For over 20 years, Cambridge Mayor and Council Member Marlys Palmer gave her heart and soul to the city she so proudly served. For that reason, her heart and soul will forever have a lasting impact.
Palmer, 81, died on Sept. 26. Palmer began her nearly 21 years of public service in January 1998 when she began serving as the first female mayor of Cambridge and served as mayor until December 2018. She was appointed as a Cambridge City Council member in January 2019 and was serving in that role when she died.
“No one can question Marlys’ commitment to the citizens of Cambridge,” wrote Cambridge City Administrator Lynda Woulfe and Cambridge Mayor Jim Godfrey in a press release. “For over 20 years she exemplified public service. Her distinguished voice was always full of pride as she worked to make Cambridge a better place for its citizens. The citizens of Cambridge were always the foremost thought in her mind.
“Marlys was a servant of the people. She strongly encouraged civic engagement and was passionate about citizens’ concerns always striving to find compromise and solutions. Marlys truly modeled kindness and integrity every day. Marlys will be truly missed but she will live on in our hearts and throughout the community as we use our parks, the Cambridge-Isanti Bike Trail, Cambridge Dog Park, Community Garden and other special places she had a hand in,” Woulfe and Godfrey added.
A memorial service for Palmer will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 12 at New Hope Community Church in Cambridge, with visitation one hour prior to the service at the church. The city is asking citizens and businesses to leave their porch light on in honor of Palmer on Monday, Oct. 7.
“She embodied what a public servant should be, always putting Cambridge’s needs before herself. I will miss her wisdom and charming humor,” Godfrey said.
Palmer was known for her knowledge of the history of Cambridge, moving to the city with her husband, Red, and their two daughters in 1962. Red and Marlys purchased Lindberg TV & Appliance in 1970 and ran that business for 45 years until their retirement.
“I was blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Marlys the last three years on city council,” said Council Member Kersten Barfknecht-Conley. “As a new person coming into government, I learned so much from her. She had a heart of gold. She loved Cambridge and always wanted to see the best for this city and our citizens. She will be truly missed.”
Palmer and Council Member Lisa Iverson served on the council together for several years.
“I will be forever grateful to Marlys for working so hard to do the very best for the citizens of the city of Cambridge. She loved this city like most of us love our children,” Iverson said. “I will miss her wisdom and her knowledge of the history of our city. I want to thank her husband and daughters for sharing her with us. Marlys was a pillar in the community, a great leader and a wonderful friend.”
Palmer also had a good working relationship with Isanti County.
“The city of Cambridge has lost its best ambassador and strongest advocate,” Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said.
Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk met Palmer in October 1998 at a pancake breakfast fundraiser when he was hired as an Isanti County deputy sheriff. They worked together in many capacities.
“It was then in 2003 that I started the K-9 Program with Nike. Marlys helped with funding and a bullet resistant vest for Nike. During this time we talked about city council and how much she enjoyed working for the people and serving the citizens of Cambridge. She mentioned I should consider a run for city council. I thought about it for a year or so and when there was an election in the mid 2000s I ran for a spot on council and was elected to a council spot,” Caulk said.
“During my time on council I really enjoyed getting to listen to Marlys about issues and just listen to her perspective. I really appreciated just how open she was to giving advice but yet being a good listener. She taught me many things about public service merely by watching how she put everyone else first. That was a trait I admired about Marlys was her passion for people, the city and service to others. She wanted the best for the city of Cambridge, there is no question about that,” Caulk added.
Caulk realized the commitment Palmer made as mayor.
“I would be remiss if I did not thank Red, Kim and Becky for allowing Marlys to spend so much time away from home at meetings and various functions. I know Marlys gave up family time for the city and I personally know just how import the asset of time is,” Caulk said. “We only get 24 hours in a day no matter who we are; spend them wisely as you never know how many hours you are allotted. So thank you to the Palmer family for giving so many of your allotted hours with Marlys to the city and all Marlys put her hands to. ... After I was off the council and elected to my position as sheriff I still enjoyed working with Marlys as her time yet as mayor while I was sheriff. We were able to work on many things over the years, many projects that have made Cambridge a better place. There is no doubt about it that I am a better person today because of her willingness to mentor and guide me.”
Palmer was instrumental in helping form the Isanti County Safe Cab program, which offers patrons a safe ride home from participating bars.
“Marlys was truly a giant in the career she carved out as Cambridge mayor and council person,” said retired Isanti County Judge James Dehn. “Her enthusiasm for any project she took on was incredible. She worked hand in hand with the Safe Cab program from its inception. I will never forget the call I received, one late afternoon, in my court chambers, inviting me to come right over to her business so she could have me meet former Congressman James Oberstar and share with him our growing Safe Cab program. That meeting led to the congressman sharing our program nationally. She also helped nurture our Sister City program and always engaged in communication with her fellow mayors and city councils of our sister cities. Everything Marlys engaged in she did it with such enthusiasm that one could not help but get caught up with her enthusiasm as well.”
Another project close to Palmer’s heart was the opening of the Cambridge-Isanti Bike-Walk Trail.
“Marlys was a wonderful mayor and a great person to work with in establishing the Cambridge-Isanti Bike-Walk Trail. She also was invaluable in securing the Robert Wood Johnson grant to get the Active Living by Design program for Isanti County,” said Bill Carlson, chair of the Isanti County Parks and Recreation Commission, who also spearheaded the formation of the bike-walk trail. “She promoted principles of community design by advocating sidewalks and trails when streets were redone and where streets were added. I can’t say enough good things about Marlys; she was a great person and a great mayor. She will be greatly missed in the community.”