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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Saint Paul lawyer and activist Jack Heshler dies at 80

At St. Paul’s City Hall, some saw John Gregory “Jack” Heshler as a notorious legal foil—a ruthless attorney who returned to court year after year to bring similar lawsuits against the city on behalf of churches, nonprofits, and homeowners concerned about their street valuations. Others considered him an important public figure and art connoisseur who brought to many of the causes for which he fought a crusading zeal rather than legal elimination.

John &Quot;Jack&Quot; Portrait Of Heshler
John “Jack” Hoeschler (Courtesy of Linda Hoeschler)

His 11-year legal odyssey against the city’s right-of-way charges will reach the Minnesota Supreme Court, which largely saw his decision in 2016.

Over the past 13 months, Heschler has faced a much bigger challenge in the fight against advanced prostate cancer. He died Wednesday at his St. Paul home surrounded by family. He was 80.

He is survived by his wife Linda Lovas Höschler and a son, daughter and two grandchildren.

“Just a giant, such a giant in so many ways,” said St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince, who called Heshler a friend and mentor. “He was the first chairman of the St. Paul Riverfront Commission, where he worked hard to connect the city to the river. His contribution to art is legendary. He was such a principled fighter for the taxpayer and the general welfare of the city. I will miss him and keep him in my heart.”

Heshler, born in La Crosse, Wisconsin in February 1942, was a celebrated student and rower at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he was named Robert Duffy’s Sports Scientist in 1964. He received a “full ride” Ruth-Tilden Scholarship to study at New York University School of Law and later married a New Yorker who shared his appreciation for society and the arts.

In the mid-1960s, they worked together as VISTA volunteers on Chicago’s South Side, where Heshler sued predatory institutions on behalf of public defenders. He often appeared in areas with active gang activity to find out what was troubling the public.

“I never knew anyone who needed less approval than Jack, or who tried to do the right thing without waiting for guidance or help, sometimes to his own detriment,” his wife said in a remark prepared for his eulogy. “Often Jack went to social gatherings in the infamous high-rise building, returning at midnight or later. I asked him if the inhabitants thanked him for coming, for risking his life, as I saw it. “Linda,” he stated as if it was obvious, “if you never expect gratitude, you will never be disappointed.”

In 1968, the couple moved to St. Paul, where Heshler joined Minnesota’s oldest law firm, Doherty Rumble and Butler, and quickly expanded the firm’s real estate practice. He started his own practice in 1982, often advising immigrants for free or pro bono.

As chairman of St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, he worked to reorient the city towards the Mississippi River and coordinated the legal and financial resources to preserve downtown Rice Park and its surrounding institutions. In 1978, the new Minnesota Science Museum was dubbed by some as “the house that Jack built,” and it was equally associated with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and many other arts and cultural institutions. .

Heschler and his wife created a music commissioning club modeled on an investment club, inviting others to invest in their passion for new music. They also maintained together the elaborate Japanese garden surrounding their St. Paul home. In 1986 and 1987, they traveled around the world with their family on a six-month journey.

HARD GENTLEMEN LAWYER

In the late 1980s, Eric Nilsson found himself on the opposite side of the courtroom from Heschler in a years-long legal battle over a failed commercial development in the Union Depot downtown.

“For the next few years, Jack and I fought every year,” Nilsson recalled on Friday. “It turned out to be one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have ever had as a lawyer. I have learned to appreciate Jack for his incredible intellectual courage and originality. He was a gentleman and had a wonderful sense of humor. We became good friends and it proved to me that someone can be a zealous advocate for their client and remain polite and professional. And you don’t see that often in a lawsuit these days.”

St. Paul real estate investor John Mannillo found himself on the opposite side of the table from Heshler in 1981 when he sold the Pioneer building downtown to First National Bank, which Heshler represented at the time.

“Even though he was on the other side of the issue, I respected him,” Mannillo said Friday. “He was a man of great integrity. He looked out for losers in a number of ways. And he was a fighter. He was tough. You’ve usually seen him stand up to the government – the city – when they’ve treated their constituents unfairly.”

A celebration of life is scheduled for 10 am August 22 at St. Olaf’s Church in Minneapolis, followed by a reception at the Minneapolis Club across the street.

Donations on his behalf will be accepted by the Regional Hospitals Foundation Cancer Research Fellowship Fund, the Georgetown University team, the World Press Institute, local arts organizations “or any cause that ‘pays off’ to help others have a better and more meaningful life.”

World Nation News Desk
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