In the first of Tom Ogdahl’s two distinct, colorful lives, he battled as a core member of a street-fighting gang in south Minneapolis. In the second, he rose to become the city’s deputy mayor, a council member and an insurance executive.
Over the years, he won over people across the city, from police to labor union leaders, and strove to help others in any way he could, friends and family said. Ogdahl died Dec. 13 after struggling with COPD and emphysema. He was 75.
“Tommy was a guy who could put everyone together,” said Denny Schulstad, a former Minneapolis City Council member and a close friend of Ogdahl’s. “He had friends from all political stripes and they all liked him.”
Ogdahl worked for the city in the 1970s, a time of transformation in downtown Minneapolis, including the introduction of the skyway system, Schulstad said. Outside politics, Ogdahl spent most of his career in insurance, culminating in his role as a vice president and labor liaison with Delta Dental.
“His whole motto for his whole life was helping people,” said his son Charlie Ogdahl, of Prior Lake.
Tom Ogdahl was raised in Minneapolis and attended South High School, where he graduated in 1956. It was around that time that he was recruited with other teens by Deuce Casper, leader of a street fighting gang called the Baldies, said Elizabeth Johanneck, author of a book on organized crime in Minneapolis.
The Baldies would go head-to-head with north Minneapolis rival gang Animals and concoct reasons to fight, eventually duking it out. Ogdahl was part of the Baldies’ inner circle, and very close with Casper; he got the nickname “Bomber” because he could knock someone out with just one punch, Johanneck said.
“He was a fighter,” Johanneck said. “He was well-known and he got something out of it, but it wasn’t something that he intended to make a career out of.”
Ogdahl married his wife, Barb, in 1963. He worked for insurance companies, including Health Partners and Washington National.
Ogdahl helped get Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig elected in 1969, Schulstad said. Stenvig, a cop and head of the police department’s union, then appointed Ogdahl to deputy mayor for a few years.
After leaving his city job, Ogdahl was elected in 1975 to a two-year term as a City Council member for Minneapolis’ Eighth Ward. Ogdahl was an independent in the very liberal Eighth Ward, Schulstad said, and lost in a close re-election vote. He went on to work at Delta Dental, and became executive vice president of government and labor programs.
Barb Ogdahl said the Eighth Ward was big, but Ogdahl knew everybody, and was respected on the council. They moved to Burnsville in the 1990s.
“He wasn’t afraid to speak up if things were not quite right,” she said.
Ogdahl loved playing golf, and he was “the dad that everybody liked,” his son Charlie Ogdahl said, adding that his dad would throw Christmas parties and fill the house with gifts for everyone. He had more friends “than anybody we’ve ever known in our entire life,” Charlie Ogdahl said.
Ogdahl also fought for people’s rights through his time in the insurance business, Schulstad said. A trademark Ogdahl hello was a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“He’d literally tell you, ‘I love you,’ and this wasn’t just words,” Schulstad said. “He really did. He really cared about other people.”
Ogdahl is survived by his wife, Barb, sons Charlie and Tate, two sisters, one brother and two grandchildren. Services have been held.