Ken Wolfe was one of St. Louis Park’s most notable mayors, serving from 1958 to 1967. The city’s primary lake and park are named in honor of Wolfe, who worked long and hard to preserve parklands.
Wolfe was born in Minneapolis in 1908. He lived in Wayzata and Robbinsdale before he and his wife Alice (married in 1931) settled in St. Louis Park in 1941. Although he graduated from the law school that would become the William Mitchell School of Law, he never practiced law.
Wolfe first sat on the Village Council in 1954 and was elected mayor in 1960. It was a heady time, when the city was growing almost faster than services could keep up. Wolfe was proud that “we were able to transform this town which had no parks, no sewers or good streets into one of the best communities in the state.”
Wolfe was a strong supporter of regional government, feeling that the individual suburbs couldn’t handle many of the problems they were facing. His work helped set up the Metropolitan Sewer Commission, and launched him into the state legislature, where he served from 1968 to 1972. At one point in 1966, he was considered for candidacy for Governor. The former Johnson’s Lake was renamed for Wolfe, and the City’s premiere park was named for him as well.
In January 1967 he resigned from the mayor’s office to become a State Senator.
Ken Wolfe died on January 11, 1981 at Methodist Hospital.
The following was written by Bob Reiss for the Re-Echo in 2005:
The first Council of the new St Louis Park Charter City consisted of the former elected Village trustees and two additional appointees. This Council governed for all of 1955, but the members were required to run for reelection in 1955 for staggered terms until 1959.
With the new slate in 1956, the complexion of the Council changed. Newcomers Gene Schadow, Robert Erhenberg and Ken Wolfe replaced the traditional old guard. Erhenbeig and Schadow were new to the political arena, but Ken Wolfe had been active in the St Louis Park Community for many years – although not in any elective capacity.
Ken Wolfe moved to the Park in 1941 and with his family and co-owned Associated Lithographers on Lake Street across from me football field. He started his community service as an air raid warden in 1942. He became active in the Better Government League and in the St. Louis Park Rotary Club.
The Council seat that Wolfe won was for a four-year term ending in 1959. At the end of that term, with support from the existing Mayor, Herb Leffler, he ran successfully for the office of Mayor. He served in this position for four two year terms and in 1966 his supporters urged him to run for governor of Minnesota. Instead he ran for State Senator from District 30. He won that seat and tried to serve as State Senator and Mayor, but it was too much. He resigned as Mayor, and represented District 30 from 1967 until 1972.
Throughout his years as Councilman, Mayor and State Senator, Ken Wolfe was an exceptional public servant. He gave more time and energy to the City than his constituents had a right to expect. He was really a full-time Mayor and a part-time businessman.
Forceful and creative, Ken Wolfe seemed always in the center of controversy. In 1958 he tendered his resignation from the Council over annual salaries. He believed strongly that the Councilmen should not have to set their own salaries every year. A letter with 250 signatures urging him not to resign convinced him to continue on the Council.
Ken Wolfe was one of the plaintiffs to petition a panel of judges for reapportionment because he thought the suburbs were underrepresented. He and Mayor Melton Honsey of New Hope paid most of the court costs for this action. He was verbally abused by Minneapolis Mayor Arthur Naftalin in a meeting at Central Junior High School over the issue of transferring Minneapolis General Hospital to a county hospital operation. By a vote of 13 to 0, the Minneapolis City Council publicly censured him in 1962 for his advocacy for a metro sewer district.
During Ken’s tenure there were a great many new needs, and he put his energy into addressing them. He had very strong feelings about the need for a Metropolitan Council and metropolitan services such as transit, airports. and sewers. For St. Louis Park, he established a citywide acquisition and development program for parks and playgrounds. Wolfe Park is a monument to him. He established open council meetings and appointed a library committee. He changed the city elections to November when everyone else voted, and he extended the Mayor’s term of office to four years.
In 1972 the St. Louis Park Sun ran the banner headline: Ken Wolfe: “The Little Giant” Steps Down.