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Zacher: A man of vision; entrepreneur led south shore development

John Zacher

Longtime developer and entrepreneur John Zacher will be remembered for his efforts to make Bemidji a better place to live, according to former Bemidji mayor Doug Peterson.

The body of Zacher, a 56-year-old businessman from Hackensack, was recovered Friday morning after the helicopter he was piloting crashed Thursday into Ten Mile Lake in Cass County.

His wife, Vicki, 55, managed to swim to shore and was briefly hospitalized for hypothermia.

"He was one of the finest developers I ever worked with," Peterson said, who added he was shocked and saddened when he heard the tragic news.

Funeral services for Zacher will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hope Lutheran Church in Walker. A visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. today at the church and one hour prior to the service.

Zacher is most known in Bemidji for his involvement in the development of Lake Bemidji's south shore.

After founding a development company called ShoreQuest LLC, Zacher purchased 65 acres in 2001 along the southeast shore of Lake Bemidji, which was formerly the Georgia-Pacific plant.

He later acquired a purchase agreement with the Burlington Northern-Sante Fe railroad company for part of the abandoned railroad corridor that ran through the site.

Zacher recognized the public's desire for community consensus and showed willingness to include in his development plans the city had identified for future public use, such as having a walking/biking trail, snowmobile trail and shoreline cleanup efforts to protect the lake.

In his ShoreQuest promotional materials, Zacher proposed development could "reshape the southern entrance to the city and would create an exciting destination stop for travelers and the entire region." In 2006, when support for a Bemidji events center again resurfaced, Zacher collected pledges from Bemidji business owners to offer their financial support for any operating deficit connected with the events center. ShoreQuest pledged $10,000 a year for five years for any operating deficit.

In 2007 the city made an offer to purchase nearly 130 acres of land from Zacher and neighboring landowners in order to locate the events center on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. The deal eventually carried through.

Peterson, who ended his 26-year mayoral stint in 2000, was hired by Zacher to serve as his south shore development project manager. After the property was sold to the city, Peterson said he continued to work with Zacher on other development projects.

"I enjoyed working with him for all those years. He took a great deal of pride in what he did," Peterson said. "He had a heart of gold and would help anybody. He worked hard to develop things in Bemidji. He tried his best to make our community a better place to live."

Peterson said Zacher even encouraged him to take his first helicopter ride in 2003.

"I told him I'd never go up, but he kind of teased me into it and finally I gave in," he said. "It was great, once I got up in the air. He was an excellent pilot."

Last week Zacher asked Peterson to help him to work on another development project.

"We were supposed to meet up sometime this week," he said. "I'm saddened. I'm going to miss the man. He was very helpful to me. He was a good human being and a quality developer."

In 2004 Zacher started Next Innovations, Ltd., a Bemidji-based manufacturer and wholesaler of laser-cut wood products and other novelty items.

With funding from the state's Job Opportunity Building Zones incentive program, a new facility was built in the Walker Industrial Park.

In 2008, Zacher's Walker-based company called Unlimited Peak, and his partner, Arnold Volkner, invested in RealStone, a Bagley-headquartered business that makes siding veneer and flooring tiles out of rock.

Volkner said Zacher's death was "a tragedy for his family and for the business community."

Zacher also played a role in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's recent acquisition of the La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, a 1,000-acre property that includes the entire shoreline of La Salle Lake, eight miles north of Itasca State Park in Hubbard County.

Acquisition of La Salle Lake SRA by the DNR was completed in late October. This property was originally owned by Zacher and his development company partners.

On Thursday the Minnesota DNR's Division of Parks and Trails will hold an open house "John was an amazing man," Volkner said. "He made a lot of contributions to the area. He was my partner and will be greatly missed. He was very modest. Not a lot of people knew who he was, but he did have a lot of impact in this region."