Steve Wolgamot left his mark on Mahtomedi in ways big and small.
He served on the school board and city council. He helped found the Mahtomedi Area Education Foundation. And he was a driving force behind the Lake Links Association, which is working to create a 10-mile walking and biking trail around White Bear Lake.
But Wolgamot also taught dozens of local kids how to water ski, organized his neighborhood’s Fourth of July Olympics and spearheaded the construction of its Memorial Day parade float.
Wolgamot died Thursday at Encore at Mahtomedi, an assisted-living center, from complications due to glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. He was 75.
“His commitment to community service was based on the belief that building a great community means each of us getting involved and working together,” said Megan Malvey, his daughter. “It was always about the people.”
Wolgamot also has held leadership roles with St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, the White Bear Center for the Arts, Mahtomedi Basketball Association and the Mahtomedi education levy campaign.
While serving on the school board from 2000 to 2014, he helped get the new Wildwood Elementary School built and the district’s engineering program established. He also was a longtime coach.
“One recent winter, he bragged about having watched more than 100 Mahtomedi youth basketball games in a single season,” said Malvey, who lives in Birchwood.
Wolgamot “believed in working for the collective good,” said longtime friend Mike Brooks, who worked with Wolgamot on the trail project. “He was all about the idea that every individual can make a difference and, collectively, we can make a huge difference. That’s really what Steve was about.”
Wolgamot helped secure $7.87 million in state funding for the trail system by advocating at all levels of government, including five cities, a township, two counties and two state agencies. He wrote letters, contacted people about donating abandoned railroad land, engaged local lawmakers and wrote legislation, Brooks said.
About 80 percent of the trail is underway; the remaining connections are expected to be made by the end of 2024 or early 2025, Brooks said.
In an interview posted on the Lake Links Association website, Wolgamot talked about the need for a safe trail system.
“For the very young and the very old, the ability to move around without a car … is a really important thing,” he said. “For children, it’s how they establish their independence. For seniors like me, it’s a significant way we preserve and extend our independence. If we as a society don’t make it possible for people to move around, I don’t think we’ve done our job well.”
Wolgamot grew up in Albert Lea and graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1965. When he was 15, his father, Hubert, died of a heart attack. Wolgamot, one of five siblings, got a scholarship to attend the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in Glen Cove, N.Y., where he received a bachelor of science degree in 1969.
“The only major offered at Webb back then was marine engineering and naval architecture — essentially shipbuilding,” Malvey said. “Boats were a huge part of my dad’s life since he was a boy, so that was a perfect fit.”
After graduating, Wolgamot designed icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in Washington, D.C. He married his high-school sweetheart, Karen Johnson; they celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary in June.
In 1972, the couple returned to Minnesota, and Wolgamot enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating in 1975.
He worked seven years as a trial lawyer for the Dorsey Law Firm. He then got back into the boat business, working in acquisitions at Twin City Barge and later as president of Atlantic Tankships. From 1988 to 2000, he worked at Trussbilt Manufacturing, serving as president and co-owner; the company specializes in manufacturing security-wall panels, detention doors and frames, and security ceilings and floors.
The company was sold in 2000, but Wolgamot returned to help out as an engineering director for Larson Engineering from 2004 to 2021, Malvey said.
Given Wolgamot’s career accomplishments and community-service activities, “you might think he wouldn’t have had time for fun, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Malvey said.
He was “the unofficial camp director” of their neighborhood, she said, organizing impromptu games of Sunfish-sailboat tennis-ball tag, epic touch football games and front-yard baseball tournaments. “It was a unique and amazing place for kids and families, in large part, because my dad made it that way,” she said.
In honor of Wolgamot’s contributions, the Mahtomedi City Council in 2021 co-named the city’s segment of the Lake Links Trail “Wolgamot Way.” He was selected last year as the recipient of the J. Stanley and Doris Hill Legacy Award, which honors a local person for their lifetime of service.
“If there was something good going on in Mahtomedi, Steve wasn’t far away,” said Mahtomedi school board member Kevin Donovan, a longtime friend. “He was so civically minded. If he thought that there was some way to improve something — he had such a breadth and depth of knowledge, he would get involved and say, ‘I think I have something to contribute.’”
Wolgamot’s contributions to the Mahtomedi community will live on, Donovan said.
“When you’re searching for the solace in the passing of a really great individual, one finds comfort in knowing that the seeds that he has planted will continue to grow,” Donovan said. “We, as residents of this area, owe him a really big debt of gratitude. When that bike trail is done, we’re going to have a special Steve ride.”
Wolgamot is survived by his wife, Karen; his son, Doug, and daughter Megan Malvey, and four grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 7 at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, with visitation one hour before at church. Honsa Family Funeral Home is handling arrangements.