Former Chamber director dies at 65

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ST. PETER, Minn. — The passing of Lawrence E. “Larry” Haugen, 65, of St. Peter, Minn. is being felt on main streets in South Dakota and Minnesota.

That’s the kind of man he was, friends say: a champion of the downtown heart of the cities he served.

Haugen died Saturday, March 28, at River’s Edge Hospital in St. Peter.

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He was the executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s (Exact dates were unconfirmed).

At the time of his death, he was the president and CEO of the St. Peter Chamber of Commerce.

He also served chambers of commerce at Aberdeen, S.D. and Worthington, Minn.

He served two terms as the president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Executives.

“We had such confidence in Larry,” said Ed Lee, St. Peter Chamber of Commerce board chairman. “We knew events were going to go well as long as he was part of the planning.

“Larry had a way of erasing grudges to keep everyone talking,” Lee said. “He really kept business in St. Peter on the right track, and he always stuck to guiding principles.

“More than anything, he was a good guy to be around,” Lee said. “He had a way of making people feel comfortable.”

Haugen was instrumental in the formation of the original Cedar River Days Fourth of July celebration (now Spamtown Freedom Fest) during his time as Austin’s Chamber director.

He also helped create Christmas in the City as a means of attracting shoppers to Austin’s downtown business district.

Haugen also fostered the Chamber’s still-successful Access Austin scholarship program.

He helped nurture the community betterment organization, Spruce Up Austin, Inc.

Mike Ruzek, one of the SUA, Inc. founding members 20 years ago, remembers Haugen’s influence.

“He contributed greatly,” said Ruzek, “not only to the business community, but to the quality of life in Austin.”

Ruzek, a former Austin Chamber board president, said Haugen’s support of SUA, Inc. was essential in allowing the organization to grow and succeed.

“He gave us a place to meet in the old Chamber offices on Main Street,” Ruzek said. “He helped us network in the community, and he gave us instant credibility as a committee of the Chamber.”

Bonnie Mogen, retired downtown business-owner and former Chamber board member when Haugen was director, remembers the man’s dedication.

“He never missed a Chamber meeting or an Austin City Council meeting,” she said. “He understood how important it was to work together with the city.

“I remmber Larry was a good listener,” she said. “Whenever I had a problem or a concern, I could walk down to his office and talk to him about it. He really believed that the heart of a community was its downtown.”

Todd Prafke, St. Peter city administrator who knew Haugen on many levels, personal and professional, said Tuesday, “We’re all still in shock. It’s still very sad for all of us at St. Peter.”

Prafke, who is a former Blooming Prairie city administrator, said Haugen’s leadership skills and networking abilities shined after St. Peter was struck by a devastating tornado in 1998.

“We worked hand-in-hand,” Prafke said. “The Chamber and the city became one.”

Prafke will deliver a eulogy at the Friday funeral.

At the time of his death, Haugen was celebrating his 35th year doing Chamber work in three states.