No one would have blamed Frank Liebl had he been an embittered man.
After Nazi Germany annexed his home region of Bohemia in 1938, World War II came and went, the Iron Curtain fell, and Liebl and other Sudeten Germans in the East were forced out of their homes. At just 20 years old, Liebl — along with his sister and parents — made the journey to the United States in 1954.
Liebl chose to make the most of his new life. He got married, started a family and became a union leader, City Council member and mayor in Fridley. His son said he was a presence when he entered a room — a big, burly man with a larger-than-life personality, booming laugh and a loud singing voice he showed off at church.
Liebl, 83, died of Alzheimer’s disease on June 11 in New Hope, where he had been living at the St. Therese retirement home, said his son Jeff, of Plymouth.
“He instilled a lot of passion in his kids to achieve and to accomplish things because he had to overcome so much in his own life,” his son said. “Work hard and don’t make excuses when bad things happen to you.”
Jeff Liebl said his father managed to steer clear of the Hitler Youth movement as a child because of his involvement in his local Catholic church, where he was an altar boy. The priests and nuns called him “Little Luther” because he reminded them of Martin Luther with his constant questions.
After settling in Fridley, Liebl worked in various positions with Northern States Power Co., now Xcel Energy. He helped negotiate labor contracts as vice president of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers before retiring in 1989.
He also was a co-chairman of the United Way drive, a lector at The Church of St. William in Fridley, and a member of a father-son bowling league in which he played with Jeff.
Liebl was a Fridley City Council member from 1967 to 1971, and served a term as mayor from 1972 to 1974. Jeff Liebl said his father, in looking back at his civic career, was especially proud of the opening of Islands of Peace Regional Park in 1973, one of the first handicapped-accessible parks in the state; maintaining Medtronic’s operational headquarters in Fridley, which exist there to this day; and bringing a cable TV franchise to the city.
A few years after he had served as mayor, Liebl challenged Mayor Bill Nee in an election when the incumbent went unchallenged and “150 or 200 people called up and asked me why I wasn’t running,” he told the Minneapolis Star. He said he ran “to give the people a choice. It bothers me that in a city of more than 30,000 people, nobody files for election.”
Over the years, Liebl ran as a Democrat, a Republican and an independent, but endorsed Republican U.S. Rep. Al Quie for governor in 1978.
Jeff Liebl said his father tried to be a “mayor for all the people.”
“He was always a very independent thinker,” he said. “[He’d say] you have to vote based on your conscience and the character of the person and not just by party. And I wish we had more of that these days.”
Besides his son Jeff, Liebl is survived by three daughters, Judy Goehring and Mary Liebl, both of the Phoenix area, and Lori Rodriguez, of Corona, Calif.; son Dan, of Woodbury; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His son John died last year.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, 7180 Hemlock Lane N., Maple Grove, with visitation at 10 a.m.