Former Bloomington Mayor Warren “Kurt” Laughinghouse, who signed a contract for the Mall of America to be built, has died.

Laughinghouse led the city in 1988 and 1989 and was elected as the city was negotiating the contract for the mall.

His wife, Ginny Laughinghouse, and son Tim described him as a man with a strong sense of civic responsibility who encouraged others to think critically.

“He felt that we all needed to participate to make the world a better place,” his son said.

Laughinghouse died Dec. 29 from complications related to Alzheimer’s. He was 76.

Before entering city politics, the Elizabeth, N.J., native was a major in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Germany and spent a year in Vietnam. He finished his tour of duty in Minnesota and resigned from the military. He and his wife liked the Twin Cities and settled in Bloomington in 1970, Tim Laughinghouse said.

Laughinghouse had returned to the United States upset with what was happening in Vietnam and began protesting the war, his son said. The DFLer and peace activist later advocated against nuclear proliferation.

One of his first forays into local politics was serving on the Bloomington school board.

He also created his own residential development business, which helped inform his decisions about Mall of America contracts, Tim Laughinghouse said.

In the late 1980s, Kurt Laughinghouse was concerned with concessions being made to the mall developers and feared that the project could saddle Bloomington taxpayers with big debts. Community displeasure over how the mall was being handled helped sweep him into office, forcing out the incumbent Mayor Jim Lindau, according to Star Tribune articles from the time.

“Some people thought he was against the Mall of America, and that wasn’t the case,” Tim Laughinghouse said. “He was a developer, he knew how valuable that land was. He didn’t want to give away the store.”

While he could be serious about his work, her husband was “very loving and joking for family and friends,” Ginny Laughinghouse said.

He liked to tease people, his son said, recalling a common joke his father would make when taking the family’s toy poodle, Peppy, for a walk. The energetic dog would fearlessly run at bigger animals, Tim Laughinghouse said. And with a smile on his face, his father would yell, “ ‘Sic ’em Fang!’ as this little toy poodle was attacking a Doberman,” he said.

Laughinghouse had many family members to joke with. In addition to three biological children, he and Ginny — whom he met on a blind date in New Jersey — were foster parents for 32 years. They housed more than 100 children. For a while, they took in newborns. Then they spent 17 years taking care of medically fragile infants and toddlers, many of whom relied on respirators or feeding tubes, Ginny Laughinghouse said.

“He just loved every one of them so much they could have been ours,” she said. “Even now, when he’s been going through Alzheimer’s, when he saw someone with a baby he couldn’t stay away. He had to see the baby.”

He is survived by his wife; siblings Joan Copio, Gary Laughinghouse, Jane LaTronica and Gregg Laughinghouse; children Amy Roberts, Tim Laughinghouse and Marcy Rede; 11 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and scores of foster children.

And what pushed Kurt and Ginny Laughinghouse to take in so many children over three decades?

“The two of them are so loving, and so untiring, and so caring that they wanted to share it with the kids that will be our future,” Tim Laughinghouse said. “What better legacy than that?”