"I will miss my friend, Jim, because of his untiring desire to help the most disposed people of the world, persons with no voice, power or resources," said the Rev. Gary Danielson in his opening tribute to the late James Heltzer.
Heltzer, 77, a Beltrami County Commissioner and dedicated public servant, died July 21 in Bemidji, ending his battle with cancer. He was remembered during a Celebration of Life Service Friday at a well-attended St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Bemidji.
Heltzer, originally from St. Paul, and his wife, Marilyn, were married for 54 years. They had three daughters, Kathleen, Deborah and Rebecca.
He and his wife moved to Bemidji in 1990 when he became director of the Bemidji Housing and Redevelopment Agency. Despite a heart condition and having open-heart surgery in 1997, Heltzer decided to run for the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners. He was elected in 1998 and re-elected three times thereafter. He continued to serve until the time of his death.
Earlier in his career ,Heltzer was a high school teacher in Beloit, Wis., and Wayzata, Minn.; Governmental Affairs coordinator for the Dayton-Hudson Corporation; executive director for the Minneapolis Community Development Agency; and executive director of the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Agency.
"My dad was driven by a strong sense of right and wrong," said Heltzer's youngest daughter, Rebecca. "He believed in the goodness of government and what it could do for people. He will always be a part of this community and this community will always be a part of him."
"My dad rejected the politics of hate and embraced the politics of love," Heltzer's oldest daughter, Kathy, said during her tribute.
In the last years of her father's life, Rebecca said she asked him which job he liked the most and made the biggest impact on people's lives.
"He said it was teaching," she said. "He liked to teach. He spent a lifetime of teaching, even after his teaching days in Wayzata were behind him."
The Rev. Steve Schmit shared a few words about Heltzer later on during the service.
"I think it's not only clear that Jim not only talked the talk, but he can be truly said to have walked the walk," he said. "He had such a keen sense of how important social justice issues were to those around him."
Heltzer served on a variety of boards and community organizations in Bemidji, including the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, Evergreen House and Beltrami County Extension Committee.
"I think that the phrase 'a class act' fit Jim Heltzer to a 'T,'" he added. "He had a way of making you feel as if you were special, that whatever you had to say was important. And if he disagreed with your view, he never made you feel belittled."
Danielson said in his speech, "I'll miss my friend Jim, because he was so much fun to be with. He could laugh at himself and all the other funny things of life and people."
As the memorial service drew to an end, Heltzer's daughter, Deborah, and granddaughter, Lily Ann, led the congregation in singing the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow," which the family said was Heltzer's song of choice.
After the service concluded, guests were invited for lunch at the Boys & Girls Club.
When asked why she thought Heltzer chose the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow" to be sung at his memorial service, BGC Executive Director Leonore Potter tearfully answered, "Because he was so hopeful."