave his hometown, several times in fact.
“I couldn’t wait to get out so I left and went to the Cities and had fun for a couple years and then moved back,” he said, admitting he missed home upon moving away after graduating from Pequot Lakes High School.
He then moved to Duluth for a year before returning home again.
“I was trying to find where I fit,” Gardner said.
Deciding it was time to do something with his life, he became an over-the-road truck driver. That job took him to 48 states and Canada.
“It was good to find places I want to go visit now,” he said. “I was able to nerd out over all these places I want to visit now.”
While driving truck, Gardner moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where he lived for three years and where his son, Jakson, now 11, was born.
"She’s the first person who ever fired me. I thought I could get special treatment from the boss and she wasn’t having it."
— Tyler Gardner, talking about his mom
Again Gardner returned to his hometown, where he started working for his family’s business, Pequot/Gull Lake Sanitation, with the intent to buy the business from his stepdad and mother, Robbie and Taren Saccoman.
While he’d always worked two or three jobs through high school at many local businesses - including at the former Northern Food King grocery store and the former Butcher Block restaurant, both in Pequot Lakes - Gardner had never worked for the family’s refuse hauling business.
Perhaps that’s because of his experience working for the garden center/landscaping business his mom owned when he was around age 14.
“She fired me,” he said. “She’s the first person who ever fired me. I thought I could get special treatment from the boss and she wasn’t having it.”
In addition to working for his family in 2012, Gardner made his first venture into city politics. He was elected to the Pequot Lakes City Council that year at age 29 and served for two years.
“I had always heard and been a part of the complaining about what does our city do for us, and decided the best way to fix the problems I saw was to run for council and be a part of fixing it,” he said.
Gardner resigned his seat mid-term to move to Little Falls.
“After a few years of that, they weren't quite ready to retire,” he said of his parents, “and I was wanting to move on with a career. I went back to driving over the road.”
His move to Little Falls was for another good reason. There, he married his wife, Kim, in 2015.
"She said, ‘Your parents should sell us the business.’ I said, ‘You’d be OK being married to the garbage man?’ And she said, ‘Absolutely.’"
— Tyler Gardner, quoting his wife, Kim
After his marriage, Gardner thought he’d be in Little Falls for a while because Kim wanted her kids - Jon, now 21; Sarah, now 19; and Tom, now 16 - to finish school there. She surprised him by encouraging her husband to buy the family business.
“I didn't think it was going to happen because I didn’t think my wife would enjoy it,” Gardner said. “She said, ‘Your parents should sell us the business.’ I said, ‘You’d be OK being married to the garbage man?’ And she said, ‘Absolutely.’”
In 2017, the Saccomans were ready to sell and retire, and the Gardners were ready to buy.
“They were surprised because they thought I had lost interest in it,” Gardner said of his parents.
He also started Central Minnesota Rolloff, running both businesses for two years while living in Little Falls. His wife surprised him again by sending him an online link to a house for sale in Pequot Lakes.
“She said, ‘If we can get this house, I’ll move tomorrow,’” Gardner said.
They made an appointment to see the house that night, made an offer and bought it, returning to Pequot Lakes in the summer of 2019.
They also built a new shop and office in Jenkins that year for their businesses.
Now Gardner is picking up where he left off, serving his city as mayor.
“I see a big need for housing and broadening our tax base, and a need to welcome new residents and businesses to help spread the tax base,” he said of his decision to run for mayor, adding the council seemed divided and unwilling to make progress.
His goals while serving as mayor include expanding workforce housing and housing rehabilitation, becoming more welcoming to businesses, getting tenants in the Heart of the Good Life development, and following through on a vision of and working with the school district for a recreational/ball field project.
When Gardner is not working for his businesses or as mayor, he and his family hope to go fishing and camping, and he enjoys target shooting.
He has plans for his businesses’ future as well.
“I’m a dreamer and I can’t sit still,” Gardner said, though he doesn’t plan another move out of town.
“After traveling through all 48 states and Canada, this is the most beautiful place there is,” he said. “And I am in love with the smalltown feel. I like going to the grocery store and having the conversation about, ‘Hey, what’s little Timmy up to now?’ Everything you need is here.”
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.