If you've ridden your bike or walked on the paved trails of Rochester, Minnesota, you can thank John Wellner.
As infrastructure manager for the city of Rochester for 18 years, John quietly lent his energy, expertise and eye for detail to the efforts that fueled the expansion of the city's trail system to span more than 85 miles in Minnesota's third largest city.
John's work for the city of Rochester epitomized the definition of public servant.
John, 70, passed away due to complications from cancer Thursday night, Sept. 28, 2017, with family at his side.
For John, life could be summarized by family, friends and fishing with a heavy dose of work mixed into it all. It began in Boscobel, Wisconsin, where he graduated from high school. He went on to the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, where he received his undergraduate degree in engineering. John served his country in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971, specializing in missile repair in Germany. After the service, he returned to his education to earn a master's degree in engineering at South Dakota State University. It was in Brookings where friends introduced him to Kay Crase. They married in 1973 and began their adventure together.
He supported Kay in her lifelong pastimes of sewing and gardening. He was constantly creating new gardening space in their yard and would take Kay to fabric stores to help her pick out quilting fabric.
John worked as consulting engineer at private firms in Fort Dodge and Mason City, Iowa and Albert Lea, Minnesota, leaving behind his mark with roads and other infrastructure projects in communities across southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. No family trip would be considered complete unless there were stops or at least good discussions in the car about the various road and city infrastructure the family would witness out the windshield.
The Wellners have two sons, Adam, 30, and Mark, 27. John shared his interests with each boy that continued through his death.
With Adam, it was especially engineering and the infrastructure that the two could admire, discuss and debate. It wasn't uncommon to see Adam at age 7, tagging along with John to a construction site, listening to his father and studying the work world that he would eventually join as an engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
With Mark, it was football. Mark served as the manager for the Century High School football team from 2004 to 2008, RCTC from 2008-2010 and Minnesota State Mankato from 2011-2013. While Mark was on the sidelines with the team, John would be in the stands. He attended every game to watch his son. When football was not in season from 2014 - 2017 Mark worked with the Rochester Honkers as a cameraman, and John attended every game he could. The two shared a love for the Green Bay Packers.
John also was involved in Cub Scouts during his sons' younger years, serving as a scout master and being the go-to dad whenever a parent was needed for camping trips. With John's guidance they both achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
Fishing was something John shared with his own father, joining another friend and his dad on annual fishing trips to Leech Lake until John's father passed away. Later, he would make an annual trek to Lake Michigan for a salmon fishing tournament. It was one of the few times he would take his vacation time.
Work was something John enjoyed. He joined the city of Rochester in 1999. There, he quietly sought to improve and oversee the city's infrastructure, while encouraging his employees to improve and excel in their work for promotions and better jobs. He would react like a proud father when a one of his employees would achieve certification in a specialized area or move on to another job because of the skills and experience they developed. He was a proud mentor to many.
He dodged the spotlight, preferring to let the work speak for itself. You can see it in tangible things such as the lengthy pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Highway 14 west that connects Rochester trail system. He was also excited to rehabilitee a 1930 bridge and repurpose it for use as a trail bridge in Quarry Hill. It was evident, too, in the less observable work such as serving as the city's bridge safety administrator or monitoring the city's flood control system. He visited a flood control site just a few weeks before he passed away. He also had to be tough and stick with decisions or as his family describes it, "be grumpy and stubborn." Many of Rochester's residents might not realize it, but it was John who would send letters notifying them of the need to replace sidewalk panels and the necessity to pay for it as well.
He is survived by his wife, Kay of 43 years, sons Adam and Mark, both of Rochester, Brothers Edward and Paul, brother in-law Bill and sister in-law Cheryl. He was preceded in death by his mother Frances, father Herman, sister Rosemary and a daughter.
John Wellner, 70, passed away Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Rochester with his family by his side.
Wellner, the infrastructure manager for the city of Rochester for 18 years, died from complications from cancer.
There will be a funeral service Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. at Evangel United Methodist Church. Visitation will be from 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. at Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Homes on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 and one hour prior to the service on Thursday at the church.
To leave a special memory or condolence please visit www.ranfranzandvinefh.com
Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Homes 5421 Royal Place NW Rochester, MN 55901 (507) 289-3600
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