Longtime Lake County Commissioner diesPaul Bergman’s nameplate and empty chair sat unattended at the far right side of the table in the Lake County Board’s chambers as fellow commissioners honored him with a moment of silence at Tuesday’s regular board meeting.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News Chronicle
Paul Bergman’s nameplate and empty chair sat unattended at the far right side of the table in the Lake County Board’s chambers as fellow commissioners honored him with a moment of silence at Tuesday’s regular board meeting.
Bergman, a Lake County commissioner who advocated for technology and transportation projects on the North Shore, died Saturday in hospice care in Duluth. He was 64.
Also the owner of the Vanilla Bean Cafe in Two Harbors, Bergman had suffered from scleroderma, a skin-hardening disease, for several years and required a lung transplant in February. He continued to attend meetings up until a few weeks ago when his condition took a turn for the worse.
“Paul was an advocate for all the residents of Lake County, “ said Rich Sve, chairman of the board. “He always held his constituency in high regard, and this board sustained quite a loss.
Colleagues remembered Bergman, a commissioner since 2007, as a dedicated public servant who was at his best when he was working on solutions to economic issues facing the county.
“He worked hard on all aspects of whatever he was tasked with,” Sve said. “The county lost a great advocate for all of their citizens and constituents.”
As a member of the board, Bergman was perhaps most vocal on the issue of bringing high-speed broadband Internet service to the small and scattered communities of Lake County.
Sometimes ruffling the feathers of cable companies and sparking a debate about the role government should play in expanding Internet service, Bergman was a key player in establishing Lake Connections, a county-owned entity that is nearing completion of its goal to make broadband available to every home and business in the county through new fiber optic lines.
“His biggest strengths were in economic development, the technology realm, “ Sve said. “He made the push behind the broadband project and really made himself the most knowledgeable person on the board related to project. “
Bergman also served as a representative of the St. Louis and Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority and the Northern Lights Express project, an ongoing effort to build a high-speed passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities. Much of his work on those boards focused on establishing a freight route between Two Harbors and Duluth.
Earlier in his political career, Bergman also was a harbor advocate, chairing and serving on various committees dedicated to establishing and upgrading marinas and safe harbors in Two Harbors and Silver Bay.
“His passion for work is something most of us should aspire to, “ Two Harbors Mayor Randy Bolen said. “When Paul was behind something, he was passionate. Even if you didn’t agree, you knew where he stood. “
Bergman had been living with decreased lung capacity caused by his scleroderma for more than six years and could often be seen traveling with an oxygen tank. Lung problems are common with the condition.
He had been getting treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, but he eventually needed a lung transplant. Bergman received a transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Feb. 5, staying there nearly three months while he recovered.
Throughout his medical ordeals, Bergman exchanged e-mails and phone calls with fellow commissioners and community members so he could work from afar.
“The whole town has been very supportive with e-mails and prayers and cards and letters, “ Bergman told the Lake County News-Chronicle upon his return to the board in May.
Before moving into public service, Bergman operated the Vanilla Bean Cafe with his wife, Jan. The couple started the restaurant, a popular tourist eatery along Minnesota Highway 61, in 1998. However, after being elected to the county board and developing health issues, his wife took over most of the day-to-day operations.
“He was very supportive and very appreciative of all the work we’ve done around here, “ said Lynn Forsberg, the eight-year manager of the restaurant. “He was always giving everybody second and even third chances. People who were down and out and needed a job. He was just very supportive.“
Bergman brought his experience as a small business owner to the greater community through his service on the board, Bolen said.
“He was pro-business and always strove for economic development, “ Bolen said. “He believed that to have sustainability you need to have jobs, and he tried to provide that for the community and surrounding community. He had a passion for the job. “
Bergman’s term is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2014. With more than a year left in the term, Sve said the board will review existing laws and statutes before meeting to discuss plans to move forward. A special election will be held, rather than a board appointment, he said.
A visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cavallin Funeral Home in Two Harbors. A celebration of life will be held the following day, with a 10 a.m. visitation followed by an 11 a.m. service.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Scleroderma Foundation or the Two Harbors Area Fund.