For years, John Richter was the epitome of an engaged citizen in Minneapolis — a rabble-rouser, networker and fundraiser extraordinaire who poured his energy and money into a slew of causes over decades of tenacious advocacy.
A successful businessman, Richter pushed for reducing airport noise in south Minneapolis, making the city more bicycle-friendly and preserving park space. He supported public art projects and helped install bells in the once empty bell tower of St. Mark’s Cathedral, where he also helped start a Somali Boy Scout troop. He prided himself on his perfect Rotary Club attendance, including a meeting he held amid a yak herd during a hiking trek in Nepal.
Richter died in November at age 94.
“Throughout his life, he was very forward-thinking,” said his daughter Ruth Hovland. “He could bring other people together around an idea and bring it to fruition.”
Richter is also survived by daughters Elizabeth and Joan, six grandchildren and two stepgrandchildren. Services were held.
A native of Roundup, Mont., Richter spent his childhood in south Minneapolis, offering early glimpses of his knack for rallying others. A 1935 Minneapolis Journal article described an 11-year-old Richter as “a leader in boys’ activities in the neighborhood” who had spearheaded a youngster-run town complete with a bank, post office and businesses.
In junior high, he started a newspaper, selling subscriptions to acquaintances so he could buy his first bicycle. He became an Eagle Scout. In Texas before his deployment to Europe during World War II, he started a basketball team on his Army squadron. After the war, Richter completed a degree in industrial relations at the University of Minnesota. Eventually, he took over his family’s baking supplies business, Brechet & Richter, and started a family with his wife, Martha.
An early neighborhood activist against airport noise, Richter spoke at countless Minneapolis City Council and Metropolitan Airports Commission meetings. He appealed to lawmakers at the State Capitol and did extensive research. Jan Del Calzo, a fellow advocate who came to lead the Airports Commission in the 1980s, says Richter made a point of finagling meetings with top airport officials on trips overseas to learn how they did things.
Ideas for overflow runways and a $1.7 billion Rosemount airport he championed were met with pushback from Dakota County officials and residents who said he was trying to relocate his neighborhood’s noise problem. But over the years, Del Calzo says Richter’s efforts contributed to positive changes, including a new runway at MSP that helped divert some traffic and noise.
Hovland says her father was proudest of his efforts to expand bike lanes and park space in Hennepin County. After a neighbor walking near Lake Harriet was hit by a bicyclist and died, Richter pushed for separate walking and biking lanes around the lake. But he did not stop there.
With the Cedar Lake Park Association, Richter advocated and raised funds for the Cedar Lake Regional Trail, the first partly federally funded commuter bike trail in the country, which connected the city’s network of trails to the Mississippi River. Robert Byers, an engineer in the Hennepin County Transportation Department’s planning division, says much of the system expansion that made the Twin Cities among the nation’s most bikeable unfolded with Richter’s input.
“He had a major role in making the Cities what they are today,” Byers said.
Richter also lobbied for a pool at Southwest High School and sponsored a statue of Theodore Wirth, the architect of the Minneapolis park system. He paid to illuminate the St. Mark’s Cathedral bell tower and — when the lights made the absence of bells obvious — secured funding for 14 cast-bronze custom-made French bells.
“He was a very complex person,” Hovland said, “and he offered a tremendous amount to the community in his life.”