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Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama dies

His genius was his personality. He was Rochester's 'happy mayor."

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Former Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama waves to the crowd as he serves as grand marshal in the Rochesterfest Grand Parade June 22, 2012, in downtown Rochester.
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Chuck Hazama, one of Rochester's most dynamic mayors who presided over the revitalization of downtown Rochester and was a cheerleader and champion for the city's growth that included a massive flood control project, has died.

A Ranfranz & Vine Funeral Homes spokesperson confirmed that Hazama, 89, died Sunday. He had been living at The Waters on Mayowood in Rochester when he passed away.

Hazama was elected to eight two-year terms as mayor starting in 1979 and ending in 1996. His tenure was marked by a period of economic resurgence in Rochester. He was a tireless cheerleader for the city, appearing at numerous ceremonial events. His skills were on full display when he advocated for the flood-control project after the city was devastated by the flood of 1978.

Hazama also strongly backed bringing the Federal Medical Center to Rochester, a project that stirred strong NIMBY sentiments in Rochester, but is now recognized as an economic boon to the city.

"Chuck was one of the finest persons I'll ever know," said Sen. Dave Senjem, who served as a city council member when Hazama was mayor. "It's hard to compare mayors, but he was a tremendous mayor."

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Longtime Rochester mayor Chuck Hazama with State Sen. Dave Senjem. Contributed / Dave Senjem

Rochester's current mayor, Kim Norton, announced Hazama's death at Monday's Rochester City Council meeting and said the city is working on plans to honor him.

Hazama "was the mayor when I moved to this community," Norton said, noting that he was an active mayor and community ambassador. "He was well-loved."

Beyond the public works and other projects associated with his name, Hazama's genius was his personality. His electric persona drew people to him and that was no small strength for a leader of a growing community.

"He was just vibrant. He just bubbled. He was so exuberant," Senjem said. "He was a happy mayor."

Senjem said Hazama had a magnetic quality at city and state conventions, where people gathered around him to talk or shake his hand. Even at a mayoral level for a city Rochester's size, "he was a celebrity," Senjem said. So popular was Hazama at these party gatherings that Senjem is convinced that if Hazama had run for governor, he could have won.

It was during Hazama's tenure that Money Magazine anointed Rochester as the No. 1 Place to Live in the U.S., a feather in the city's cap that elevated its national profile and triggered a migration to Rochester.

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Born and raised in Maui, Hazama attended Grinnell College in Iowa. After college, he served two years in the Army, attended graduate school in guidance counseling, and worked as a YMCA coach. He enjoyed a stretch of fame as a TV exercise instructor; in a nod to his infectious personality, he was known as the "Jack LaLanne of Iowa." Before becoming mayor, he was the local YMCA executive director.

He was a part-time mayor, but did not feel limited by the job. In one interview, he told a reporter that he arrived at the office when he needed to -- "I don't have hours, as such" -- and took time off when he could -- "I go whenever I feel I want to."

"People will tell you that there's no time clock that Hazama punches," he said.

After leaving office, Hazama shuttled back and forth between Rochester and his home state of Hawaii. Even after holding public office, Hazama maintained a high public profile until he began to suffer from health issues.

Plans for Hazama's funeral will be announced by Ranfranz & Vine.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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