The work of and friendship of International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson, who died unexpectedly Friday, touched people far and wide, say many.
His love of International Falls, and his tireless work for the local airport and area transportation was recalled by many who knew him .
Anderson served 14 years as an International Falls city councilor, representing the East Ward, prior to being mayor from 1982-1986. He was elected mayor in 2012 and has served in the position since.
Anderson has lived his entire life in International Falls. His wife Carol and he have three children and five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
The family has owned several hundred acres in northern Minnesota for 60 years, growing trees for harvesting and developing habitat for wildlife. He worked 51 years for the paper mill in International Falls, 25 of those years as public affairs manager for Boise Cascade Corp. and was active in the Minnesota Forest Industries and Wood Fiber Council organizations. He was a member of the Minnesota Forestry Association.
He has also served in state leadership positions as the president of the League of Minnesota Cities and chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He has chaired the International Falls-Koochiching County Airport Commission for more than 30 years and has served on many regional and statewide committees and commissions for air service and highway transportation.
Anderson was current chairman of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, with his four-year term ending in January 2021.
Former Sen. Bob Lessard said Monday he just couldn’t “wrap his arms around” Anderson’s death and said he has never met, and likely won’t again, someone who is more “on top of the issues.”
“I am just stunned,” Lessard said from his fishing camp in Ontario. “We’ve been working on issues together long, long before the Lessard-Sams council.”
But even more important than working on state and local issues, was the friendship they shared for many years, Lessard said.
“I’ve been around the block, I know a lot of people, but I’ve never met anybody like Bob Anderson,” he said, adding the two men talked about every other day about something.
“Not only International Falls, but this state has a great loss with Bob Anderson,” he said. “He had a way about him of never losing his cool. He was so analytic about everything. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him over the years and a friendship.”
Lessard, his voice breaking with emotion, called Anderson a “one of a kind.”
“The (Lessard-Sams) council is going to lose... He presided over a budget of $100 million this year. We lost a great chairman. I just can’t believe it. I just stayed at their house a couple weeks ago. I am just stunned.”
As International Falls administrator, Ken Anderson worked closely with the mayor.
“I have said and will continue to say that he has been a towering public figure in our community,” the city administrator said. “I know of no one who has been more dedicated or committed to bettering the lives of the community and its citizens than Mayor Anderson. There has been no task, problem, or citizen request too big for him to tackle and resolve.”
The administrator said Anderson took seriously every concern and problem brought to him, regardless of their size or whether they affected one citizen or the entire community.
“He truly loved International Falls and each and every one of its citizens,” he continued. “He tirelessly dedicated his life to public service, but has done so for decades while serving in the increasingly hot limelight and public scrutiny of elected office. He did a masterful job of running a public meeting. He was goal-driven and strived to improve all facets of our public infrastructure since most recently being elected.”
The city administrator said the mayor wanted to see completion of the Falls International Airport runway and U.S. Highway 53 reconstruction projects, both key to the community’s economic vitality.
“As you know, he has served in influential positions beyond the borders of International Falls,” Ken Anderson said, pointing to the mayor’s many leadership positions. “He loved and remained committed to our ‘sister city relationship with the town of Fort Frances, Ontario... He has served with dignity and earned the respect of many. He rolls up his sleeves and just plain works. He leaves a legacy of community service, love of family, 51 years of service to the local Boise paper mill — now Packaging Corporation of America, and heartfelt fondness of the Icebox of the Nation – International Falls. We will all miss his leadership and constant presence in the Municipal Building.”
Ken Anderson said he believed the council and city staff will “miss most the positive spirit he brought to meet the many challenges we face; that is, challenges better seen as opportunities to make our lives better. I will miss his friendship. Our community will miss his service.”
State and federal leaders also recalled Mayor Anderson’s work for the community and state.
“Bob will be sadly missed,” Sen. Tom Bakk said. “He had such a heartfelt sense of community. He was a strong advocate for the entire Arrowhead Region. The International Falls airport would not be the fine facility it is today without his determination.”
“His tireless work to improve Highway 53, we are seeing play out today with the new passing lanes under construction,” he said. “The residents of International Falls will see accelerated street improvements because of his advocacy in St. Paul during the most recent legislative session. Both Republicans and Democrats appreciated his thoughtful work as chair of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.”
“My deepest sympathy to Carol and his family, and it is my hope they can find peace in knowing he will be so deeply missed by many and always admired and cherished for all his work.”
Rep. Rob Ecklund also pointed to Anderson’s influence in the community, and state, noting as chair of the LSOHC was able to advocate for many projects beneficial to outdoors activities.
“Bob was always an enthusiastic supporter of our community,” Ecklund said. “He seemed to always find a way to put a positive light on any situation that arose.
“It is hard to find something that he did not have an influence on in northern Minnesota, from the forest product industry, to roads, airports, and transportation projects,” Ecklund continued. “I will miss his advice and counsel, but I know that all we need to do is look around a bit and we will see the mark he left on our community. I want to extend my condolences to his family during this trying time.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also pointed to Anderson’s work for the city, advocacy for the state, and friendships.
“He truly left his mark on his beloved hometown from his seats on the city council, the (Minnesota) Chamber of Commerce, and as its devoted mayor,” she said. “Bob was also dedicated to improving communities across Minnesota through decades of public service on numerous statewide committees and advocacy organizations.”
“I am thankful to have been able to call Bob a friend,” she continued. “We worked together often, and I will always remember him as a tireless champion for small towns and the outdoors. My thoughts are with his wife Carol, family, friends, and the people of International Falls during this time of loss.”
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith also shared her thoughts about Anderson.
“Mayor Anderson was passionate about his community and his love was reflected in his years of dedication to the airport, hospital, Highway 53 Task Force, the county, anything and everything connected to his beloved International Falls,” she said, adding she was saddened by his death. “I’m grateful I saw him just this August. He was a friend and I will miss seeing him when I visit the Borderland.”