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Friends and family remember a 'classic public servant'

AUSTIN — A former Austin lawmaker known for his environmental advocacy, willingness to work across the aisle and one-of-a-kind wardrobe is being remembered by family and friends.

Photo by Nate Howard Leo Reding, of Austin, has been chosen by the Mower County Soil and Conservation District as the 2012 Wildlife Conservationist of year. Among the many improvements on his land east of Austin, are windbreaks, bird houses and grasses Reding planted on what was once cropland.

AUSTIN — A former Austin lawmaker known for his environmental advocacy, willingness to work across the aisle and one-of-a-kind wardrobe is being remembered by family and friends.

Former DFL Rep. Leo Reding, 91, died Monday following a brief illness. His funeral Mass was planned for this morning at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Austin.

Reding served on the Austin City Council and as the city's mayor before being elected to the Minnesota House in 1974, where he served for 16 years. Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, worked closely with Reding in the late 1980s, serving as the vice chairman of a committee Reding led. He said the Austin Democrat was always smiling and worked well with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

"He treated everyone the same way, with a great deal of respect," Pelowski said. "He was a classic public servant. You never saw him being partisan. I can't recall him ever saying or doing something just because it was going to gain some partisan advantage. That just wasn't in him."

Reding was also well known for something else — his clothes. He wore bright, colorful sportcoats and ties at the Capitol that made him stand out.


"He loved it. He would come into the House chamber and sunglasses weren't enough," Pelowski joked.

Reding's flashy attired earned him a nickname in St. Paul.

"He was known as the technicolor lawmaker," said Al Layman, who worked with Reding as a committee administrator for the Minnesota House.

So legendary were his outfits that when he retired from the Minnesota Legislature in 1994, lawmakers held a" Leo Reding look alike contest" on the House floor, recalled his daughter Laurie Reding. But the truth was it was her mother, Marian Reding, who bought the pink, aqua and yellow sportcoats that became her dad's trademark style.

"It was my mother who dressed him," she said.

She said her father was devoted to her mother and loved his family.

"He was the best family man. He adored my mother. They were married for almost 63 years, and it was a love story for the ages," Reding said. "We were so lucky to have him as a father."

Reding was born June 7, 1926, in Rose Creek. He earned a bachelor's degree at the College of St. Thomas and moved to Austin to teach at St. Augustine High School. He went on to become a meat cutter at Hormel Foods and worked for the Austin-based company for 30 years.


While serving as a lawmaker, Reding developed a reputation as a quick learner who asked lots of questions, Layman said. The Austin Democrat didn't shy away from complicated topics. As chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, he sponsored several bills related to the state's pension system.

But it was Reding's passion for the outdoors that former lawmakers say they remember most about him. He helped establish the 395-acre Ramsey Mill Pond Wild Management Area in Mower County. He also backed legislation to help teach students about water pollution.

"He had a broad, broad understanding of how government works," Layman said. "He knew what it took to compromise and get sound legislation passed."

Former Republican Rep. Virgil Johnson, of Caledonia, said Reding was someone who cared more about people than politics.

"He was a good legislator, did a good job for his district, good job for the state of Minnesota and was a nice person to work with," Johnson said.

Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that Democrats lost "a champion and a friend." He noted Reding's work to pass legislation to protect the environment and retirement programs for first responders. In addition, Reding helped establish the Mower County Young DFL.

"Leo Reding was a passionate public servant who always put his constituents first and did his best to help make Minnesota a better place for all Minnesotans," Martin said.

Since her dad's death, Laurie Reding said people keep telling her how genuinely nice her father was to everyone.


"He was the nicest man — honestly, he was," she said. "I don't think anybody disliked my dad. They may not have agreed with him, but he was just the most kind, caring, sweet man."

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