George Marks’ interests ranged from steam engines to gliders, from city politics to international travel. The former St. Anthony Village planning commissioner and long-time City Council member died May 7, at age 84.
“George was a good man, wonderful to work with,” said former Hennepin County Commissioner Judy Makowske, who served with Marks on the St. Anthony City Council in the 1980s. “He was absolutely one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet. He had a marvelous outlook on life and people.”
Marks was born in Worcester, Mass. His daughter, Ruth Ann Marks, said her father became interested in telephones, radios and electronics at an early age. “When he was in grade school, he constructed his own telephone system wired to the house next door, so that he and his buddy could have their own private communication system.” He later assembled a transceiver radio kit, learned Morse code, and became a licensed ham radio operator. For a while, he worked as an engineer at a radio station.
Marks earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where he worked in the physics department.
It was there that he met Florence, who worked as the nursing staff supervisor at the university’s heart hospital. When they started dating, George—who loved to walk—didn’t have a car. “On one of our Saturday dates, we walked to St. Paul and back again, which was about seven miles,” Florence said. George was also in a rock climbing group at the university; in their courting days, they rappelled down Coffman Union (“I only rappelled down, I didn’t climb up,” she said) and spent their weekends at Taylor’s Falls—with him climbing the cliffs.
After a “hundred-dollar wedding” on March 18, 1961, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon tent camping in the Black Hills in a campground that was closed for the season. (George moved a sawhorse blocking the road so that they could get in.) “We thought that the sleeping bags we brought zipped together,” Florence said, “but they didn’t.”
George started working at Sperry Univac in Roseville, and the couple moved to Southeast Minneapolis. They had three children, Mary Ellen, Ruth Ann, and Charles. George became active in the Southeast Como Neighborhood Improvement Association and was elected president. In 1971, the Marks family moved to a house in St. Anthony Village. In 1974, George became a member of the city’s Planning Commission.
In 1979, he was elected to the St. Anthony City Council.
Marks served on the council for 20 years. Those years included the 1984 tornado that hit St. Anthony and the city’s consequent rebuilding effort, the construction of the Kenzington building (St. Anthony’s first senior housing), and the city’s contaminated water lawsuit. (St. Anthony successfully sued the U.S. Army, Honeywell, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Cartridge Corporation, after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency determined that the Twin City Army Ammunition Plant was the source of contamination found in New Brighton and St. Anthony wells.)
Other jobs, interests, hobbies
After Sperry, Marks worked at BORN Information Services, Inc., and then Metro State University.
In the community, he was a charter member of the St. Anthony Civic Orchestra, where he played the violin. He also co-founded the St. Anthony Village Sister City Association. School board member Barry Kinsey, also a Sister City Association member, said, “It was George’s vision for St. Anthony that we have a Sister City. When Salo, Finland, was chosen, he took leadership to make sure the association succeeded.”
Florence said after they retired, they started traveling. They visited Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Egypt, Lebanon, Finland and Sweden.
The entire family also enjoyed spending time at their northern Minnesota cabin, which George and Charles built together.
And, George liked to fly. Florence said that in the early 1960s, George acquired an experimental glider from the University of Minnesota. He and his friends started a glider club, Northwest Soaring Association, and later joined Red Wing Soaring Association. (The Star Tribune featured Marks and his son Charles in a September, 1972 feature story about the Red Wing Soaring Association.)
St. Anthony resident Bill Sauer said that in 1976, when his daughter Jeanne graduated from high school, he asked George to take her flying. “They went up and came down about 20 minutes later, which I thought was kind of short,” Sauer said. “It turned out that they were switching places. George let Jeanne fly for the next two hours. They came back, both beaming. I think that’s part of the reason that Jeanne later went into air traffic control and also took flying lessons. It was so nice of George to give her that experience.”
George’s other passion was steam engines. In 2009, he told Wilshire Park elementary students in the Elder’s Wisdom program that he had lived near railroad tracks when he was young, and watched the trains carry iron ore to the steel mills. Once a steam locomotive stopped and gave him and his father a ride.
“It was a hot and noisy ride, but I never forgot it,” he said. Apparently, that was true: as a hobby, he restored steam engines at the Minnesota Transportation Museum and Don Lind’s Train Museum. Ruth Ann said he brought home a two-foot gauge steam engine and stored it in their garage. (It is still there.)
George and Florence celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary on March 18.
Mary Ellen Marks said that her father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his last years. George was moved to a nursing home and then placed on hospice care in April after he contracted pneumonia. He died at home on May 7.
Below: George Marks portrait and Florence and George Marks, 2001, in front of the Parthenon, Athens, Greece. (Provided photos)