Jan. 1, 2007

Winsted mayor serves city for a quarter of a century

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Elected as mayor of Winsted in the fall of 1974, Don Guggemos was just 40 years old.

After serving as mayor for 13 terms, a total of 26 years out of the last 32, Guggemos probably has the most recognized name and face in town.

At council meetings, he calls residents and business owners by name, knows where their home or business is located, and, in many cases, knows who owned their property before them.

His expertise comes from the fact that he was born and raised in a house that still stands on First Street North. He has lived in Winsted his entire life, except for the three years he served in the Army.

His grandparents lived right across the street from his home. His grandfather, Charlie Roufs, owned Roufs’ Meat Market, currently housing Jimmy’s Pizza.

He had three uncles who lived and worked in Winsted, and were always involved in civic commerce. He considers them a major influence on his attitude toward service to his community.

His uncle, Barney Kappel, worked at the bank “forever, ” uncle Herb Roufs owned the drug store, and uncle Arnold Guggemos ran an insurance and income tax business out of his home. In addition, Arnold was mayor of Winsted from 1938 to 1954.

An experience with the city council in 1965 also had an effect on how he viewed city government and gave him an interest in its proceedings.

Guggemos recalls, at 27 or 28 years old, approaching the city council, “way back when they were tearing up all of the streets to put in a sewer system.”

“I wanted the city council to go to NSP and find out what it would take to bury all of the residential electrical cable underground. I said, ‘Just ask them. Maybe it’s $100, maybe they would sit down and say, “Winsted is just the size to do something like this,” or maybe it would be in their best interest,’” Guggemos said.

“They just about laughed me out of the building and told me they had enough expenses,” Guggemos said.

He had attended some city council meetings before, but this time, as he left, he remembers thinking, “there are opportunities that present themselves and you don’t have to take advantage of them, but you should at least know what you are turning down.”

With those experiences as a background, a willingness to serve, and an interest and knowledge of the town, Guggemos was elected mayor. He served three consecutive terms and accomplished many things in those first six years as mayor.

The first planning and zoning commission was appointed, with sub-committees including lake development, downtown committee, park board, and community services.

An accounting firm was hired to set up books and they started budgeting money, instead of accumulating debt, adding in the interest, and then taxing.

A third police officer was hired, and a new police car was purchased for $5,000.

A water tower was built. “When it was filled, it ended up holding 650,000 gallons and can still service this town for the next 10 or 20 years, or until we are at least double the size that we are now,” Guggemos said.

Guggemos was also pleased in 1979 when he, Jim Albers, and Floyd Sneer worked together to bring the Adult Training Habilitation Center to Winsted.

He ended his third term with the city preparing a city zoning ordinance, the purchase of the Westgate property, and Linden Wood Apartments being built.

After four years off, Guggemos came back to office and began work on the sewer plant project he had been working to fund in 1975.

The city was able to get grants from both the federal and state government for 90 percent of the sewer plant’s expense. Then, splitting up the base usage for the plant gave Mid America Dairymen 75 percent of the remaining bill. Of a $4 million project, the balance of the city’s bill was $100,000, plus $200,000 for piping.

Guggemos said, “That worked out rather well.”

While Guggemos has been mayor, all of the streets, curbing, and sidewalks have been replaced, property like Winsted’s airport and Millerbernd Manufacturing have been annexed to the city, and the list goes on and on.

With all of his years of service and the city’s many successful, completed projects behind him, Guggemos likes where Winsted is right now.

Guggemos said, “We have a water tower and sewer plant that will take us to twice the size we are today. We have some of the best roads of any town in the area.”

“I think that sitting back at this point in time and seeing the city is on the level we are at and ready for what is coming in the future is so exciting to me.”

Guggemos remembers when Winsted had two hardware stores, two clothing stores, a milliner’s shop, and three grocery stores.

He explains that you could have all of those services back then with a population of 500 because people did not drive as much or as far.

When Guggemos was first mayor, there were 1,583 residents in Winsted. Today, the Winsted population is 2,400.

The town’s population growth is important, Guggemos said. Whatever the size is that you need to support the services that the community needs, that is the magic number.

“If you want to keep a hardware store in town, a Dueber’s, have a drug store, and grocery store, you have to get the town to the size needed to be self-sufficient to have the things we need on a daily basis,” Guggemos said.

Guggemos background

Guggemos was the youngest son of Charlie and Ruth Roufs Guggemos. He has three older brothers, Ken (deceased), Art, and Harold.

His dad was a master electrician, who worked for Keating Hardware for 45 years. His mom stayed home until about 1943, when she went to work for Pure Milk part-time and eventually full-time, until she retired in the early ‘60s.

Guggemos met his wife, Helen Sterner, at Holy Trinity School. Although they attended school together, beginning in elementary school, they did not have an official first date until their junior/senior prom, when they were both juniors.

Don and Helen recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They were married while Don was serving his second year in the Army, and moved back to Winsted when his Army duty was completed.

They have six children:

• Debra is married to Dr. Michael White and they live in Slinger, Wis.

• Paul is married to Lori and they live in Northfield.

• Mary is married to Bill Carlson and lives in Hutchinson.

• Chip (Don Jr.) is married to Julie and they live in Winsted.

• Ruth is married to Scott Hallock and they live in Cottage Grove.

• Bill is married to Chris and they live in Chanhassen.

Don and Helen have 18 grandchildren; the oldest is 27 and the youngest is three months.

Guggemos hasn’t made any future plans, but is thinking of possibly taking on a new woodworking project.

Guggemos retired from American Express, where he worked for many years. However, when he was younger, he was employed by Jack Littfin, Sr. as a carpenter. He also worked for his brothers, Art and Harold, who decorated homes, laying floor coverings and wallpapering.

Guggemos would start building a home with Littfin and then would work with his brothers to finish the home, decorating it and laying floor covering.

With skills from the past, he has built beautiful finished furniture that can be seen in his home. He designed and laid a brick walkway that leads to the entrance of his home, and it is amazing to see.

Guggemos admits to being sad about leaving his job as mayor behind, but also feels that the city is headed in the right direction.

“I feel very bad because I would have loved to stay around for the new building, and there is still so many things to do. We are so in the right place at the right time.”

But then he adds, “One person is not a council. The council members that we have are very level-headed. They are doing a great job!”

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