August 30, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
A cluster of crinkling papers and rulers with their definitive lines. Ink-filled pens and piercing pencils. All were arranged on the kitchen table and used to draft the homes to house residents of Sauk Centre.
While the precise lines built the foundation on which an eventual home erupted from, as the author of those drafts, the late Robert “Bob” Polipnick’s foundation was anchored in the city he called home, and his very life was invested in the residents who comprise the whole.
Indeed, Polipnick was known under many titles: mayor, councilman, board member, business owner and firefighter.
But more so, he was known as husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend.
“From T-ball and everything from way back when, he never missed his grandchildren’s activities,” Mickey Welle said. “That was one reason he said that he resigned as mayor, because he didn’t want to miss any of the grandchildren’s things.”
Welle, daughter of Polipnick and his late wife, Edna, lives in Sauk Centre and is a sibling to Mary Borgmann and Rob Polipnick, of Sauk Centre, and Marcia Riedel, of St. Cloud.
The 89-year-old began his life in Sauk Centre to parents Edward and Amelia and continued to call Sauk Centre home until the day of his passing Aug. 13.
Along the way, Polipnick was driven to better the city for generations to come.
“He just thought Sauk Centre was the greatest place in the world to live,” Borgmann said. “Any time a store opened, he was just as happy as could be. Now, there are young people moving back with their families; that’s exactly what he wanted for Sauk Centre — to see the city grow again.”
Polipnick served as mayor from 1988 to 1994, a role he performed with optimism, according to Borgmann.
“He loved being mayor,” Borgmann said.
Long after Polipnick’s term was complete, his knowledge and enthusiasm were still being put to use.
Brad Kirckof, Sauk Centre mayor from 2006-14, said he gleaned knowledge from Polipnick as a friend first and mentor second.
“What drew me so close to Bob was that he had such a desire for Sauk Centre to continue to be a place where people wanted to live, raise families and be a part of,” Kirckof said. “I always desired to continue to do that and keep that legacy going.”
Kirckof said he often sought Polipnick’s advice during his tenure because he appreciated the example Polipnick laid before him.
“He taught me about being transparent, being open and welcoming and being the best listener you can be without being judgmental,” Kirckof said. “He did that the best I’ve ever seen someone do. I wanted to do things the way Bob did.”
Polipnick possessed an extensive list of involvement in Sauk Centre, including city councilman and member of the planning commission, park board and Riverview Manor board.
During his time as a board member of St. Michael’s Hospital, the nursing home was established.
“He’d get excited about those things,” Borgmann said. “I remember him talking about that stuff at home when we were young. He was the most positive person ever.”
Polipnick was a decision-maker in many of the changes that evolved Sauk Centre. One project involved widening Sinclair Lewis Avenue.
“He had that vision that he knew it was the right thing to do, making it wider and safer for the church and all those along the avenue,” Borgmann said.
Polipnick also devoted time to the chamber of commerce, Sinclair Lewis Foundation and Rotary Club, among others. He was a Boy Scout leader and boys basketball coach at Holy Family School. He was a 20-year member of the fire department and was a founding member of Sauk Centre Dollars for Scholars. He was also an attendee at Mass each morning and a dedicated grandfather who took in countless sporting events.
Throughout all the endeavors Polipnick partook in during many decades of public service, his humble smile carried him forward.
“He loved doing all those things, but he didn’t want the credit for it,” Borgmann said.
Polipnick grew up living above and working at the Main Street Café. Alongside three sisters and four brothers, he witnessed and absorbed his parents’ work ethic who operated the café. Three years after graduating high school, Polipnick applied for a bookkeeping position at Steiner Lumber and was hired.
From his initial position in 1955, Polipnick learned every facet of the business, teaching himself how to draft homes and maintain a thriving business. In 1972, Polipnick purchased the lumber yard. Even after selling the business to his son in 1999, Polipnick continued to devote his time there.
“Up until about three months ago, Dad would go to the lumber yard every day,” Welle said. “Rob would find jobs for him to do, like balancing the checkbooks and, in the end, helping out wherever he could.”
When he was not at the lumber yard, he could often be found earmarking time to be a friend.
David Meyer, of Sauk Centre, said he first met Polipnick in 1958 when the two played baseball together. They went on to serve on the city council and fire department together, and they continued to have coffee and conversation a handful of times every week.
“We did everything together,” Meyer said. “We played softball together. We bowled together. You name it, we did it. He was like a brother to me.”
Meyer remembers Polipnick as being always joyful, with a fervent wish to better the city.
“He promoted everything that was going on in town,” he said. “He was always 100 percent behind it, and he was always friendly to people. … Bob was a good council member. He never talked anybody down. He welcomed people all the time to town.”
Meyer summed up what Polipnick meant to the community in a simple phrase.
“Great man,” he said.