Year in Review: Local leaders who died in 2021 all had a big heart for the work they did
Jim Vickerman, Mike Harmon and Bob Demuth Sr. were known for the gentlemanly ways.
WORTHINGTON — Worthington, and the region, experienced the loss of several political leaders in 2021, including Worthington City Councilman Mike Harmon , former Worthington Mayor Bob Demuth Sr. and State Senator Jim Vickerman .
Vickerman, a former District 22 Senator from Tracy, died Jan. 19 at age 89. He had served in office for 18 years, and was well respected on both sides of the political aisle as a member of the DFL party.
According to current Dist. 22A Rep. Rod Hamilton, Vickerman was a champion for ag and veterans issues for the district.
“Jim’s nickname was ‘Gentleman Jim,’ and he earned that,” Hamilton said. “That’s obviously what he was.”
Vickerman was raised in a Murray County farm family and got his start as an elected official by serving on a Soil and Water Conservation District board before his eventual election to the Murray County Board of Commissioners.
Vickerman was an important part of the push that allowed Worthington to clean up the former Campbell Soup Co. site, which later resulted in the construction of a new fire hall.
“He really looked out for the people of his district in a bipartisan way,” said former Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh.
Mike Harmon, a Worthington City Councilman since 2014, died suddenly on the morning of March 4, at the age of 79. Harmon was a 40-plus year resident of the community, and was involved on numerous committees and commissions within the city.
“He was probably the most optimistic person we had on council,” said Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle. “He had a heart as big as Worthington. He was always looking at how to better this community.”
Harmon was a vocal advocate for the 10th Avenue bridge near Centennial Park that was completed in 2020. It became an often-uttered joke during meetings that the bridge deserved to be named the “Mike Harmon Memorial Bridge.” Today, a stone and bench rest near the intersection of 10th and Park avenues in memory of Harmon.
“He was kind of quiet, but when he said something you paid attention to it and respected it,” said Councilwoman Amy Ernst. “He was just a very kind and gentle human being. He always had something positive to say every single time you saw the man. He was a big man, but very gentle.”
Bob Demuth Sr. was described as an ambassador, a perfect gentleman, a friend to many and a diplomat following his death on Aug. 7, at the age of 94.
Demuth served as Worthington’s mayor from 1967 to 1971, and again from 1986 to 2003. He also served two years on the Worthington City Council and one four-year term as Nobles County Commissioner from 1973 to 1977.
Credited with fostering the sister city partnership with Crailsheim, Germany, he was so loved and respected there that a street was named in his honor in 2004. Two years prior, he was given the title of Honorary Citizen in Crailsheim.
“In the spirit of Theodora Cashel and Martha McCarthy, (Demuth) was a guarantee for the existence and growth of our connection,” said Dieter Kainzinger, who first met Demuth in the 1980s. “Being open to other cultures and having common values is an important step in peaceful coexistence in this world beyond borders. In terms of the sister cities of Worthington and Crailsheim, Bob left us a precious legacy. I am grateful for his friendship.”
And Carola Schnabl, a 1985 Crailsheim exchange student to Worthington who developed a 35-year friendship with the Demuth family, shared her deepest sympathy. She spoke with Demuth via phone just hours before his death.
“He told me in this phone call how much this city partnership between Worthington and Crailsheim meant for him in his life,” Schnabl shared. “His endeavor was always to bring the people of both cities together.”