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Pioneer editorial: The Lueken legacy

There is more to a city than streets, sidewalks and buildings.

What makes a city truly a community are the people who live there; people who give of themselves to make a place better.

Joe Lueken embodied Bemidji’s community spirit. The longtime grocer and civic supporter died last week at age 72.

All week, in person, online and at the public visitation, people expressed their thoughts about the tremendous impact Lueken had on them personally and professionally, as well as on the community itself.

 “Our community has lost a true community steward,” Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht told the Pioneer. “Joe Lueken’s legacy will stand as an example of ‘how to be a leader’ and forever benefit the people of Bemidji and beyond.”

Similar expressions of gratitude came from Bemidji State University and Bemidji Area Schools — the Lueken family believed deeply in education — as well as from other local business people and organizations.

Grocery stores, by their nature, employ a mix of people, from high school and college students working part-time to full-time career employees. As news of his passing spread, personal memories from Lueken’s thousands of current and past employees filled Internet message boards.

Here’s a smattering of some of those comments (grammar and spelling theirs; names are withheld).

“He always made time to say hello and ask how you matter who you were, or what he was doing. In this day and age, we can all learn from him.”

“I don’t think I’ve worked any place else that has promoted such a family type atmosphere amongst the employees. It is a job I remember proudly!”

“What a fortunate community to have harnessed this wonderful man. Miigwech, Joe, for creating a legacy that will have a positive impact in in our community for generations to come. You will be missed. Rest in peace.”

Through his work ethic, kindness and generosity, all the years of his life, Joe Lueken looked to lift up those around him and the communities he called home.

Both personally, as well as through the Joseph and Janice Lueken Family Foundation, he supported many worthwhile causes and organizations in Bemidji and the surrounding communities. He also supported the people of Bemidji, establishing and expanding a place of employment for thousands over the years. When he did decide to retire, he sold the company back to its employees, news that garnered regional and national headlines.

“Simply put, our father wanted to leave the world a better place,” Joe’s son, Michael, said in Tuesday’s Pioneer story.

He did that. And more.