BLUE EARTH - Loren Lein lived in a beautiful, large house across the street from the Faribault County courthouse, and he had a face and voice the community knew well: his twinkling blue eyes, his laughter, his opinions.
Lein was never afraid to voice his opinions, even when he knew no one else in the room would agree with him. But he also spoke up when he felt praise was due. Good deeds and jobs well done did not go unnoticed when Lein was around.
I personally met Lein nearly 10 years ago when I began covering Faribault County commissioners for the Sentinel. I was a bit intimidated by him, especially as a rookie in the field.
But I quickly learned what his sometimes-gruff exterior didn't necessarily reveal when a commissioner meeting was in session: Lein was a stickler for the truth, but he was also kind, encouraging and generous.
Lein died Monday, June 18, 2012, at his home in Blue Earth. He was 80.
In a letter to the editor that ran April 24, 2012, in the Sentinel, Lein wrote of two recent hospitalizations. "Life goes by fast," he wrote, "and it is times when we need help from others that we realize just how supportive it is to live in a wonderful caring community, such as Blue Earth.
"During this time of healing, I have found peace and renewed energy to look for positive ways to reach out to others."
Flipping through past editions of the newspaper, more insights into Lein's character can be gleaned.
In Feb. 6, 2009, there was an article about him receiving the 2008 Community Service Award through the Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce.
"Mr. Lein is a strong defender of the environment and has brought that commitment and dedication into every aspect of his service," said Shelly Greiman, former Chamber director.
Lein's history in public service is difficult to trace back. He served in the U.S. Army, and then moved back to this area, where he worked for MN Valley Breeders Association, living first in Fairmont and then settling in Blue Earth. In 1965, he was elected president of the Blue Earth Jaycees. In 1971, he ran for Blue Earth City Council. He continued serving as an elected official with the city through 1990, as an alderman and then as mayor. In 1991, he ran for county commissioner, a seat he held for 16 years.
Lein's success in life included 59 years of marriage to Florence (Jones) Lein, his 35-year career as a State Farm agent, 30 years as an auctioneer, and owner of Blue River Kennels.
"He was a hard worker," said his daughter, Renae Sheibley.
And if he wanted something, he pursued it tirelessly, whether that meant getting his pilot's license or standing up for an unpopular cause because he felt it was the right thing to do for his constituents.
"He had such resilience and persistency," Renae said.
She recalled one family vacation, when her father was learning how to be an auctioneer. Every pole or post they drove by, he would pretend it was a bid, practicing his auctioneering skills throughout the drive.
Stories from the family, including Lein's two granddaughters, Mackenzie Lein and Lauren Sheibley, painted a picture of a man who loved to play jokes, even in the end.
"He was such a joker," Lauren said. "He had a wonderful sense of humor. And his wink."
"Yes," Mackenzie said, starting to laugh. "He loved to wink. He still did that up until the last day."
The girls told a story about their grandpa laying in bed, motioning for them to throw a grape in his mouth.
"I don't know, Grampa," Lauren said. "I don't think that's a good idea."
But he insisted, so she tossed a grape to him. He missed, but then he put the grape in his mouth and for a moment, seemed to be choking. And then he winked.
In one of the more serious conversations his daughter had with Lein before he died, Renae told him the lessons she had learned from him: to keep a sense of humor and to focus on what's important.
Anyone who knew Lein knew his passion for dogs, hunting and the great outdoors. He was a member of Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, National Turkey Federation, National Rifle Association, Lura Lake Sportsmen Club, Minnesota Cross Bow Association and Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
A few days before his death, Lein spent the morning out on the lake fishing with his son, David.
Lein is survived by his wife, Florence; his children, Renae (James) Sheibley of Stevens Point, Wis., and David (Cindy Jo) Lein of Winnebago; his brother, Vernon (Connie) Lein of Boyd; his sister, Vera Hermanson of Bismarck, N.D.; and his grandchildren, Mackenzie and Nicholas Lein and Lauren and Samuel Sheibley.
Memorial services will be 2 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Blue Earth. Visitation is 4-7 p.m. today at Patton Funeral Home & Cremation Service in Blue Earth, and one hour before funeral services start Saturday at the church.