Richard “Dick” Tschida, a Forest Lake local businessman, leader and former local politician, died at age 84 on Friday, Oct. 30.
He was preceded in death by his brother Glen. He is survived by his wife Bonnie; two children from his first marriage (one of whom is adopted); three children from his second marriage to Bonnie; 13 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and two sisters, Judie Mattson and Mary Feldstein.
Tschida was a local leader and influencer, holding positions on the Forest Lake Town Board prior to the merger of the Forest Lake Township and the city of Forest Lake, the city council, and the school board. His family recalled him as a man of conviction, compassion, and of wisdom, who had a need for speed no matter the vehicle and was an avid gun collector.
Tschida was born on April 27, 1936, in St. Paul to Rudolph and Dorothy Tschida and was raised in Little Canada. In 1954, he graduated Cretin High School and later attended St. Thomas College and the University of Minnesota. In 1960, he began work with Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing as a research engineer and moved onto employment with Honeywell as a technical service engineer until 1971, when he purchased a partial ownership of Electric Cord Inc., a manufacturer of custom electrical assemblies. A resident of Forest Lake since 1970, Tschida also owned an Arctic Cat dealership in Forest Lake, as well as a number of commercial real estate properties in Forest Lake, Hugo and White Bear Lake, and was active as a member of the Lakes Area Business Association for 25 years.
John Freed, a longtime friend of Tschida’s, said he first met him when Tschida joined the LABA.
“He had very good business experience and was very valuable to me in helping me guide Forest Engineering,” Freed said of Tschida’s help with Freed’s business, for which Tschida would later sit on the engineering board of directors. That mentorship began a lifelong friendship between Freed, Tschida, and their spouses.
Tschida was also a devout Catholic, having grown up in the faith and maintaining that through adulthood.
“We had to go to Catholic Mass, even when we were at Disney World. As a child, I was like, ‘Really, can we just skip a Sunday?’ But that was an important thing to him,” daughter Kari Shak said. “He took to heart, and put a lot of value on, being Catholic, but as he grew older he was open to having Christian influences.”
An adrenaline junkie who appreciated a fast-moving vehicle, Tschida once received a 1995 world record certificate for snowmobile speed by National Straightline Snowmobile Racing, which he achieved in Garrison for going 112 mph on his 1994 Arctic Cat Thunder Cat. He also owned and raced power boats and muscle cars, which he drove in a number of parades. His 1968 Dodge Dart made the cover of a 2004 Mopar Magazine of the Hot Rod Network.
In 1982, Tschida ran and was elected to the Forest Lake Township Board, capturing 277 votes of the 472 cast. It was a position he’d hold until the annexation of the township by the city in 2001, in which he played a pivotal role as town supervisor, as he sought to make sure the annexation was beneficial and fair to both parties.
“People looked to him to interpret tough issues. People looked to his opinions to decide, is the annexation for the township a good thing or not?” Forest Lake Mayor Mara Bain said about Tschida. “He earned that right with many people, and that speaks to his ability to understand he was a trusted person.”
He also served on the Forest Lake School Board until he was forced to vacate his seat in 1992 due to his dual roles on the school and town boards. That ousting, in a 3-2 vote with Tschida abstaining, caused Tschida to file a lawsuit against the school board of acting improperly and violating his constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law; he claimed he was never given a chance to defend himself with his assertion he was told he could hold both offices at once. Tschida ultimately dropped the lawsuit just one month after his filing, citing financial considerations and plans to run for re-election within the year.
Tschida also served on the Forest Lake City Council following the merger and played a pivotal role in the negotiations surrounding the airport’s development on city-owned land, according to Bain. He asked tough questions that helped clarify and narrow the purpose and consequences of decision, which is something she’ll miss, she said.
“Anything around development of township properties and the history pre-city of Forest Lake certainly had a lot of his fingerprints on it,” Bain said. “So much of local government is decided by the people that show up and (are) involved. Something for all of us to learn is if you care about something, be active and aware and engaged, and I don’t know if anyone has been more engaged than Dick Tschida,” Bain said.
Tschida had strong political opinions and held a strong conviction to hold government accountable, especially in accordance with its spending, according to those who knew him.
“Dick was always looking out for the taxpayer and questioning excessive government spending,” local business owner and former Forest Lake Mayor Stev Stegner said. “He was a business owner and understood the importance or fiscal responsibility.
“We fought over a number of years over a number of political causes,” Freed recalled. “We weren’t always successful in it, but we raised the bar on accountability in council and some of the controversy in town from time to time.”
His time spent in meetings for his political offices wasn’t met with great excitement by Shak as a child, but as an adult, she said says she admires his time commitment.
“He sacrificed his time to do things for our community and our city, and now as an adult I see he was doing good things for our city that made an impact,” Shak said.
Tschida’s time in various political offices also extended to the state level when, in June 1997, he was appointed by Gov. Arne Carlson as a public member of the state’s board of teaching, which was an 11-member board that established rules governing the education, licensing and relicensing of teachers. His term on the state board was extended by Gov. Jesse Ventura in January 2001 through 2005. His political engagement and willingness to discuss opinions was a trademark, according to those who knew him.
“Even the people that opposed him politically, and there was no shortage of those, they had great respect for him,” Freed said.
“While we didn’t always agree on the issues, I always appreciated his engagement and his willingness to have a conversation,” Bain said.
That extended outside of politics and into religion, too.
“He was open to have discussion and learn other people’s views,” Shak said, recalling a recent instance in which he sat down with her husband to discuss the biblical book of Revelation.
More than anything, Shak said, he wanted to share his life experience with others, and she said he did that through teaching others about life, decision making, and bits of wisdom to his children.
“He didn’t tell us what to do, but he’d give us the wisdom and advice to make our decisions,” she said, recalling the pros and cons lists he’d make with them at an early age. That often extended outside of the family into the lives of area immigrants. Shak said he taught them about government, business, and financial decision making. “It was the same thing with us kids, but with others, and he loved people in that way really well.”
“Dick was a great mentor for me,” Freed said. “… He was a pillar of the community and a great leader.”