Houston County Commissioner Fred Arnold lost his battle with cancer on November 21st surrounded by family and friends.

Music, family, and public service were keynotes of Arnold’s life. According to his obituary, he “was born August 1, 1938 to Fred J. and Margaret (Carr) Arnold in Mason City, Iowa. 

“In 1960 Fred graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a Bachelors’ degree in music education. 

“Fred started his career teaching Band and English at Canton, Minn. and coaching their high school golf team. While at Canton he met a Spring Grove flute player, Barbara Sylling, and they were married September 26, 1964.

“In 1963, Fred started working for the St. Paul Public Schools as band and orchestra instructor. Five years later he moved to the Apple Valley - Rosemount School district teaching Jr. High instrumental music. Wherever he went he made many friends and had great satisfaction in watching students grow musically and as people. While in the Twin Cities, Fred was active in the State Music Educators’ Association. Along with Barbara playing flute, he played trumpet and French horn in several music groups which produced lasting friendships.

“In 1968 he completed a Masters’ degree in music education from University of Minnesota.

Less than a week before taking office as the new county commissioner from district five, Fred Arnold spoke about the promise – and challenges – that the board faced in 2017 and beyond. 

“I’ve always been interested in local government,” he recalled. “When I was growing up, my dad was on the town council, my mother was on the school board...

Fred invested much of himself on the issues and topics relevant to Houston County residents and reviewed numerous piles of data regarding a new county highway shop.

“I know what I would like to do, and I don’t know whether I can make that happen or not. Or whether it’s going to be viable or not...

“I’ve got some concepts, along with a couple of guys that served on those committees, who had some very good ideas. But the architect was never directed by any county official to take those ideas and draw them up to see what they would cost and see how viable they were... I asked the architect. We should probably see whether he could make those ideas meet the various specs for public buildings... 

“The architect was told to look into that single building, somewhere between five and seven million dollars.

A more economical solution is needed, Arnold said. And that may involve looking at some different plans.

“To me, at this point, pretty much everything is on the table. It has gone so long now without any action being taken that I think you’ve just got to put everything back on the table. Except, I don’t think you can put the school site back on the table. The city and the school district has spoken very clearly on that. You’ve got to work with these people. You can’t ignore their wishes. But I’m just one board member. There’s got to be at least two others to agree with that. 

Arnold said that enlarging the footprint at the current highway headquarters site is also controversial, and hasn’t gotten much traction with the Houston County Fair Board. Whether or not some sort of shared structure could help to fill some of the needs of both county and Ag Society remains to be seen.  

“I’ve got as much experience (with this) as anybody else on that board,” he noted. “Justin (Zmyewski) has been at most of the meetings that I was at. The highway department committee met for over two years. It has not met since... We were never told that we were done, but it’s never met (again).

Running for the board

A real “people person” it was those people who inspired Arnold during his 2016 run for the election to his position on the board.

Even at 81, prior to learning of his illness, Arnold spoke of running for a second term.

“(The) privilege of meeting, getting to know some people that otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to know at all. I would never have gotten to know the board members, would never have met sheriff Inglett, or the lead jailer. Or (finance director) Carol Lapham. I would never have gotten to sit down and talk to these people, and that’s a lot of fun.

“If I hadn’t have run for county board, I don’t think that I would have had any chance to meet and talk to Dan Griffin, the way we talked. It was a real pleasure. That campaign was a lot of fun, for me. I’m really poor at walking up to somebody and staring a conversation, but give me something of mutual interest to discuss, and I have a whole lot of fun.

“The hard part will be where I have to listen to both sides of an issue. And there are many issues where there are two or three or four different sides, all of which have valid points. And then you have to figure out what you have to do... Figure out what the best choice or best compromise is for the whole county. And you know that won’t be what any of those factions want you to do. So you wind up voting for something that makes everybody mad, but you think that’s the best direction for the county, as a whole.”

Fred is survived by his wife Barbara Arnold (Sylling); Daughters Marie (David) Blakeman and Elsa (Douglas) Condon; Grandsons Matteo Johnson, Tyler Robinson and Jacob Robinson; Great Grandsons William Johnson and Theo Johnson. 

He is preceded in death by his parents, Fred J. and Margaret (Carr) Arnold; brothers-in-law Gordon Sylling and Warren Sylling. 

Fred’s family wishes to thank their many friends for being so helpful during his illness. St. Croix Hospice staff provided much care and support.  

Visitation is Tuesday November 26th, 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Spring Grove from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. Memorial service will be Wednesday November 27th at 11:00 a.m. with lunch following at Trinity fellowship hall.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Trinity Lutheran Church, your favorite music organization or a charity of your choice.

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