Although he hadn’t been mayor of the city since 1981, Jim Van Valkenburg continued to want the best for Edina.
“Jim was the biggest promoter of Edina that you could ever, ever have,” Edina Community Foundation Board President Carolyn Schroeder said. “He loved all things Edina.”
Van Valkenburg died on Saturday, May 25, at his home in Edina. He was 87.
To Schroeder, Van Valkenburg was “Mr. Edina.” Van Valkenburg spent more than five decades volunteering his time for the city. He served as village trustee from 1960 until 1974 and as mayor from 1974 until 1981. He was a charter board member of the Edina Community Foundation, established in 1977, and served on the board until his death. He was a 40-year leader of the Edina Crime Prevention Fund and served on the Edina Art Center Board for 27 years. He was also a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Edina. Van Valkenburg Park in northwest Edina was dedicated in his honor in September 1985.
Van Valkenburg was a great model of how to be an active resident and relevant in the community throughout one’s life, Mayor Jim Hovland said, adding, “For me, he was the model citizen politician.”
“We were blessed to have him as part of our town,” Hovland said.
Edina benefitted from Van Valkenburg’s service to the community, Hovland said, adding, “He loved Edina and the people of Edina loved him back.”
Van Valkenburg was born Nov. 29, 1925, in Minneapolis. He served in U.S. Army during World War II, serving tours in Japan and Europe.
He graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1952 and worked in the private sector as an attorney for 50 years.
Although he grew up in Minneapolis, he moved to Edina when it was still a small city.
“He just fell in love with Edina,” his daughter Jane Van Valkenburg said.
Growing up with a father who was a community leader meant there were little things that made them different, Jane said, joking that a neighbor boy would say their street was plowed first because the mayor lived on it. She also recalled that a police car would pull up to their house every other week to drop off documents for her father.
He had a sense of service and “always had a twinkle in his eye,” Jane Van Valkenburg said, recalling that she and her brothers would tease him as he would go off to his meetings.
He was proud that Edina wasn’t involved in one political party or another, and he worked to make it a nice community for families, Jane Van Valkenburg said.
“He believed Edina was different than politics,” she said.
Hovland added that Van Valkenburg continued to harken back to the early days of Edina despite the city’s growth, always referring to it as “the village” and calling Edina City Council members “aldermen.”
“He had beautiful views of the past and the future,” Hovland said. He embraced the past for the lessons that could be used for creating the future, Hovland said, adding that Van Valkenburg was full of wisdom and was a mentor for him.
“He didn’t fear change,” Hovland said.
Van Valkenburg was always looking for ways to help Edina and to keep engaged. Although he was aging and had hearing loss, his mind was always loyal to him, Hovland said.
In addition to being a prolific note taker, Edina leaders would get notes from him, written on his old manual typewriter that was missing letters, Hovland recalled. He would take city leaders aside and pull out a notecard that had a list of topics he wanted to talk to them about.
He was always thinking about ways to improve the boards on which he served, Hovland said.
Hovland said Van Valkenburg would come to the meetings and offer his opinion, which was always valuable. Jane Van Valkenburg noted that former mayor Fred Richards remembered Van Valkenburg going to meetings even though he couldn’t hear because he had something to say and he would wait for his turn to speak.
“All of us benefitted from that,” Hovland concluded.
Jane Van Valkenburg recalled that her dad wanted to connect people and make a difference.
Promoting philanthropy in Edina, especially to help children, was dear to Van Valkenburg, said Dick Crockett, executive director of the Edina Community Foundation.
He took pride in helping children in the community. On the 30th anniversary of the Edina Community Foundation’s founding in 2007, they established the Van Valkenburg Fund for Children. It was meaningful for Van Valkenburg to have the grants-in-aid for needy children and help children participate in park programs, Crockett said.
“It made him feel real good,” Crockett said.
Schroeder noted that he was also the first mayor to appoint students to the city’s boards and commissions.
After founding the Edina Community Foundation, Van Valkenburg spent 14 years as board president and 14 years as treasurer. He was assistant treasurer at the time of his death and had attended an executive board meeting nine days before he died. He was also representing the foundation during the planning for Edina’s 125th anniversary events.
He would say yes if he was asked to do anything for Edina, Schroeder said. He had agreed to serve another term as assistant treasurer in the board elections that took place the week following his death. When he was asked to serve another term, Schroeder recalled his response was, “Well, if you want me, yes.”
“You could always count on him,” she said.
Everyone enjoyed being around him, especially with his sense of humor, Crockett said. Van Valkenburg also liked to hear about the travels of others and anyone he knew going on a trip was obligated to send him a postcard, Crockett recalled.
Schroeder called him the ultimate family man. He adored his first wife, M. Pat Van Valkenburg, whom predeceased him.
He embraced the family of his sweetheart, Lorraine Neuger. He and Lorraine would eat dinner together every evening.
He loved attending the city’s July 4 parade every year and Schroeder would set out two chairs first thing in the morning near her house off 50th Street so Van Valkenburg could get a spot to view the parade.
She said, “We will miss him and his two chairs at the parade this year.”
In addition to Jane Van Valkenburg, he is survived by his sons, James, John and Paul Van Valkenburg; his brother Paul Van Valkenburg; 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on Saturday, June 1, at Westminster Presbyterian Church and interment took place at Lakewood Cemetery.
Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]