At a time when the population of the Twin Cities was spilling into the suburbs, William Schroeder was one of the people making sure local government was ready — and planning for a future with even more expansive growth.

Schroeder, an architect who had designed schools and churches in Wisconsin before relocating to Minnesota, was hired as county architect by Hennepin County in 1972. His task: help oversee the construction of the Hennepin County Government Center, the new skyscraper that would rise up across the street from Minneapolis' City Hall.

Though he'd also later lead the design and construction of libraries and other county service centers in and around Minneapolis, his work on the Government Center construction remained a point of pride for Schroeder, who died Dec. 9 at age 81 at his home in Lake City. But those who knew the low-key architect said you wouldn't know it from any bragging.

Bob Rohlf, former Hennepin County library director, worked with Schroeder in the 1970s on several suburban libraries, including the Southdale Library in Edina. He said Schroeder stood out in a field sometimes known for people with big ambitions and bigger personalities.

"He was very easy to work with — that's what distinguished him so much among architects," Rohlf joked.

Some of the discipline and humility that shaped Schroeder's career was likely inspired by his father, a Wisconsin National Guardsman who became a decorated war hero. When his father was killed during a World War II battle in the Pacific, Schroeder was just 8 years old, but had already been paying close attention.

"His father was an Army man and taught him duty — the whole duty, honor, country business," said his wife, Barbara Schroeder.

Schroeder was proud of being an Eagle Scout, the highest honor available to Boy Scouts — and just as proud that a grandson recently followed in his footsteps.

After his mother remarried, a young Schroeder moved from his hometown of Oconto, Wis., to Menomonie, Wis. The family later relocated to Kansas, where Schroeder graduated from high school and earned an architecture degree from the University of Kansas before beginning his architecture career in La Crosse, Wis.

In his 27-year career with Hennepin County, Schroeder lived in Minnetonka and served as county architect, assistant director of property management and as the environmental health and safety program manager. He set design and construction standards and helped hire architects like Jeffrey Scherer, who worked on county library projects in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Back then, Scherer said, county leaders were just beginning to see the need for expanding their services into the suburbs. But he said Schroeder had a clear vision for the types of facilities a growing and increasingly diverse population would need.

"He understood the big picture: the county was growing, going through a lot of evolution at the time," Scherer said.

At home, even into his retirement, Schroeder enjoyed drawing and sculpting, using found scraps of metal and wood in his artwork. The work was good enough to attract offers from people who wanted to buy it, but Schroeder's wife said her husband shrugged them off.

"He was a man who didn't need a lot of accolades," she said. "He was satisfied with doing good things, the right things."

Schroeder, who had suffered from heart disease, is survived by his wife, daughters Catherine Broberg of St. Louis Park and Linda Weidner of Grafton, Wis., four grandchildren and two sisters.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790