Jim Van Valkenburg helped guide Edina for six decades as it evolved from a village to a city with more than 47,000 residents, 40 parks and legions of volunteers.
In recent years, one of those parks was named in his honor for his dedicated service, including 20 years on the City Council, the last seven as mayor.
Van Valkenburg died May 25. He was 87.
Those who knew him say he left a lasting impression on the city — one that lives on vibrantly in its parks, in the Arts Center that he helped bring to the city and in the community foundation that he organized to encourage philanthropy.
“Jim was instrumental in so many things in Edina, as the first alderman and then the first mayor,” said Kay Bach of the Edina Historical Society, on which Van Valkenburg served. “He just never tired of giving service to the city.
“He’s been a fabulous, fabulous person.”
On Friday, Mayor James Hovland and others paid tribute at an Edina Community Foundation board meeting, where Van Valkenburg served as assistant treasurer and in other ways. He was an indelible part of meetings, attending one just nine days before his death.
“He was our founding member and always had a strong commitment to make sure that it was doing what it could to help the city,” said Dick Crockett, the foundation’s executive director.
In 2007, the foundation established the Van Valkenburg Fund for Children to give grants so needy children could participate in park programs because it was so important to him to make sure that all kids could play, Crockett said.
Van Valkenburg was on the foundation board 35 out of its 37 years of existence, Crockett said.
Van Valkenburg had organized the foundation in 1977 when he was mayor, and today there are 70 funds that people can contribute to in order to help the community.
Van Valkenburg, a father of four, also was an Eagle Scout who long was active with the Scouts.
He served on the boards of the Edina Art Center, Senior Center and Edina Crime Prevention Fund Board. He belonged to the Edina Rotary and Metro Gyro, and was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis for more than 70 years.
Van Valkenburg graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1952 after serving in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II. He came from four generations of attorneys, and practiced law for more than 50 years. He taught business law at the U for 30 years.
“He was a long-term type of person,” Bach said. “He wasn’t in for the short run, and he wasn’t in for self-glorification, ever, at all. A lot of times, he worked behind the scenes.”
Van Valkenburg could talk with anyone and was well liked, and that helped him accomplish much when he was on the City Council, said Bob Kojetin, vice president of the Edina Historical Society and a retired parks director.
Van Valkenburg was known as a man of few words, and his speeches could be, well, very short. When he did speak, people listened, colleagues said. And he had a great sense of humor.
“He saw the good in all people,” Bach said, “and he saw people willing to volunteer their time to make the city a better place.”
Van Valkenburg was preceded in death by his wife, M. Pat Van Valkenburg. Survivors include his children, James, Jane, John and Paul; brother, Paul; sweetheart, Lorraine Neuger; 12 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.