Gerald L. "Jerry" Willet
Gerald L. "Jerry" Willet
Gerald L. "Jerry" Willet, 82 of Park Rapids, MN, passed away on September 10, 2017 at Frazee Care Center, after a long battle with Multiple Myeloma and Parkinson's Disease.
Gerald Leroy Willet was born October 31, 1934 in Duluth, MN to Earl and Dorothy (Berry) Willet. He graduated from Laporte High School in 1952. After high school Jerry began working as a heavy equipment operator. On May 2, 1955, he married his high school sweetheart, Anita L. Ware of Lake George, MN at St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Itasca State Park. Over the next several years they traveled with his job - first living in Tofte, MN. They then moved to New York where he operated whirleys and large cranes on two major dam construction projects. From there they moved to Oregon where Jerry worked for DeLong Corporation as a crane operator constructing the Astoria-Megler Bridge which spans the Columbia River. In 1964 they moved back to Park Rapids, Minnesota where they joined in a family owned furniture business.
Jerry felt honored to have the opportunity to represent northern Minnesota as a public servant. In 1970 he was elected to the Minnesota State Senate. He was re-elected five times and served as a State Senator until 1987. During his 17 years in the Senate, Jerry was active in issues involving agriculture, resorts, fishing and hunting, parks and recreation areas, education, and Indian affairs. He was an active member of many committees, most notably the Finance Committee (1973-1987), of which he was chair from 1981 to 1986, and the Agriculture and Natural Resources/Environment and Natural Resources Committee (1971-1987), which he chaired during 1977-1980 and in 1987. Other committee assignments include: Elections and Reapportionment, Elections and Ethics, Rules and Administration, Employment, Health and Welfare, and Local Government. Among his most important legislative accomplishments are the Payment in Lieu of Tax bill of 1979, The Acid Rain Deposition Act of 1982, and the Clean Water Partnership Act of 1987. He was also very active in legislation that created The Heartland Trail and established the Good Samaritan Act.
Jerry became known as "The People's Senator." His dedication required the sacrifice of a great deal of time with his family. He valued the intellect, opinion and time of his wife, Anita, very highly. He relied on her for administrative help, consulted her on nearly every decision, and frequently commented that when he was elected the people got "two for the price of one!" Together they took the time to answer each and every phone call and letter personally. They combed through every newspaper in his senate district and beyond - often sending cards and letters to individuals and families to recognize their milestones and accomplishments. He was often approached in public places - even after Sunday Mass - and he always listened and responded with compassion. Jerry truly poured his heart and soul into making a difference in people's lives!
In his role as the Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Jerry worked hard to promote growth and expansion of business and education in Northern Minnesota. He was instrumental in securing funding for many significant projects at Bemidji State University - perhaps the most notable is the appropriation to build the Recreation Center at Bemidji State University. In 1996 Bemidji State University honored him with the Distinguished Minnesotan Award.
In October of 1986, Governor Rudy Perpich made a proclamation of Senator Jerry Willet day in Minnesota. In 1987 Jerry resigned his senate seat to accept an appointment from Governor Perpich as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Jerry was honored to be given the opportunity to continue working to protect Minnesota's natural resources in a more challenging capacity. Among his most noteworthy accomplishments during his tenure as MPCA Commissioner, is establishing and expanding curb-side recycling across the state.
When he retired in 1991, Jerry donated his legislative records to the Minnesota Historical Society which are now archived for public access. http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00226.xml#a9
Shortly after settling in Park Rapids Jerry became a member of the United States Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol. He loved to fly and was able to get home to his family much more quickly flying his Mooney. Jerry was a kind and humble man with high integrity. He enjoyed the simple things in life. His family is what made him the most proud. During his retirement he was able to spend a significant amount of time traveling with his devoted wife, Anita. He enjoyed every moment spent with his children and grandchildren, to whom he was an infinite source of love, support, humor and wise counsel. He taught many valuable life lessons of empathy, social responsibility, keeping an open mind, the dangers of radicalism, thinking and speaking positively, and avoiding use of the word "hate." He will be dearly missed and his memory will always be treasured in our hearts.
Jerry is survived by his wife of 62 years, Anita; two daughters, Nedra Fitzloff-Meyer, of Meadowlands, MN; and Nona (David) Bellware, of Detroit Lakes, MN; two sons; Noel (Shelley) Willet, of Montesano, WA; and Neil (Deborah) Willet, of St. Peter, MN; ten grandchildren, Logan Willet, Lance Willet, Blake Willet, Annika Hughes, Shaylee Hughes, Jennifer Bellware, Samuel Bellware, Emily Bellware, Teresa Meyer-Sweet, and Jean Meyer; and numerous other relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Earl and Dorothy Willet; brother, James Willet; sister, Sandra Willet, and two sons-in-law, Larry Fitzloff and Richard Meyer.
Memorial Mass will be held at 11:00 AM on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Park Rapids, MN. Visitation will be held on Friday, September 22, 2017 from 5 until 8 PM at the Cease Family Funeral Home in Park Rapids, MN. A 7 PM Prayer Service will also be held. Inurnment will be in the church cemetery. Memorials are preferred to a charity of your choice.
Arrangements are being handled by the Cease Family Funeral Home of Park Rapids, MN.