They knew he was coming and they baked a cake.
Steve Schmidgall, Golden Valley’s newest city council member, was sworn during the council’s Jan. 2 meeting. The longtime Golden Valley resident (whose name is pronounced “Schmid-Gall” with the “D” before the “G”) was chosen from five finalists interviewed to succeed former council member Mike Freiberg. Schmidgall’s swearing-in ceremony was followed by a brief reception, during which cake and cookies were served.
Finalist candidates were interviewed Dec. 17. Schmidgall’s phone rang the next day.
“Mayor Harris gave me a call (to tell me I had been chosen),” he said. “I was very pleased, because I knew there were a number of good quality candidates interested in the position.”
The new council member brings with him seven years spent on the city’s Planning Commission and more than 30 years experience in the building and construction industry. Schmidgall’s most recent project was Regions Hospital’s eight-story 115,000-square-foot Mental Health Center building featuring 100 private inpatient rooms. Construction on the $36 million project started in May 2011.
The University of Minnesota graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental design in 1979 and an MBA in business management in 1989. He is currently pursuing a completing a University of Minnesota School of Nursing post-baccalaureate certificate in health care innovation, design and leadership.
Schmidgall’s fingerprints can be seen in buildings around the metro. Projects he has worked on include the Orville Freeman Office Building near the state capital, General Mill’s headquarters in Golden Valley and several YMCAs. He is particularly proud of his work on the Medtronic World Headquarters, calling it a “very large and successful project.”
Schmidgall started on the planning commission when former Golden Valley City Council Member Bob Schaffer was planning to transition from the commission to the council (Editor’s note: Shaffer served eight years before stepping down in 2012).
“He was trying to think of someone who might be interested in taking his place,” Schmidgall said. “I have a lot of experience in the building and construction industry, and it’s a short step from that to urban planning. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about Golden Valley and city government. Up until that point, I’d been primarily involved in District 281, because both of my kids went through that district.”
Schmidgall’s experience with the Robbinsdale Area Schools started when he served as the treasurer of the parent-teacher organization at Neill Elementary School in Crystal. From there, he served on several task forces, including one which pared down a list of $100 million worth of construction and renovation upgrades to present it to voters as a referendum.
Married to his wife Debra Wensman for 31 years, the couple recently saw their eldest daughter get married. Their youngest daughter is a graduate assistant in athletic training at the University of Florida.
When he isn’t working or involved in city functions, Schmidgall says he particularly enjoys shape note singing. Shape note singing uses different shapes at the bases of printed musical notes to simplify the reading of the music. The folk tradition goes back to 1844, when the “Sacred Harp” hymnal was first published. The hymnal, he explained, used shape notes to help musically illiterate people sing better.
“There is quite an active community in the Twin Cities,” he said. I would speculate there are maybe 150 people who do it occasionally. There are six singings per month, and I attend as many as I can. It’s very cathartic to me. We sing very loud. It’s become a kind of worship activity for me, because it is religious hymn music for the most part.”
“It was a very difficult decision,” said Mayor Shep Harris. “It felt like every candidate brought an excellent skill set and would have added value to being on the council. We felt … that Steve could best fill this spot, that his strengths could mesh will with the strengths and weaknesses of other council members. We’re very excited to have him on board. We think he’ll hit the ground running.”