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Pioneer Editorial: Community loses benefactor, public servant

Beltrami County and the Bemidji area lost a dedicated public servant when Jim Heltzer died July 21. His wife and life teammate, Marilyn, lost her husband and best friend, and his daughters lost a dear father.

Jim came to Bemidji in 1990 following an already extensive career in public service in the Twin Cities area: as Gov. Wendell Anderson's commissioner of Economic Development; governmental affairs coordinator for Dayton Hudson Corp.; executive director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency; and Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

When Jim and Marilyn moved to the Bemidji area 21 years ago, he took on the challenge of the directorship of the Bemidji Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

In spite of a heart condition and open heart surgery in 1997, Jim decided to continue active public service by running for and winning a seat on the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners. He was elected in 1998 to represent the Third District. He was re-elected three times and continued to serve his constituents until the time of his death. He was recognized as an elected official who always studied issues and facts before coming to his decisions.

Dozens of outreach agencies and organizations bear Jim's hallmark. He was a founder of the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area and served on committees leading Evergreen House, Beltrami County Board of Health, Beltrami County Human Services Committee, County Extension Committee, Fair Board, Beltrami HRA, Association of Minnesota Counties Policy Committees, arks & Trails Advisory Committee, DWI Court Steering Committee, Mental Health Advisory Committee, Hope House, Headwaters Science Center and State and Federal Legislative Activities. As member of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, he also served on that church's Bishop's Committee.

All these agencies, organizations and boards provide major contributions to the quality of life in the Bemidji area.

Dedication to these organizations also reflects Jim's compassion and investment in the lives of his neighbors across Beltrami County.

Jim's passing leaves not only an empty chair in the Beltrami County Boardroom and sadness among his family and friends. His loss leaves bereft many vulnerable people whose lives he touched peripherally - the alcoholics given a chance for wellness through DWI Court, youngsters who need the guidance and protection of Evergreen House and those who access mental health services.

The community will have the chance to say goodbye at the Celebration of Life at Jim's home church, St. Bart's, at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19.