Walk the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, Como Zoo and Conservatory, 51 parks and reserves, or 300 miles of interconnected trails — and appreciate the efforts of Bob Nethercut.
He was instrumental in the creation and expansion of one of the largest regional park systems in the country as the founding director and manager of the Metropolitan Regional Parks Commission.
Nethercut, of Arden Hills, died Sept. 2. He was 88.
His legacy includes serving as a suburban mayor, metro parks director and president of the Minnesota Senior Federation.
“Bob’s ability to really listen to all sides and bring people together was at the heart of his character,” said the Rev. Peter Wykoff, a friend and fellow leader with the Senior Federation. “Bob personified integrity and character as much as any person I have ever had the honor to know.”
Nethercut led the Parks Commission when the Legislature created it in 1974, and held that role for 13 years.
“I knew nothing about parks except from going to them like everyone else,” he told the Star Tribune in 1999. “Our goal was to get out beyond suburbanization and preserve critical resources that were going to be gobbled up by suburbanization.”
His son, Dick Nethercut, recalls how his father went to the State Capitol to help establish the park system that now serves 44 million people a year. “He would go to all the committee meetings and lobby hard for the money — the allocations that were needed to create and expand the whole system,” Dick Nethercut said.
Over the years, Bob Nethercut secured about $120 million to expand the regional park system into what it is now. “They added hundreds of acres and a lot of land that was really under pressure of development,” Dick Nethercut said.
Bob Nethercut asked landowners to relinquish land for public use. “He would tell me he’d go to meetings, like in Lake Minnetonka, where very wealthy, relatively powerful property owners were aghast at the idea of public access or expansion of a public park, and he got it done,” his son said.
Born in Mansfield, Ohio, Bob Nethercut graduated from high school in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in France and Germany, overseeing German prisoners of war. He played French horn in an Army band, and in 1945 played at the liberated Nuremberg Stadium, once a rallying ground for Hitler and his Nazis.
In Ohio, Nethercut studied physics at the College of Wooster, where he fell in love with Jean McAfee. They married in 1949 and moved to Minnesota in 1951. With a master’s degree in physics from Ohio State, he became a scientist for Honeywell. He also was an Arden Hills City Council trustee and mayor.
Nethercut found his passion in public service, so he left Honeywell in 1967, intent on helping the entire metro.
“My dad really saw the value in thinking as a metropolitan area as opposed to individual municipalities all the time,” said Doug Nethercut. “He got really excited about that, saw the potential in that, and that’s what drove him toward wanting to change careers.”
Bob Nethercut spent the next two decades working for the Metropolitan Planning Commission and its successor, the Metropolitan Council.
He earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Minnesota and served on organizations such as the Citizens League and Ramsey County Parks and Open Space Commission until 14 years ago.
In addition to his wife, Jean, and sons Dick and Doug, he’s survived by another son, Jim, a daughter, Janet; brother Gordon; six granddaughters and two great-grandchildren.