On most mornings, Michael Gramling would hold court at the May Day Cafe, where he hobnobbed with friends, sipped dark roast and completed the New York Times crossword puzzle. The rest of the week he was off doing whatever he could to make his Powderhorn Park neighborhood a better place to live, work and play.
He organized such projects as alley cleanups, flower planting and cultural celebrations. He also started an Easter egg hunt on the 3600 block of 17th Avenue S., where he lived most of his life and was a caretaker for his parents. The event celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
"He did the kind of community-based activity that brings people together and that usually doesn't happen in cities," said longtime friend Doroth Mayer. "He's made a huge commitment to Powderhorn."
Gramling died of colon cancer March 19 at his home. He was 54.
The South High School graduate with a quick wit was president of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and served on many task forces that dealt with issues such as the reconstruction of the Interstate 35W interchange at 35th and 38th Streets, the development of the Midtown Market, construction-related and business concerns along Lake Street, and celebrations such as the Powderhorn Park Art Fair, the Lake Street Cultural Festival and the In the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade.
"No matter where you go in south Minneapolis, you will find his imprint, but you might not know it," said Mary Dobish, who was part of a group that published the former Powderhorn Paper in the 1980s and '90s.
Gramling made volunteering a priority after an industrial accident crushed his hands, those who knew him said. He led efforts to rid the neighborhood of crack houses, bring capital improvements to Powderhorn Park and was "inspirational in his ability to hear all points of view," Dobish said.
"He made this a great block to live on," said longtime friend and former neighbor Cathy Swope. "He touched a lot of people."
Gramling did the little things, too, such as watching neighbors' pets when they were away, and helping people anytime they needed it, said his brother, Charles, of Chisago City.
A memorial gathering is being planned for May.