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County Commissioner Jim Heltzer dies after prolonged illness

Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Heltzer died peacefully in hospice care shortly after noon Thursday, July 21, at Havenwood Care Center.

His daughter Becky and her partner, Cady, were at his side, and his daughter Kathy and her partner, Tina, arrived soon after he died.

He had lived with mantle cell lymphoma for more than a decade, but until about one month ago, he continued to represent District 3 at County Board meetings and contribute to the discussion of county business issues.

His wife, Marilyn Heltzer, said a memorial service is planned for sometime in early August at a time and place to be announced. They were married for 54 years. He was 77 years old.

"He was the smartest man I ever knew," Marilyn said Thursday. "He knew everything. It was a blessing to be married to him."

"It is impossible to put into words everything that Jim, and Jim and Marilyn as a team, have done for this community," said Ann Marie Ward, Beltrami County 4-H coordinator.

Ward worked with Jim Heltzer on the 4-H Council, Farm Bureau, Extension and the Beltrami County Agricultural Association (Fair Board).

Ward said he was totally invested in the county and in making the area a good place to live and raise families. She said she last visited him Tuesday and updated him on the 4-H Aquatic Robotics project.

"He smiled and winked," she said. "I told him the (Aquatic Robotic team) boys would be demonstrating at the County Fair."

"I think Jim thought of the Bemidji community as an extension of his family," said Leonore Potter, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, an organization Jim Heltzer helped found 10 years ago. "He was amazingly dedicated to the Boys & Girls Club, involved from the ground up."

Jack Frost, Beltrami County commissioner who represents District 1, has served with Jim Heltzer for 11 years, said he greatly respects his fellow board member's thoroughness in researching issues and coming to well-thought-out conclusions before voicing his votes. Frost also remarked on Jim Heltzer's compassion and his advocacy for the most vulnerable people he represented.

"If it had to do with any suffering, any hardships ... he felt very deeply," Frost said. (I have) profound respect for a very dedicated public servant. Public service was very appropriate for Jim."

Now, Frost said his prayers are for Marilyn Heltzer, the daughters and granddaughter.

"Of course, we're saddened, and we have to find a way to marshal our forces the way public servants do," said Joe Vene, County Board chairman, who also represents District 2.

Jim and Marilyn Heltzer moved to Bemidji in 1990, when he became director of the Bemidji Housing and Redevelopment Agency, a post he held for three years until he was recruited to become executive director of the Washington County HRA in the Twin Cities, a position in which 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 served on a wide variety of boards and commissions and community organizations, both in St. Louis Park, Minn., and Bemidji. In recent years in addition to the Boys & Girls Club and 4-H, these included Evergreen House, the Bishop's Committee of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, and appointments as the county's representative to Hope House, the Beltrami County Extension Committee and others.

As a couple, Jim and Marilyn Heltzer shared a life of civic activity and service. They were honored in March as Bemidji Community Arts Center Friends of the Arts. Jim Heltzer focused on keeping the dream of the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts alive by serving on the board and as chair. He was also responsible for including public art in the new Beltrami County Administration Building. Students at Bemidji State University can thank the Heltzers for yearly scholarships, especially the one given to a music student.

Jim was born Jan. 25, 1934, in St. Paul, Minn., to Bernice (Lejcher) and Harry Heltzer. He attended elementary school in St. Paul and graduated from South St. Paul High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations, and a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education from the University of Minnesota. He taught secondary school in Beloit, Wis., and Wayzata, Minn., and worked for several summers as the legislative campaign director for the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL. He served on the St. Louis Park City Council for 12 years. It was there that he originated "Jim Heltzer Reports," a printed report to constituents, a tradition that he carried on during his years as a Beltrami County Commissioner with regular newsletters.

In 1973, Gov. Wendell Anderson appointed him Minnesota's Commissioner of Economic Development. He went from there 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 until 1990.

Jim and Marilyn Heltzer enjoyed traveling, with major trips to Thailand, Hong Kong, Egypt, the Galapagos Islands, Prague and Vienna, Budapest, and Paris. He loved the log house that he designed and had built on a wooded hilltop in Grant Valley Township.

Jim Heltzer is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and three grown daughters: Kathleen (Tina Welsh) of Duluth, Deborah (Howard Walstein) of St. Louis Park and Rebecca (Cadance Paulaha) of St. Paul. They have one granddaughter, Lily Ann Heltzer. Jim admired the accomplishments of his three daughters and their partners and his granddaughter.

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 Avenue N.W, Bemidji MN 56601.