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Spotlight on Hank Ludtke

January 15, 2017
Hank Ludtke

Politician. That word has a lot of connotations. However, politician stems from the root world polis, or city, making politicians “people of the city.” Meeting Hank Ludtke—nine-year mayor of Frazee, Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (Central RSDP) board member, volunteer with over half a dozen organizations, neighbor, friend and father—I was reminded of that original meaning. Ludtke is what a politician should be: of the people, by the people and for the people. RSDP is grateful for all the work that Ludtke is doing in his community and for our broader partnership as part of the CRSDP Board of Directors and RSDP Statewide Coordinating Committee and Staff and Executive Committee.

"Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” —Jimmy Carter

Ludtke’s path toward public service started with, of all things, a terrible accident. Ludtke spent most of his younger adult life working in the transportation industry, but a work disaster at age 47 left him severely injured. “I was paralyzed. … The doctors told me to get used to a wheelchair,” Ludtke recalled. “But I didn’t listen too well to them.”

Six months later he had learned—slowly, haltingly, but surely—how to walk again. Not only did Ludtke prove everyone spectacularly wrong about his physical recovery, but he also turned his misfortune into a renaissance. Ludtke got involved in the community he cared about, volunteering for organizations such as Meals on Wheels and learning more about the issues that fellow community members faced. This inspired Ludtke to run for public office. After a couple tough elections, Ludtke became a city council member and then mayor. As seen by his solid 12-plus year stretch of public service since, he didn’t look back.

Ludtke with daughters Sammy and Joselyn.
Hank Ludtke with daughters Sammy and Joselyn.

“Every person has the inalienable right to a decent environment.” —Gaylord Nelson

A safe, clean environment for all has always been a priority for Ludtke. This led him to become not only a member of the CRSDP Board of Directors, but also a member of the Clean Energy Resource Teams’ (CERTs) Central Steering Committee. Ludtke enjoys working with RSDP because it allows him to connect the resources of the University of Minnesota (UMN) with local projects. For instance, Ludtke worked with fellow Central RSDP board members Extension Educator Dr. Diomy Zamora and Happy Dancing Turtle’s Jim Chamberlin to promote research on protecting clean water while also supporting cattle ranchers and soil health across Cass and Crow Wing counties.

Hank Ludtke sand next to motorcycle in street.
Ludtke and his bike in downtown Frazee.

Ludtke recalled how RSDP and CERTs expertise helped bring clean power to the Central Region. For example, Red Lake Falls and Audubon are breaking ground on a 5-megawatt (MW) twin turbine solar system. “If it wasn’t for all these other people, I don’t know how we would do these things. There’s so much knowledge,” Ludtke said.

As a member of the Statewide Coordinating Committee and Staff and Executive Committee, a portion of Ludtke’s work with RSDP connects with the broader state, and he’s found it very valuable for connecting back to local issues. “It’s interesting to see what we can take from region to region, and how regions are working more together than ever on bigger projects,” he said. At the same time, Ludtke said, “everything I do with the U and RSDP relates back to my little town here. To me, the Partnerships have been a major influence on what I do. I can see where we’re heading and the route to get there, and without the Partnerships we wouldn’t have that.”

Hank Ludtke sitting in chair with four dogs around his feet.
Ludtke caring for family pets.

Ludtke’s service to RSDP is equally appreciated. “Hank’s unwavering commitment to building healthy, vibrant communities in Greater Minnesota resonates in everything he does, and his work with the Partnerships is no exception,” said Molly Zins, Central RSDP Executive Director. “He brings this wisdom, vision, and passion to each and every project we support, continually seeking opportunities to broaden the resources, connections, and ultimately the long-term impacts for towns across the Region.”

“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Ludtke is an incredibly busy person. In addition to all his work with RSDP, Ludtke is on two county boards plus a steering committee to help the Minnesota Department of Transportation build trails that expand recreation opportunities. He also works with Becker and Ottertail Counties’ juvenile community service programs, helping troubled youth connect to parks. Similarly, Ludtke volunteers for the Eagle Scouts. Additionally, as a private landowner Ludtke is active in the North Country Trail Association, which is building a 4,600-mile walking trail. Besides trails and parks, Ludtke promotes clean water. Each year Ludtke runs an Ottertail River clean-up with the Department of Natural Resources, and he has represented Minnesota cities with the water-based nonprofit Red River Basin Commission. And that’s on top of Ludtke’s duties as Frazee mayor.

Hank Ludtke standing on sidewalk in front of V.F.W. with three men firing rifles and men holding flags at Veteran's Day celebration.
Mayor Ludtke (4th from left) at a Veteran's Day celebration.

As Frazee mayor, one of the first things Ludtke prioritized was improving transportation and safety for children. Ludtke led efforts for an environmental restoration and school improvement. Community members were able to work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation District to not only improve natural resources (including a beach restoration and erosion control), but build a trail, tables, and picnic areas throughout the town to create a safe route to school for children. The city of Frazee was also able to remove playground equipment in unsafe areas and put in about $300,000 of better equipment—all for $30,000. This incredible deal was possible thanks to the enthusiastic volunteer efforts of Lions Club members, work from prisoner crews, and, of course, tireless organizing efforts from Ludtke. Ultimately, as Ludtke put it, “We [Ludtke, RSDP, and many organizations in Frazee] keep on fightin’ for a better quality of life for everyone.”

Mayor Hank Ludtke riding in convertable in Frazee MN Turkey Day Parade.
Mayor Ludtke in the Frazee Turkey Day Parade.

“Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family.” —Barbara Bush

Hank Ludtke with his future son-in-law
Ludtke with his future son-in-law.

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. As seen in the pictures here, as busy as he is, Ludtke enjoys a variety of outdoor hobbies and, of course, spending time with his children, grandchildren, girlfriend and other family members. Ludtke recently finished some trips to see his brother and cousin, and looks forward to traveling with his girlfriend to Hawaii or Alaska.

Elizabeth Braatz, January 2017

Elizabeth Braatz graduated in spring 2017 from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) with a degree in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management. She worked with RSDP as a Student Writer/Communications Assistant during her junior and senior years.

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