Tom Helgeson, a journalist turned fly-fisherman who became one of the Midwest's most prominent spokesmen for the sport and for conservation, died Friday of complications from lung cancer. He was 71.
Helgeson, who lived in Minneapolis, was the editor and publisher of Midwest Fly Fishing, a magazine that covered the fly-fishing community in 14 states.
"He developed Midwest Fly Fishing into what I consider the preeminent regional publication on fly-fishing anywhere in the country," said Duke Welter, of Eau Claire, Wis., past vice chairman of the national board of trustees of Trout Unlimited, a conservation group. He said the magazine gave one a "transcendent feeling" about fly-fishing.
Helgeson also owned the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, which held annual expositions in both Minneapolis and Chicago. "He was a great conservationist, and his Fly Fishing Expo reflected his interest in clean water and habitat conservation," said C.B. Bylander, outreach chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' fish and wildlife division.
Helgeson was raised in Redwood Falls, Minn. He graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and served three years in the Marine Corps.
He went to work at the Minneapolis Star in 1967, rising to deputy managing editor in 1979.
David Nimmer, former managing editor at the Star, recalled the period when Helgeson edited the paper's Saturday magazine. "He found people who could be living out of the mainstream of society and loved to find what made them tick and do profiles of them," Nimmer said. Helgeson held part-time editing jobs at the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1982 to 1987.
After leaving the Star, he operated Bright Waters, a fly-fishing shop, for 10 years, and led fly-fishing schools that traveled to the Midwest and West, as well as fishing trips to Alaska.
In the 1980s, he was communications and development director for the City Inc., a Minneapolis organization "that worked with hard-core delinquent youth and families," said Jim Nelson, the City Inc.'s former president.
"He was passionate about people, anybody that was downtrodden," said Don Wisner, a retired Lutheran minister and friend. "He really cared about the kids at the City."
Baird Helgeson, his son and a Star Tribune reporter, said his father took him and his sister, Carrie, on many fishing trips and shared "his love of moving water and wilderness."
Julie Helgeson, Tom's wife of 39 years, said her husband started fly-fishing soon after they got married. "From the minute he picked up his first fly rod, I never had his undivided attention," she said with a laugh. "I never understood his passion for fly-fishing, but I think it's similar to what I feel when I hear Frank Sinatra sing."
In addition to his wife, his son and his daughter, Helgeson is survived by a sister, Bertina Busch, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 700 Snelling Ave. S. in St. Paul.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382