With relentless spirit and drive, Hal Cottle threw himself into everything he did, whether it was being a single parent to his little girl, restoring buildings to their original beauty in Minneapolis or nurturing long-held friendships that sustained him in his final days.
The former Army paratrooper, body builder and tireless entrepreneur whose building restoration projects dotted addresses along or near Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, died Monday after cancer spread from his esophagus to his liver and then his brain. He was 69.
Cottle, of Medina, fought cancer's march all the way through his final ambitious project, making over a coffee shop in Minnetonka.
After growing up in Minneapolis and a stint in the Army as a paratrooper in Germany, Hal Cottle married an Aussie and lived Down Under, where his daughter, Leah Cottle, was born.
When the family moved to the Twin Cities area, Cottle's wife had difficulty adjusting and returned to her native land, Leah Cottle said. That left Dad to raise a 6-year-old girl.
"He was extremely present," Leah Cottle said. "He was very attentive. ... I went to work with him. He was involved with my school and found the best tutors he possibly could. Somehow, he dressed me like a girl, kept me going with the horses and encouraged me with my art."
Now, she is forever grateful that her father promised "on his last breath that he wanted to leave me with something amazing." His gift to her: a "beautiful barn in Hamel" where she keeps her three horses and has room to board others.
Shortly before his cancer was diagnosed, Hal Cottle turned his attention to taking over the Dunn Bros. on Minnetonka Boulevard, shutting it down for several months and thoroughly making it over before it reopened last year as Creekside Coffee and Sebastian Joe's Ice Cream Shop.
"He did a beautiful restoration," Leah Cottle said. "And he did it while fighting cancer."
With Hal Cottle's death, Stacy Shuman is left to run Creekside Coffee. "Hal has more friends in this place than I can tell you," Shuman said. "They know this as Hal's place ... and I think they will continue to see this as that."
Steve Kalin knew Cottle for 40 years or so and will host Shiva for Cottle. Kalin described him as handsome, something of a charmer and a fantastic negotiator.
Soon after building a new home, Kalin recalled, "I came across a really large and beautiful buffet" that was out of his price range.
Kalin turned to his friend for help, and by the time the haggling was over, "I think they finally sold it to him just to get him out of the store. He probably saved me several thousand dollars. I still have that buffet. It's in my home."
Kalin's home had its own gym where the two friends would pump iron. Cottle, a body builder whose physique even well into his 60s belied his age, owned two Olympia gymnasiums in Minneapolis.
"For years, Hal and I would work out at 6:30 in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays," Kalin said. "My three daughters would call him Uncle Hal, and they would miss school on purpose just so he'd end up taking him."
Another lifelong friend recalled when Cottle, who spent months at a stretch in Kona, Hawaii, taunted a tsunami that had ravaged the Asian Pacific in late 2010 and was heading east.
"They cleared everybody out," John Ryan said. "But not Hal. He decided he want to see the tsunami."
Ryan said Cottle donned goggles, fins and snorkeling gear, then took 50 feet of electrical cord and wrapped his waist with one end and tied the other end to the stanchion of the house's observatory.
"He tied himself to the post and said, " 'I'll see you later,' " Ryan said. "As luck would have it, there was no tsunami ... but there was Hal like he was at the top of a mast of a ship."
Along with daughter Leah Cottle and his former wife, Bernette, Cottle is survived by a son, Spencer Bradford. Services are scheduled for noon Wednesday at Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Av. S., Minneapolis, followed by followed by burial at United Hebrew Brotherhood Cemetery.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482