Carol LeDoux ignored the political signs in the yard touting Becky Fink, her opponent for the Anoka County Board seat that LeDoux's husband, Scott, had vacated.
She walked confidently to the front door of the house and waited for someone to answer. But she couldn't help but look around the neighborhood and think to herself, "God, there's a lot of Becky Fink signs."
LeDoux didn't realize she was knocking on Fink's door -- until Fink's husband answered and informed her.
"You can't blame me for trying," LeDoux said recently.
On a county board that has added three new faces and has gone from a progressive to fiscally conservative philosophy in slightly more than a year, nobody has had to try harder than LeDoux.
Just two months after the death of her husband -- who was arguably not only Minnesota's most popular boxer ever but Anoka County's most popular commissioner -- LeDoux has had to muster every ounce of strength as she eagerly embraces her new role while mourning her beloved partner of 15 years.
For months, her life was nothing less than grueling. During her husband's nearly three-year battle with ALS, she watched helplessly as the incurable neurological disease ravaged the body of the former heavyweight contender.
She'd attend county board and committee meetings during the day, learning on the fly, often running to her Coon Rapids home between appointments to be with her husband.
She'd be up at all hours of the night, trying to help Scott, who was increasingly immobile but still a man more than twice her weight, move from their bed to his wheelchair or walker.
She'd appear at ribbon cuttings and award ceremonies and grand openings by day and brace for the inevitable at night.
"It was so exhausting, so sad, but I couldn't afford the time to wallow in that," she said. "It was a long, hard battle. Poor Scott. At the onset, we knew something was wrong, but we just kept thinking his hands were weak from carpel tunnel, or shoulder injuries from all those years in the ring.
"I had to make sure he had care and the proper equipment, get him to all his appointments," she recalled. "I'd never care-given before. I'd never dreamed of being a nurse."
She hadn't thought much about running for county office, either -- until her husband's illness.
Encouraged her husband
It was Carol LeDoux who encouraged Scott to run for County Board in the first place in 2004, he said in interviews before his death.
"I don't make any political decisions without talking to Carol first," Scott said last year, after he resigned from the board and she filed to run in the special election for his seat.
Like her husband, Carol LeDoux is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. She describes herself as "right of center, but conservative only to a point."
"There's a big pot of us, right in the middle," she said.
But not so much on the current Anoka County board.
There's Dan Erhart, a former county board chairman and always the progressive, the godfather of the Northstar commuter rail line who once ruled the majority and now often finds himself on a political island. There are current board chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah, Robyn West, Andy Westerberg and Matt Look -- the self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives who often vote in a bloc.
Longtime commissioner Jim Kordiak has always been an independent thinker.
And then there is LeDoux, who, when the new regime handed out committee assignments, didn't get as many choice positions as fellow newcomers Look or Westerberg.
"My philosophy is if you have lemons, you need to be busy making lemonade," she said. "I'm very gratified with what I'm doing."
She thinks nothing of putting in 14-hour days. On a recent Tuesday, she attended a county board meeting and several committee meetings, including one for the county rail authority -- even though she's not on that committee.
"I want to understand the practices, the policies and procedures of as many committees as possible," she said. "I may not be a committee member, but the more I experience, the better I can help the county.
"I ask a lot of questions. I ask these questions because I think we owe it to the public to clarify a specific issue. Sometimes at board meetings I'll ask to have something explained, even if I think I understand it. I'm more concerned with clarifying things for ... the guy watching these board meetings on TV or online."
She talks about learning that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the county were contemplating spending $300,000 "to relocate a weed on a highway project."
"A weed!" she said incredulously. "A weed! I called [Anoka County engineer] Doug Fischer and told him, 'Let me go to my garage and get the Roundup. I'll get rid of that weed for you.'"
From Kansas to Minnesota
LeDoux grew up in Cottonwood Falls, Kan., a town of 958, the heart of ranching country.
"I couldn't get into trouble in a small town like that," she said. "Everybody knew my mother's phone number."
Her parents, products of the Great Depression, both went to college -- her father at the University of Chicago, her mother at Northwestern. Their marriage didn't last.
Carol, who went to Wichita State, also went through a couple of divorces before meeting Scott on a flight from Phoenix to the Twin Cities, where she'd recently relocated for a job with an optical company. She had no idea who he was.
Months later, Scott LeDoux proposed.
"I got down on one knee," he said. "It was right in the frozen food section of Byerly's."
Scott LeDoux no longer dominates the Coon Rapids townhouse in which his wife lives. But he is everywhere. There are framed boxing photos of him on the walls, but it is his spirit that is omnipresent.
"Scott was a very complicated human being," Carol LeDoux said. "A man who was in such a brutal sport was the kindest, most generous man I've ever met. He wanted the best for others.
"It's hard for people to separate me from him. For 15 years, we were a very visible team.
"When he was alive, if you wanted to criticize Scott, you had to go through me. Scott showed me that if you have a vision, then you should have the courage to fight for it."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419