By David Unmacht
When the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013, long-time League staff member Duke Addicks had a lot of history to share. One of his many contributions was an article he wrote for the centennial publication called “Personal Reflections on Four Executive Directors.” He noted that, of the nine executive directors the League had in its first century, he had known four of them personally. That’s how long he had been around.
Within a few days after I started my job in August of 2015, Duke dropped by my office to say hello and introduce himself to the newest executive director. He didn’t know this, but I remembered him from my city management days back in the 1980s. I was a young city administrator at the time and started to participate in LMC activities.
I vividly remembered his name; after all, how many people named Mentor “Duke” Addicks does one encounter in a lifetime? By all measures, Duke was one of a kind—60 years of work experience; a full 30 with the League. He held several leadership and high-profile positions during his tenure with LMC.
Upon pulling up a chair and sitting down, he handed me a three-and-a-half page memo entitled “Free Advice.” He proceeded to define his motives for our meeting while offering what he termed his “thousand words of unsolicited advice.” That morning, Duke shared his wisdom with a person he didn’t know who was sitting at a new desk with a new responsibility for a 104-year-old organization Duke loved.
Though our exact words will remain private, I will share for the first time Duke’s five main points: 1) Think for yourself; 2) Promote the League; 3) Do it yourself; 4) Be our helper; and 5) Be yourself. Duke’s message to me was reassuring and heartfelt and carries more meaning now since he died last November.
Although my time with Duke was limited, I am indebted to him for his advice to a stranger. Now that I reflect on my conversation with Duke that day, I’m quite confident that part of his motive was to “check me out” to determine if the 10th LMC executive director was up to his standards.
Tom Grundhoefer would casually walk back and forth between our offices countless times each day. He strolled the hallway with a humble self-confidence and conviction like few others. Many times, he would be waylaid in his walk by one of our HR team members or Kellie Sundheim looking for advice or input, or asking a question that only Tom knew how to answer.
It was not unusual for Tom and HR Director Laura Kushner to get into a debate about something—well, mostly nothing (which I know because I could hear the two talk). These two colleagues, friends, and sometime competitors did not like to capitulate in thought or in principle, especially to each other. (See Laura’s tribute to Tom.)
Tom rarely scheduled a meeting with me in advance; rather he simply showed up at my door—mostly with a purpose. Sometimes his purpose was business; sometimes it was to check in on the “new” executive director. Tom knew that our futures were linked—even though he had nearly three decades of League experience, and I had less than two years. Tom needed to get to know this new guy, and he did a great job doing that. In 18 months, we became close confidants and colleagues.
Like Duke, Tom lived, breathed, and loved the League. Both were League lifers. Tom oozed authenticity and genuineness. Nothing about him was fake. His consistency was remarkable, and in my 34 years of professional experience, I can’t recall a more contemplative, thoughtful, reflective advisor. He was so even-keeled; nothing seemed to get him overly excited.
Tom worked for the League for more than 30 years, 20 of those in the position of general counsel. Yet, he wasn’t a lawyer to me. He was my aidede- camp and the person you wanted in your corner and on your team. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that nearly all major decisions or policies addressed by this organization during Tom’s time here reflected his input or ideas. That is Tom Grundhoefer in a nutshell.
Tom died unexpectedly in February. His passing shook our organization to the core. We miss both Duke and Tom dearly and will always be grateful for the time and friendship we shared with two League lifers who left an amazing legacy.
David Unmacht is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 281-1205.
* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.