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'No one's done more with Lewis & Clark'

Longtime water system board chair Red Arndt dies at 72

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Lewis & Clark Regional Water System board chairman Red Arndt (left) and Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water board chairman Earl DeWilde pose in front of the meter building and pumping station that connects the water supply to serve LPRW customers in southwest Minnesota. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Water is a precious and crucial resource, and Lennis “Red” Arndt was well aware of that.

Arndt, an original board member of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System when it was incorporated in January 1990, died Thursday morning after fighting pancreatic cancer for more than two years. He was 72.

A longtime resident of Luverne, Arndt began representing Luverne on the Lewis & Clark board while still employed with the city as utility coordinator, Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain explained Friday morning. Though Arndt retired at an early age under the Public Employment Retirement Association “Rule of 85,” Hain added, he remained an integral part of Lewis & Clark and had chaired its board since 2006 after serving as vice chair beginning in 1994.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many trips that I made with him to Washington and certainly couldn’t count the number of trips of St. Paul,” said Hain, recalling a four-year period from 2014 to 2017 when the State of Minnesota was lobbied frequently for funds to complete the project.

“We spent a lot of windshield time together and spent a lot of time sitting in restaurants and bars (on trips),” Hain added. “He told a lot of stories. He was just a fun guy, passionate and professional. He truly believed that Lewis & Clark was a generational legacy project, and knew it was something that would change our region for generations to come.”

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The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System has brought additional water to member communities in southeast South Dakota, southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. After years of construction, the system began delivering water in 2012, and Worthington started receiving water in May 2019. Five member communities — the Iowa cities of Sioux Center, Hull, Sibley and Sheldon, as well as Madison, South Dakota — still await connection.

After federal funding for Lewis & Clark slowed to a slow drip, three different bonding bills were ultimately passed in the Minnesota Legislature that delivered $44.5 million to southwest Minnesota’s connection to Lewis & Clark. Hain, along with Arndt, were heavily involved in that lobbying effort.

“His motto was ‘Get the damn thing built,’” Hain said.

Lewis & Clark, Hain explained, was “born out of common need,” Hain explained, as member communities “weren’t blessed with abundant groundwater resources. It’s a project that 20 members stuck with … and none of them could have accomplished it on their own.”

Arndt, as chairman, was an advocate for the system and each of its member communities, and also thought about meeting future as well as immediate water needs.

“The system was built to be expandable, so talks are already underway about a 15-million-gallon-per-day expansion of the plant,” Hain said. “There are already initial talks about Lewis & Clark 2 — what happens after the 15-million-gallon expansion. That’s the foresight that Red, Don Habicht (former WPU General Manager) and those original founders had.”

Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, who is now in the midst of his second four-year term, also got to know Arndt well through the years.

“No one’s done more with Lewis & Clark for the city of Worthington and the city of Luverne,” Kuhle said Thursday. “He’s been in there since Day 1. He made multiple trips going back to the ‘90s helping the State of Minnesota come up with the funds to jump start the Lewis & Clark connection to Worthington.”

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Alan Oberloh, who was mayor of Worthington for 12 years before being succeeded by Kuhle, also fondly recalled working with Arndt.

“I’d been with Red on numerous trips to the State Capitol, but the highlight of it was when we got the ear of Gov. (Mark) Dayton and put together a quick meeting up to St. Paul in his office,” he remembered. “I think there were probably five to seven people that went up.

“He (Dayton) instantly took a liking to the project. He thought it was being stymied because of the federal government not delivering the funds that were already signed into federal law.”

Dayton, during an April 1, 2013 conference call with Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz, proposed a state funding advance to get Minnesota’s water pipeline built.

“Red was a wealth of knowledge … and a good guy,” Oberloh said.

Troy Larson, Lewis & Clark’s executive director, made comments about Arndt in an email sent Thursday.

“Red has been a driving force in his relentless and tenacious support for bringing critically needed drinking water to the tri-state region,” Larson wrote. “Although his nickname was Red, he bled Lewis & Clark blue. He was a visionary who understood this is a legacy-type project that will have a profound impact on the region for many generations to come.

“For those who spent time with Red these past couple years, the inner peace and courage he displayed throughout his cancer battle was nothing short of remarkable and inspiring,” Larson added. “He never once cried in his beer. Red knew the Good Lord had everything under control.

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“To say that Red cut a wide path would be a vast understatement. He was a force of nature and lived life to the fullest. There will never be another Red. More than a visionary and passionate leader, he was a dear friend and colleague to us all. What a tremendous honor it was to have worked and laughed with him.”

Though in the midst of ongoing unrest in Washington, Klobuchar also took time Thursday to pay her respects to Arndt.

“Red first heard about a proposal to bring water from the Missouri River in South Dakota to surrounding states when he was a public utilities director in Luverne in 1989, and though it was a major undertaking with more doubters than supporters, Red saw the project’s transformative potential,” said Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior U.S. senator. “And he was right. Under his leadership, over $500 million in funding was directed to Lewis & Clark, and over 200 miles of pipeline have been laid that currently deliver much needed water to 15 member communities and rural water projects, reaching over 300,000 people across South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

“I feel fortunate to have worked with him to make this project a reality, but even more fortunate to have called him a friend.”

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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