Wesley Cox was one of Spring Lake Park's founding fathers and helped shepherd the young city for decades.

He was elected one of its first constables in 1954, the year it incorporated as a village. He later served as its first police chief.

When his wife worried about the dangers of police work, Cox took off his badge and focused on volunteer firefighting for 25 years, even serving a stint as Spring Lake Park's fire chief, said his daughter, Nancy Cox of Coon Rapids.

"He thought this was one of the greatest suburbs in the state of Minnesota," she said. "He was around to watch it grow."

Wesley Cox died April 14 in hospice care while struggling to recover from a fall that resulted in a fractured neck. He was 89.

"He was just a person who served. He served his church, his family, his community and his country. He was a really remarkable man, "said the Rev. Elisa Richardson, associate pastor at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Mounds View.

Born in Minneapolis, Cox struggled with illness as a young boy but developed into an athlete during his years at Patrick Henry High School.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 17, just days before graduation; his sister was enlisted to pick up his diploma.

Cox was trained as a top gunner and served on the USS Attu, a carrier in the South Pacific, during the final days of World War II. He returned to Minnesota in 1946 and attended the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill.

That's where he met Becky Brant, whom he married in 1949. The couple moved into a rambler in Spring Lake Park in 1952, and Cox worked as a chemist for Clover Leaf Dairy.

"At that time Spring Lake Park was not a suburb. It was 'holy cow,' out in the country," Nancy Cox said. "My grandfather could never figure out why he wanted to live so far out of the city."

But there were some perks to living there. "I had a Shetland pony as a kid because Daddy liked animals," she said. "We always had a dog or two, chickens and ducks."

Cox was devoted to his civic work, even though it was on a part-time or volunteer basis. He once helped deliver a neighbor's baby at home, and taught first aid for the Red Cross. He even led a babysitting course.

"As a child there were many times I got left at the grocery store while he went to fight a fire," Nancy Cox recalled. "I walked home."

At the fire department Cox rose to become captain, deputy chief and chief for a time. "He talked more about being a fireman than about his real job," wrote friend Margaret Larson of New Brighton. "He loved attending the yearly Christmas fireman dinner and award night."

Cox was serving as civil defense director on May 6, 1965, when the deadliest tornado outbreak in Twin Cities history struck the western and northern metro area. Large parts of Fridley and Spring Lake Park were destroyed.

Nancy Cox recalls her father leaving home after the storm to get recovery efforts underway, including setting up a makeshift morgue and a shelter for those left homeless.

"We didn't see him again until the next day, "she said.

Cox was a longtime member of Abiding Savior, serving as a head usher, instructor and choir member.

"The first thing people would notice about him was he was a Christian," Nancy Cox said. "He also had a sense of humor — one of those subtle ones. When we were at our best, my dad and I could play off each other for hours and keep people laughing the whole time."

After retiring from the creamery and the fire department, Cox traveled extensively with his wife. She preceded him in death. Services have been held.