Lyle Hanks was “Mr. St. Louis Park.”
Hanks was a teacher, coach and administrator for 40 years, 37 of them in St. Louis Park, where he also served on the City Council for 11 years and as mayor for 13 years.
Hanks, 82, died Nov. 2 at his winter home in Vero Beach, Fla., after a three-year battle with fibrosis of the lungs.
His wife, Laura, said he wanted to see three things before he died. “He wanted to see his grandson get married in California, he wanted to see his granddaughter get married in Sartell and he wanted to attend his 60th college reunion at Hamline.”
Hanks hit those milestones, which came as no surprise to those who knew him as a man accustomed to an active work schedule and tireless community service.
Hanks grew up in Elk River, where he starred on the school’s football, basketball, baseball and track teams. He was an all-conference fullback and guard on the Elks’ 1947 undefeated season and graduated in 1948. At Hamline University, he majored in math and played football for four years, twice being named an all-conference player. For his dedication to athletics and academics, Hanks was inducted into the Elk River, St Louis Park and Hamline University halls of fame.
Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman served on the St. Louis Park City Council and eventually succeeded Hanks as St. Louis Park mayor.
“Lyle was like Mr. St. Louis Park,” said Dorfman. Because of Hanks’ long tenure as a teacher and coach, he knew virtually everyone. “For those of us newer in town, he was our mentor and teacher,” Dorfman said. “Lyle loved St. Louis Park, and he wanted to convey that to the new people on the council.”
Hanks championed the Vision St. Louis Park program, a communitywide strategic development plan, and was central in creating a philosophy of accepting change while being inclusive and respectful.
“Lyle wanted to make sure that the people who were affected by the decisions of the council had a role in the decisionmaking,” St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs said.
He said Hanks was “a great big bear of a guy, firm but kind-hearted,” with the largest stable of Sven and Ole jokes around. “Every week he had two or three Sven and Ole jokes, and I don’t think I ever heard the same one twice,” Jacobs said.
Phil Frerk played football for Hanks at Slayton, Minn., and later became a teaching and coaching colleague in St. Louis Park. “You played your heart out for him, but he never lingered on the past but always looked forward.”
Frerk said Hanks also handled discipline issues as assistant principal. “He always found a way to get through to kids and offer the right words of encouragement at the right time.”
Hanks retired from St. Louis Park High School in 1991 and as mayor of St. Louis Park in 1996. He is survived by his wife, Laura; sons James, Gerald and John; a daughter, Judy Otterson, and seven grandchildren. Services have been held.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926