Ray Tucker left his mark in 16 years on the county board

Published 10:35 am Friday, December 14, 2012

Mower County Commissioner Ray Tucker has been a fixture for years in the county board room, but he will be giving up the seat after being defeated in November's election.

In the 16 years he served as a Mower County commissioner, Ray Tucker has seen hundreds of wind towers erected, many roads and bridges replaced, a jail built and countless other projects.

But after narrowly losing his District 2 seat in the November election to Polly Glynn, Tucker is nearing his final meeting as commissioner on Dec. 27.

Despite having his hands in multiple areas, Tucker, 61, said he’ll be remembered for his role in helping Mower County become a leading county for renewable energy.

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“My legacy will be more the advancement of the wind industry and electricity,” Tucker said.

Tucker admits he’s proud to drive through the Dexter, Grand Meadow and LeRoy areas, especially because of the jobs and revenue associated with the projects.

“I always enjoy seeing those wind structures,” Tucker said with a smile.

Commissioner Mike Ankeny touted Tucker for being instrumental in the growth of wind energy in Mower County.

“He was huge in getting these wind towers set up for us,” Ankeny said.

Ankeny also said the four-term commissioner has been very knowledgeable on ditch and agricultural matters.

“He’s a heck of a guy to go to on a lot of these issues,” Ankeny said.

Tucker spent about 12 years working with wind energy, as District 2 covers most of the eastern portion of the county.

The county’s terrain and open transmission made the area prime for advancing the wind industry, and Tucker commended the county for being progressive in its involvement.

“We were just fortunate, luck of the draw, that we had both going for us,” Tucker said.

But Tucker admitted his work with wind energy could end after leaving office.

Still, he enjoyed the chance to shape the county, even if it wasn’t always easy.


‘A silent teacher’

Tucker served his final years as the veteran on a board of four other commissioners in their first full terms, but Tucker didn’t flaunt his experience.

“He’s not one of these guys that will go, ‘I know better because I’ve been on the board 16 years,’” Commissioner Jerry Reinartz said. “He’s been very easy to work with and willing to listen.”

Tucker embraced his leadership role on the board in recent years and pointed to past commissioners for first being outstanding mentors to him.

Despite years of service, though, Tucker wasn’t the most vocal board member.

“He was like a silent teacher,” Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said.

Tucker’s wide-ranging experience shined when he spoke, according to Gabrielson.

“He really would speak up if he was asked, but he was never pushy,” Gabrielson said.

When Tucker spoke up, people listened because of his vast experience.

“He never says much unless he’s got something to say,” Reinartz said.

But when Tucker spoke up, it wasn’t always for serious business. Tucker is known for his humor, and Gabrielson said he’ll miss the grin that crossed Tucker’s face and warned of a zinger that one “can’t print in the newspaper.”


A humble beginning

Despite his 16 consecutive years on the board, Tucker opened his career with a loss, falling short in his first campaign to Herb Hanson. But Tucker ran again four years later and beat Hanson the second time.

When he first took office, Tucker said transportation and roads, especially for the agricultural community, were the biggest issues. That was right in Tucker’s wheelhouse, as he attended school in Rochester and then at Iowa State to study civil engineering and became a licensed land surveyor.

“I felt that my previous background in civil engineering aided me in being a good representative,” Tucker said.

Early on, a key focus was working to replace many of the dysfunctional bridges, many of which dated back to the 1930s.

“The social services things were not really that huge yet,” Tucker said.

Tucker noted that county government is different than city government and has more challenges, like Human Services and a vast highway system. But Tucker said county officials are up to the challenge.

Much has changed in the county, but Tucker said the biggest difference is how significant Human Services is now, especially since it’s a key driver in county budgets.

One way to potentially combat that issue is to grow the job possibilities. Tucker said he’d like to see more done to keep young people in the area.

“I would rather see that we are somehow able to retain our young people graduating from school that grew up here and have the job opportunities to be able to keep them here,” Tucker said.


Tough choices

Tucker is one of three commissioners to approve the Jail and Justice Center project. Tucker and other commissioners have admitted that may have played a part in his narrow loss.

But Tucker has maintained the decision to build was the right one for the county.

“It was a tough decision, first whether to build it or where to build it,” Tucker said. “But as I look at it today, the finished product turned out excellent for Mower County,” he said. “It will service the people of Mower County well for many years.”

Tough decisions, like the jail project, are just a part of the job, according to Tucker.

While Tucker will likely step aside from work with wind energy, he could maintain a role in area workforce development, but in a different respect.

“I still think I’ll be active in civic-type venture,” Tucker said.


‘I’ve done some good’

Tucker said he’s leaving the county in good hands.

“The current board is very eager to learn, and I respect them guys very much,” Tucker said. “The county, I feel, will be served well.”

He also spoke highly of county employees.

“It’s just been a pleasure to work with the staff and the employees of the county,” he said. “I think Mower County is blessed with some very talented people.”

Outside the board, Tucker owns Tucker Tiling in Dexter, but he won’t spend all his time on the job.

“I would like to do a little more traveling and goof around a little and not have to attend all the meetings,” Tucker said.

Though more challenges are ahead for the county, Tucker doesn’t feel like he’s leaving with unfinished business.

“I think everything that’s been implemented in place will serve the current board or future boards well down the road,” Tucker said.

Tucker admitted it was frustrating to lose by 61 votes, but he believes he accomplished many things in his tenure.

“I spent 16 years in this position, and I believe I’ve done some good,” he said.

Tucker maintains he won’t run for a county office again, noting he’s content to retire and move forward.

“Mower County is well-respected in southern Minnesota as a lead county on many issues,” Tucker said. “We have gained that reputation, and I’m hoping that will continue.”