Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Former Bemidji mayor to be honored on his 95th birthday

Virgil Heathman relaxes on his porch overlooking Fox Lake. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

For the last 35 years, Virgil Heathman has made his twice-yearly commute from Bemidji to Harlingen, Texas.

"I leave here around the first of October and come back the first of May," Heathman said. "I have a car at both ends. I retired early."

But before he retired in 1964, Heathman accomplished several careers, as well as military service during World War II and work as a member of the Bemidji City Council for more than seven years and as Bemidji's mayor from 1957-1958.

"At the time, I was the youngest mayor," Heathman said.

In recognition of Heathman's service to the Bemidji community, Mayor Richard Lehmann has declared Heathman's 95th birthday on Aug. 12 as Virgil Heathman Day in Bemidji. The declaration was made during the Monday, Aug. 2, City Council meeting.

Heathman said his parents arrived in northern Minnesota from Plover, Iowa, in 1917 to farm near Shevlin. Later, they moved into Bemidji and ran a store where Dave's Pizza now is located. Heathman took over running the farm, but in 1932, he moved to Bemidji and drove a bus route. Then he bought an Aberdeen, S.D., bus line, which he sold when he was called up to serve in the U.S. Army 96 Division on Okinawa.

"I came out of the war and bought the store from my folks," he said.

In 1960, he built a new store where Thrift White Drug now stands in the 200 block of Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest, a location, which at that time was considered out of town.

"There was nothing out there at the time," Heathman said. "I couldn't get (loan) money from the bank in town. They were afraid if I moved out there, other businesses would move out there, too. That's when bankers had a lot of power in town."

Instead, he borrowed from a Minneapolis bank to build the new store, Heathman's Piggly Wiggly, later known as Heathman's IGA.

"The biggest thrill I had in my life was when I wanted to be mayor," Heathman said.

He said he and incumbent Mayor Fred Troppman agreed to wage civil campaigns. However, Heathman still relishes his win over Mayor Fred Troppman by a margin of 3-1.

"He was the first one to call me to congratulate me," Heathman said.

Heathman said has really enjoyed his life. He and his late wife, Dorothy, had two children Mary Kay and Don, and he lives in comfortable mobile homes at Hamilton's Fox Lake Campground during the summers and in Harlingen, Texas, during winters.

As flocks of red wing blackbirds, Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds whizzed around his feeders, Heathman showed a picture of an 18-pound northern he caught on Fox Lake.

"They're entertainment," he said of the colorful birds. "I can't fish all the time."

Y mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

For the last 35 years, Virgil Heathman has made his twice-yearly commute from Bemidji to Harlingen, Texas.

"I leave here around the first of October and come back the first of May," Heathman said. "I have a car at both ends. I retired early."

But before he retired in 1964, Heathman accomplished several careers, as well as military service during World War II and work as a member of the Bemidji City Council for more than seven years and as Bemidji's mayor from 1957-1958.

"At the time, I was the youngest mayor," Heathman said.

In recognition of Heathman's service to the Bemidji community, Mayor Richard Lehmann has declared Heathman's 95th birthday on Aug. 12 as Virgil Heathman Day in Bemidji. The declaration was made during the Monday, Aug. 2, City Council meeting.

Heathman said his parents arrived in northern Minnesota from Plover, Iowa, in 1917 to farm near Shevlin. Later, they moved into Bemidji and ran a store where Dave's Pizza now is located. Heathman took over running the farm, but in 1932, he moved to Bemidji and drove a bus route. Then he bought an Aberdeen, S.D., bus line, which he sold when he was called up to serve in the U.S. Army 96 Division on Okinawa.

"I came out of the war and bought the store from my folks," he said.

In 1960, he built a new store where Thrift White Drug now stands in the 200 block of Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest, a location, which at that time was considered out of town.

"There was nothing out there at the time," Heathman said. "I couldn't get (loan) money from the bank in town. They were afraid if I moved out there, other businesses would move out there, too. That's when bankers had a lot of power in town."

Instead, he borrowed from a Minneapolis bank to build the new store, Heathman's Piggly Wiggly, later known as Heathman's IGA.

"The biggest thrill I had in my life was when I wanted to be mayor," Heathman said.

He said he and incumbent Mayor Fred Troppman agreed to wage civil campaigns. However, Heathman still relishes his win over Mayor Fred Troppman by a margin of 3-1.

"He was the first one to call me to congratulate me," Heathman said.

Heathman said has really enjoyed his life. He and his late wife, Dorothy, had two children Mary Kay and Don, and he lives in comfortable mobile homes at Hamilton's Fox Lake Campground during the summers and in Harlingen, Texas, during winters.

As flocks of red wing blackbirds, Baltimore orioles and hummingbirds whizzed around his feeders, Heathman showed a picture of an 18-pound northern he caught on Fox Lake.

"They're entertainment," he said of the colorful birds. "I can't fish all the time."

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

Advertisement
randomness