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Woodbury's biggest fan: Lanners dies at 64

Jack Lanners of Woodbury, pictured with wife Norma, died Nov. 9 of brain cancer. Lanners was lauded by friends, colleagues and elected officials as someone who contributed his time and talent to numerous causes in Woodbury. Bulletin file photo

John "Jack" Lanners was Woodbury's secret weapon. The businessman, volunteer and civic leader usually did his best work behind the scenes.

But he was hardly a wallflower. In 2013, the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce selected him Citizen of the Year. He served as the grand marshal in the 2015 Woodbury Days Grand Parade.

And it was his charisma and energy that brought family members together, whether for pickup football or his annual Memorial Day picnic, where he'd take out last year's Christmas tree and used it as kindling for the bonfire.

Lanners, 64, died Nov. 8 of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

"He was a great person. He was a great brother," said his sister, Kathy Carruth. "He loved his family. He was kind of larger than life. There were 10 siblings in the family and everybody kind of gravitated towards Jack."

He was married to his wife Norma Jean for 41 years.

"They were like the best of friends, as corny as that is, it's so true," Carruth said.

Her brother also was a devoted Minnesota Vikings fan, she said.

In 2006, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Lanners chair of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, a post he held for six years. He was credited with helping to negotiate in the commission's interest during Northwest Airlines' bankruptcy proceedings and in championing airline expansion at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. He also chaired the Woodbury Community Foundation, who drove Woodbury THRIVES, the Youth Leadership Development Program and other initiatives.

Chef Fest, the Foundation's Nov. 19 fundraiser, will be dedicated to Lanners, said Dick Hanson, a former 3Mer who served with Lanners on the foundation board.

"You talk about the word 'vitality.' He was just high energy," Hanson said. "He was well-known for his quick wit and his humor. He just was a magnet for good works and good people. They were just drawn to him. His personality just exuded community service and goodwilll."

Lanners understood the foundation's mission was to act as a third party that brought other organizations to the table to solve a problem, Hanson said.

When the Woodbury Heritage Society needed to get traction on their fundraising campaign to save the historic Miller Barn, Lanners helped arrange a breakfast meeting between society members and Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury.

Last week, Fenton joined society members Nov. 8 at a ceremony in which she and fellow legislators gave them a $160,000 grant to restore the barn, which is located near Valley Creek Road and Settlers Ridge Parkway.

Lanners was too ill to attend.

"Woodbury's lost a great son at far too young of an age," Fenton said. "For me personally, Jack will forever be remembered because of the footprint he left and the profound impact he had with all the things he did for this community."

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters, Tracy (Branden) and Sally; grandchildren, Taylor, Charlotte, Thurston, Greta as well as his mother, Lee and nine siblings, Mike (Mary Kay), Aurelia (Peter), Shirley, Cynthia (Gene), Tom (Carol Sue), Carol, Alan (Deb), Bob and Kathy (Paul), and many nieces and nephews.

Lanners was director and executive committee for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the affiliated MLBA Children's Fund. He served on the Board of the Center of the American Experiment, the Friends of the St. Paul Libraries, and the F.T. & L.M. Lanners Foundation.

"He was a very bright man, great sense of humor," said attorney and Woodbury Community Foundation member Jack Clinton. "He was very involved in the community. He wanted to give back and contribute as much as he could. You could not help but like the man. His wife was the same."

After graduating from Marquette University in Wisconsin, Lanners and his brother bought a hardware store in Wisconsin. He was involved in the hardware business for five years until 1980, when he became manager of one of the first MGM liquor stores, on the east side of St. Paul.

He also served on the board of directors of the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce and was president of the Woodbury Lions Club.

Visitation and Mass of Christian Burial was Tuesday, Nov. 14 at St. Ambrose Church.

Memorials preferred to Abbott NW Hospital Foundation - Given's Brain Tumor Center or Our Lady of Peace Hospice.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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