Former mayor to keep active with library, history other
By Paul Gubrud, Special Correspondent
Thirty-one years ago, in 1988, Wayne Runningen applied for a job at Lake Region Electric Co-op. The position was for the custodian. He paid his dues, worked hard, and before long was promoted to the facilities supervisor. Wayne has held that position ever since.
Wayne saw many changes during his career with LREC. The job was somewhat different back in the days when LREC was in their old facility that we know today as the Pelican Rapids City Hall. His responsibilities were for all of Lake Region’s property other than the substations. Wayne did all the cleaning, lawn mowing, and snow removal. This included the office building, the garages, and the pole yard that is today occupied by the Thompson Memorial Park and the Iglesia Apostolica church. He was also responsible for maintaining the Ottertail satellite facility. Through the years, the amount of full time and seasonal staff that assisted him with his responsibilities changed as well.
When asked what he liked most about his job, Wayne replied, “The favorite aspect of my job was the variety of my work along with the challenges to learn new things. There were not any personal computers to speak of when I started with LREC.”
When Lake Region built their new campus on the south edge of town, his responsibilities changed a great deal, to not only maintain the new buildings and grounds, but he continued to care for the old property on North Broadway for the next 14 years.
He oversaw the remodeling of the old building while it was being converted into rental office space. Since the building was heated with a hot water boiler, and Wayne was already a licensed boiler operator, he continued to operate the building’s infrastructure.
The City of Pelican Rapids saw the opportunity to mo e the city hall, so the city rented the lower story and eventually bought the building.
The new LREC campus is heated with a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system. “Everything at the new building was computerized, so that was a learning curve with my job,” Wayne recalls.
Runningen became native prairie ‘authority’
In the new facilities, Wayne was challenged with a different task, that of managing the restored native prairie surrounding the new campus. He recalls, “I did not know anything about managing and restoring native prairie prior to the planting that we did at LREC. It was my responsibility to manage and maintain the prairie. I learned a lot from Prairie Restoration of Princeton, MN through the years regarding native prairie management.”
For those who are not aware, Lake Region Electric maintains a prairie and woodland nature trail on their property. It is a great place to learn about our native prairie, walk through the woods, and watch the birds. The nature trail is open to the public, and is one of Pelican Rapids’ hidden gems.
Wayne’s community service included dozen years as mayor
Wayne grew up in Pelican Rapids, graduating from high school in 1973. He then spent a year at Moorhead Technical College, learning the culinary arts. After chef school, he spent several years working for a variety of restaurants in Fargo, Detroit Lakes, and Pelican Rapids.
Wayne’s commitment to community service began in 1991 when a coworker at Lake Region asked Wayne to replace him on the city planning commission. Wayne served in that capacity for two years.
When one of the city council members moved out of the city limits, Wayne was asked to fill that position which he did until 1996. When the mayor could not attend council meetings, Wayne led the meetings.
In 1996, the Pelican Rapids mayor Jim McDonald decided not to run for office again. Once again Wayne was asked if he would be willing to serve the community, but this time his name would be on the ballot. He was elected, serving as the Pelican Rapids mayor until 2008.
There were many changes in Pelican Rapids during his tenure as mayor, and Wayne worked on all of them. Pelican Rapids was expanding, and that required the city government to grow as well.
The new Lake Region Electric facilities on the south edge of town required water and sewer. The old water tower was no longer sufficient, so a new water tower had to be built. The sewer plant also needed to be expanded to allow for growth at the turkey plant. The city also began major reconstruction of the streets and built the new fire hall. All of these projects were expensive and required a great deal of work by Wayne and the city council to figure out how to get it done.
The population of Pelican Rapids was growing as well. Concerns about maintaining the community in a safe and healthy lifestyle began to be raised. The old ordinances that had been adopted over the years needed to be codified, and new ordinances needed to be added for the changing times.
When I asked him what he is the proudest of, he replied. “What we were doing as a City Council, was to do what was best for the economic growth of our community and to provide the necessary basic services that were necessary for that growth. Things such as water, sewer, police, parks, and the things that make a community attractive, so people want to come here.”
Historic City Hall, library have been important for Runningen
Wayne also appreciates the community support in preserving the Old Historic City Hall, and the support of the public library. He has served on the library board since 2003 and is currently the library board chairman. He also has been appointed by the library board to be their representative to the Viking Library System and serves as the chairman of that board.
His commitment to the community runs deep, but he has no plans to run for mayor or the city council again. He remains active in civic affairs as a citizen. With retirement, he can spend more time with his other volunteer work at the library, historic City Hall, and Maplewood State Park.
His plans for retirement are to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, and pursue his hobbies of birdwatching, photography, and researching history. He is also planning on developing more local history presentations, as well as documenting the oral history of local residents.
If you meet Wayne somewhere on the street or at the grocery store, congratulate him on his retirement…and buy him a cup of coffee.