Former Columbia Heights mayor remembered

Dale Hadtrath, businessman, community activist and former mayor of Columbia Heights, died April 12 at age 74.

Hadtrath grew up in Southeast Minneapolis; he attended Holmes School and Marshall High School, where he was named to the All City Football team. In 1951, the same year he married his wife, Shirley, Dale was drafted into the Army during the Korean War.

“I was already in Korea,” said his brother, Donald Hadtrath, “and our mother protested to the Army about two of her sons going over there at the same time. He was able to stay in the states, in Louisiana.”

Dale Hadtrath’s first insurance job was working for J.B. Sexton, Inc.; soon he started his own agency and moved to Columbia Heights.

Dale’s life was a mixture of successes and tragedies. He and Shirley had two sons, Michael and Steven. Steven died in 1976, when he choked to death on his mouthpiece during a Columbia Heights High School hockey game. Soon after, the family established the Steve Hadtrath Scholarship Fund. Although it is no longer active, Dale’s sister-in-law, Sylvia Hadtrath, said that it benefited more than 100 students.

“When Dale and Shirley started it, it made national news because the North Stars played a hockey game at the Columbia Arena, to benefit the Steve Hadtrath scholarship fund,” she said.

Dale Hadtrath owned several insurance agencies and was active in the Lions Club and the Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters. He was a founding member of the Columbia Heights Hockey Association. The Boosters awarded Hadtrath the Ron Wojciak Award. (The Boosters present the award annually; it is named for a local baseball player who had been headed toward a professional baseball career when he contracted and died from cancer.)

In 1988, Hadtrath ran a successful campaign for Columbia Heights mayor. Many people had encouraged him to run, Sylvia Hadtrath said, but he hadn’t actually expected to be elected. “We had a party that night when the returns were coming in, and he was winning. It was a surprise.” She said he decided not to run again, however, because the process of city government moved too slowly for him. “He had no patience. He wanted things done. I know he was disappointed in that part of it.”

Columbia Heights Mayor Gary Peterson, who was a city council member when Hadtrath was mayor, said he and Hadtrath were good friends for years. “We met through the hockey association. My wife and I became friends with both he and Shirley. Dale and I [and others] once took a five-day sailing vacation together in St. Thomas.”

Hadtrath had done good things for the city, he added, such as getting pull tabs for the Boosters.

Peterson said he hadn’t been surprised when Hadtrath decided not to run for a second mayoral term. “Being a politician wasn’t really his cup of tea; he had his insurance business and his cabin on Shell Lake in Wisconsin.”

Hadtrath was a very caring, generous person, Peterson added. “He donated his mayor’s salary to the food shelf. He was a big-hearted guy. If you ever went anywhere with him, he was always the one to buy. He was almost generous to a fault. I think he was so successful in his business because people liked him so well. We’re certainly going to miss him."

The Hadtraths enjoyed their cabin on Shell Lake, where they went fishing and boating. Dale loved sports, Donald said. “He and Shirley golfed and loved to travel. Dale used to travel to England for his business; he would get Lloyd’s of London insurance. Part of his business was insuring communities.”

Shirley died in 1998. Michael Hadtrath died in 2001. Their deaths hit Dale Hadtrath very hard, Donald said.

Columbia Heights resident and community activist Jo-Anne Student served as city council secretary during Hadtrath’s term. “He was very giving,” she said. “It was a pleasure serving with him, and he will be missed. He leaves a legacy of good government. His people skills were just excellent. Everyone was important to Dale Hadtrath. He did a good job as a team member.”

She added that she had sympathized with Hadtrath over the death of his sons. “Having lost two children of our own, our daughter and daughter-in-law, I can say that that pain never goes away,” she said.

Student said some people were disappointed that Hadtrath only ran for one term. “Many people who worked for the city and a lot of residents encouraged him to run again. He had made a difference.”

Sylvia Hadtrath said that her brother-in-law will be remembered as a very outgoing person. “He was a salesman,” Sylvia said. “Both Dale and Shirley were so friendly, they just drew you in. They had those types of personalities.”

Donald Hadtrath said Dale was “a good guy, really religious. He always tried to get me to go to church.” He will also be remembered for his generosity. “They called him ‘Deep Pockets.’ He liked to pay and treat everybody.”

In recent years, Donald shared an apartment in Fridley with Dale. The brothers also spent the last three winters in Arizona. They traveled to Las Vegas, San Diego and Mexico early this year, although he said that Dale was not feeling well. “He was diagnosed with cancer at the VA hospital in Arizona.”

Hadtrath is survived by his sister, Mary Lou Langenberger, brothers Donald, Derald and Darwin, and two granddaughters. He is buried at Sunset Cemetery.

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