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Kenyon mourns the death of community icon

Longtime mayor, author and cherished Kenyon community member John Cole died Thursday night of a massive heart attack, family members said. He was 81 years old.

Cole served in Kenyon city government for 16 years as both a City Council member and three-time mayor. He also was an officer for the Veteran of Foreign Wars, involved with Goodhue County American Red Cross and served on the Goodhue County Historical Society board.

"Kenyon just won't ever be the same," said Lois Estrem, who knew Cole for more than 40 years and worked with him at the Kenyon Historical Society. "He was just so well-loved and knowledgeable. It was an honor to have worked with him."

Described as an avid history buff, Cole collected postcards from Minnesota towns for nearly 40 years. His collection culminated into "Greetings from Kenyon, Minn. -- A Post Card History of Kenyon," one of Cole's three published books.

"If anyone had a question, we all went to John," Estrem said.

Beyond his passion for history, friends and family said Cole will be remembered for his kindness and cheerful disposition.

"John was probably the fairest man I've ever known," son-in-law Chuck Clarke said. "He took me into the family like one of his own. He was just a joy to be around."

Estrem relayed a story from a few years ago when her daughter and Cole's son were hospitalized at the same time. When her daughter died, Estrem said the family decided to have the funeral at Kenyon's historic Gunderson House. After Cole got word of this, and with his son still in the hospital, he went to make sure the steps and sidewalks of the house were shoveled for the service.

"I'll always remember that," Estrem said.

The Kenyon Leader broke the news of Cole's death Friday morning on its Facebook page. "He has been a friend and mentor to me about everything Kenyon, and I will miss him greatly," posted Editor and Publisher Terri Washburn a little before noon Friday.

Users began posting their condolences within minutes of the announcement.

Cole had a history of heart problems, suffering a heart attack in 1999 the day before he was to accept the Citizen of the Year Award from the Goodhue County Editorial Association.

He was a lifelong Kenyon resident, leaving only to serve in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Calvert. Cole later would go on to publish and compile the Calversion, a biannual newsletter for veterans who served on the ship. He published 66 volumes of the newsletter starting in the 1970s until his death.

Cole's wife, Lila, resides in Kenyon. They have three daughters, Lyn, Wendy and Sherry, and seven grandchildren. Cole was preceded in death by his son, Dean.

Michaelson Funeral Home in Kenyon will be handling arrangements.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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