Annie Young, the straight-talking community organizer who served on the Minneapolis Park Board for nearly 30 years, was stubbornly active into her last days.
In early December, she attended a crowded, nighttime City Council budget meeting in a wheelchair, connected to an oxygen tank as she listened from the back of the overflow room.
Young, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, died Monday. She was 75. She was lauded by figures from across the political spectrum in Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Park Board has lowered flags on park property to half-staff through the end of January.
Young developed a reputation for bluntness but also effectiveness in her 28 years in office. Raised in Colorado and California, Young said she was outside the hotel smoking marijuana in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy, for whom she’d canvassed, won the California primary and was assassinated. She hitchhiked with her infant son across southwestern Minnesota in the 1970s to attend gatherings of food co-op activists. She settled in Minneapolis, and before she was first elected to the Park Board in 1989, skinny-dipped in Brownie Lake and swam across Cedar Lake — both violations of Park Board ordinances.
Once elected, she used her platform to promote conservation. She fought to reduce how much parkland is mowed, particularly on hillsides and shores. She championed water quality in lakes and promoted cleaning park buildings with environmentally friendly products. More recently she campaigned against the use of ground rubber in artificial turf fields, and negotiated a dramatic reduction in herbicide use.
In the 1990s, she fought against construction of a garbage transfer station at 28th Street and Hiawatha Avenue in her neighborhood, Phillips. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who was newly elected at the time, said he remembers the Lego model Young built to show what she thought could be built on the site instead: the Green Institute, an eco-friendly enterprise that ran a successful construction-demolition and used building-supplies business.
“That was a good example of Annie laying out an alternative vision, mobilizing people behind that vision, and we managed to stop it,” McLaughlin said. “Because of her, things got done.”
In 2001, when Young ran for her third term, the DFL endorsing convention broke up after endorsing just one at-large Park Board candidate, a maneuver that denied her party backing. She then ran as a Green Party candidate, topping a field of six.
As health problems moved her into a wheelchair, she adapted her campaign tactics. She sometimes stationed herself on a bench at one end of the Stone Arch Bridge, trying to woo voters. She breezed to re-election each term until she decided not to run again in 2017.
City Council Member Cam Gordon said she was at first a mentor to him and then a supportive colleague. The two were the only Green Party elected officials in the city for 12 years, and Young’s son attended Gordon’s day care.
“She really was a pioneer when it came to the sustainability movement,” Gordon said. “That made a big difference. She was pushing geothermal and solar panels early on, before it was so popular.”
She also left a legacy of community organization and activism, especially in near south Minneapolis.
“She was outspoken and really clear,” Gordon said. “She would be very definite.”
Young was honored by the Minneapolis City Council last spring, after she announced she would not run for re-election.
She is survived by her son, Shawn Young, his wife, Jessica, and three grandchildren. Services are pending.