During his public service career of high-profile jobs in Hennepin County government, Dale Ackmann preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
"He didn't try to take any credit," said former Hennepin County staff member Jerry Weiszhaar. "He was very self-effacing. He thought the commissioners should get the credit [because] they were the elected officials."
Ackmann, who worked for the county for 27 years — the last 15 as Hennepin County administrator — died May 5. The Brooklyn Center resident was 85.
He took over the county's top administrative position in 1977 after six years as deputy administrator to Stanley Cowle, the first person to hold the position.
Former Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Spartz said Ackmann's low-key approach was by design.
"That was a deliberate strategy, as far as I'm concerned," said Spartz. "What stands out for me about Dale's career with the county was his devotion to fiscal responsibility. He wasn't against spending, but he never wanted a situation where there was a budget overrun or a revenue issue."
Ackmann, who retired in 1992, started working for the county in 1965 as a budget examiner after working for the state of Minnesota as an administrative analyst in the tax department.
In 1967, Ackmann became the county's budget director, and in 1971 he became deputy county administrator.
Fred Johnson, who was Hennepin County's director of public affairs during that time, said, "Dale had a demanding job and sometimes could be a little gruff, but he was a good man with a big heart who knew how to get the best out of people. He was truly admired and respected by county staff."
Weiszhaar concurred. "It was an exciting time in Minneapolis and the county," he said. "There were a lot of big projects. Dale had a significant impact, not only on those projects, but on the staff. He was a former Marine and he knew how to delegate. He didn't nitpick and didn't look over your shoulder.
"He let all of us get credit. As a result, he brought out the best in everyone. We knew he had our backs, and we did the best we could for him."
Spartz said Ackmann was a calm, steady influence for the county.
"Every two years, I would ask him and his budget director, 'Given what we know now, what will our budget look like in two years?' " said Spartz. "And he would answer carefully and thoughtfully based on what he knew."
Ackmann was born in 1934 to Ernest and Myrtle Ackmann, the youngest of four sons. He grew up in Bald Eagle village, an unincorporated area near Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear Township in Ramsey County.
After attending White Bear Lake High School, he served in the Marines. Following his military service, he graduated with a degree in business from the University of Minnesota.
After retiring in 1992, he spent time golfing and at his lake home.
Ackmann's daughter Sara Ackmann of Minneapolis followed her father into public service, first for 28 years with Minneapolis Parks and Recreation and since 2014 as Ramsey County's director of operations of ice arenas and golf courses. "I spent a lot of time on those trips up to the lake with my dad seeking advice for my career. We had similar public service paths," she said.
In addition to his daughter Sara, Ackmann is survived by two other daughters, Susan Blattner of Phoenix and Sandra Stearns of New Brighton; a son, Mark Ackmann of Minneapolis, three grandsons and one great-grandson.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date.