Alice Rainville

Alice Rainville


Alice Rainville, first woman to head Minneapolis City Council, dies

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • March 5, 2009 - 11:15 PM

When Alice Rainville took over as president of the Minneapolis City Council in 1980, it marked the first time a woman was in charge of the governing body of Minneapolis, and it led to redevelopment efforts that helped revitalize the state's largest city.

Under Rainville's leadership as council president from 1980 through 1989, she persuaded the University of St. Thomas to open a campus downtown. An arena for the Timberwolves was built as was a domed stadium for the Twins and Vikings. She was instrumental in the creation of the Humboldt Greenway in north Minneapolis. But her proudest achievement was the construction and subsequent expansion of the Minneapolis Convention Center, said Rainville's daughter, Barbara Johnson, who followed in her mother's footsteps and is now City Council president.

"She was somebody who moved Minneapolis forward," said former Mayor Al Hofstede. "She took charge, and she contributed a heck of a lot to Minneapolis. She was a great lady."

Rainville, 80, died Thursday at the St. Therese at Oxbow Lake care facility in Brooklyn Park, where she had been sick and suffering from dementia, Johnson said.

Rainville joined the City Council in 1975 when she was appointed to fill a vacancy created by DFLer John Derus' election to the Hennepin County Board. She served on the council until 1997, representing Ward 4, which includes the Shingle Creek, Lind-Bohanon, Victory, Webber-Camden, Cleveland, Folwell and Jordan neighborhoods in north and northwest Minneapolis.

Rainville was born in 1928 in Minneapolis and graduated from St. Anthony High School in the mid-1940s. Soon afterward, she married. When her husband, Richard, a Minneapolis firefighter, died at age 39 in 1969, she was left to raise seven children ranging from kindergarten to college age.

Rainville had grown up in a politically active family, and she worked on various local campaigns.

As chairwoman of Senate District 54, Rainville met former Gov. Wendell Anderson, Johnson said. When Anderson appointed her to serve on the Metropolitan Transit Commission, she was the first woman to serve in that capacity. Rainville also served for a short time on the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

After Rainville was elected to the City Council, she gained the support of her peers and was voted council president in 1980. She held the position for a decade, making her one of the longest-serving presidents in council history.

She also was one of the most respected.

"She was the model of decency, fairness and civility, a terrific leader," said former Council Member Denny Schulstad. "She could get things done working with political parties, labor unions and business leaders. People didn't always agree with her, but everybody respected her."

Schulstad said her leadership was the driving force behind downtown's growth and development. She also accompanied Gov. Rudy Perpich on a trade mission to China, Japan and Korea in an attempt to bring business to Minnesota companies. Rainville established a sister-city relationship with Ibaraki City, Japan, Johnson said.

"On her watch, Minneapolis grew from small time to big time," said Walt Dziedzic, who served with Rainville on the council for more than 20 years. "She set the stage for growth in Minneapolis."

A room at the Minneapolis Convention Center is named after her, as is a street in her north Minneapolis neighborhood.

Although her council job consumed much of her time, Rainville was an avid reader and supporter of the public library system. She also loved cooking and having the family over for a roast pork dinner, Johnson said.

The flag at Minneapolis City Hall will fly at half staff through Wednesday in Rainville's honor.

In addition to daughter Barbara Johnson, of Minneapolis, she is survived by four other daughters, Alice Mary Rainville, of Nowthen, Minn., Elizabeth Menigo, of Hayward, Wis., Therese Van Blarcom, of Rogers, and Dorothy Rice, of Robbinsdale; two sons, Richard and John, of Stone Lake, Wis.; two brothers, Robert Whalen, of Finlayson, Minn., and Jim Whalen, of Plymouth; a sister, Shirley Eno, of Burnsville; 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Ascension, 1723 Bryant Av. N., Minneapolis. Visitation will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the church.

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