Bill Hargis, who as mayor of Woodbury presided over the east metro city's era of rapid growth, died April 10 after being diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. He was 68.
The city transformed itself during his tenure from a patchwork of farms into a city of 70,000 residents with one of the largest municipal tax bases in the state.
Hargis, Woodbury's mayor from 1993 to 2010, was known as a consensus builder who listened before speaking. Evidence of his influence can easily be found around the city. He was involved in construction of a new City Hall; the building and expansion of the HealthEast Sports Center; the development of the city-owned Eagle Valley Golf Course; and the development of Central Park, an indoor community center that features an indoor park, amphitheater and indoor playground.
Hargis Parkway winds around the sports center. The Bethel University baseball team, where Hargis was a longtime associate coach, plays its home games at Hargis Park.
"He had a saying, 'Woodbury is what it is because of the people who live and work in it,' " said one of his sons, Mark Hargis. "He'd be the first guy to tell you he doesn't know how to do anything, he just knows the right people that do know how to do things."
Hargis was born in Mason City, Iowa, and grew up in Manly, Iowa. While at the University of Iowa, he married his high school sweetheart, Joan, and graduated with degrees in business and accounting. After graduation, he became a certified public accountant. The couple moved to Minnesota to work for 3M. While there, Hargis earned a law degree from what was then William Mitchell College of Law and then worked for a law firm that would become Briggs and Morgan.
A business opportunity arose in the 1980s and he and several partners invested in Good Neighbor Care Centers, a nursing home business that had 29 locations at its peak. He was appointed to the Woodbury City Council in 1992 and was named mayor the next year after his predecessor, Kenneth Mahle, resigned.
At a time when other communities struggled with the transition from rural to suburban, Hargis' community connections, even temper and facility with numbers are often credited with helping Woodbury navigate its incredible growth. In the 17 years Hargis was mayor, the number of households in the city grew from 9,400 to near 23,000. Hargis was credited with creating a comprehensive planning process to manage growth.
"Bill was an example of a servant-leader in that he really allowed the experts to provide value but in the end could set the vision and summarize the various perspectives of the council members to set direction," said Clint Gridley, Woodbury city administrator. "Despite the fact he was usually the smartest person in the room, he was usually the last one to speak."
The first time Hargis ran for the office in 1994, he collected 80 percent of the vote. He ran unchallenged in 1998 and 2002, and he was re-elected in 2006 with 77 percent of the vote.
"He was all about faith, family and friends, and he considered the city of Woodbury his friend," said Dixie Ewing, a longtime Woodbury community activist and chairwoman of the Woodbury Community Foundation. Hargis was one of the foundation's founders.
Hargis was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and was successfully treated. He announced he had been diagnosed with brain cancer in January. He is preceded in death by his wife, Joan, to whom he had been married for 46 years. He is survived by his father, George; sons Mark and Peter; and eight grandchildren. Services have been held.