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Friends, lawmakers alike pay tribute to late Granite Falls, Minn., Sen. Gary Kubly

Gary Kubly's casket is loaded Wednesday into a hearse as an honor guard salutes outside Granite Falls Lutheran Church at the end of the late senator's funeral. The Granite Falls Democrat died Friday in St. Paul. He was 68. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

An overflow crowd of 530 people gathered Wednesday at the Granite Falls Lutheran Church to pay their respects to DFL State Sen. Gary Kubly, who died Friday at age 68.

A 16-year veteran of the Legislature and ordained Lutheran minister, Kubly was celebrated as a "bridge crosser" who brought people of differing views together and as someone who lived his Christian beliefs as a citizen and legislator.

"A soft-spoken giant with a heart that truly cared and a life that truly sang," said the Rev. Steve Carmany, pastor of Granite Falls Lutheran Church.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader David Senjem were among the dozens of office holders from both sides of the political aisle who joined clergy of various faiths and family and friends from throughout the state to celebrate Kubly's life. Flags were at half-staff as a bus carrying legislators from St. Paul arrived in Kubly's hometown.

"He saw his faith, his following in Jesus, directly connected to his calling to be a citizen in this society," said Bishop Jon Anderson in his eulogy.

Kubly had grown up on a farm near Ventura, Iowa. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology at Mankato State University. He served in the U.S. Air Force and taught for two years in the Texas public schools before entering Luther Theological Seminary and receiving his master of divinity in 1974.

Howard Campbell was a Tracy area farmer and serving on the Willow Lake Lutheran Church call committee when the newly ordained Kubly arrived as a candidate that year. Campbell was among those who joined in the Granite Falls Lutheran Church basement after the service. Kubly immediately became the choice of the committee.

"There was always this quiet determination that he was going to make a difference," said Campbell. "And he made a difference."

Kubly might be surprised at just how many ways he made a difference. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie was among a collection of office holders and people with agricultural backgrounds who gathered in the church basement after the service. They decided they would hold a later memorial of their own for Kubly. Ritchie said that Kubly's work on behalf of rural issues within the Lutheran Church had much to do with his own decision to seek elected office and become involved in government.

Kubly helped inspire many young rural people to become leaders, and Ritchie said they are hoping a memorial for Kubly could help do the same for the next generation of rural leaders.

Kubly began his service in the Legislature in 1996 as a member of the House, and went head to head with Republican State Sen. Steve Dille of Dassel on a politically charged feedlot issue. Dille, who retired from the Senate nearly two years ago, was among those who came to pay respects to the man credited with crossing bridges. "I grew with Gary," said Dille.

Despite their initial differences over the feedlot issue, Dille said they came to realize they shared many common values about rural life and agriculture. The political adversaries became friends and colleagues who could work together.

Kubly worked hard at all he did, whether as pastor, office holder or campaigner, said friends. He made the effort of door-knocking in every community in the sprawling Senate district he was serving, the third largest in the state. Former state Rep. Aaron Peterson said Kubly and his wife, Pat, were methodical campaigners. "I remember him door-knocking in wingtips," said Peterson, laughing.

He added that Kubly served as his mentor, and shielded him from some of the attacks he might have suffered as a newcomer to the Legislature.

Peterson's father, Doug, served six years alongside Kubly in the state House of Representatives. Doug Peterson, now president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said Kubly had an uncanny ability to sum up every issue under debate in a way all could understand. "He put it right on the edge. Everybody knew what was right or wrong."

Kubly also knew the private, personal struggles of many of his colleagues. Kubly often served as a confidential counselor to many in the Legislature, and will be greatly missed for the quiet help he offered, said former Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar, who had also served with Kubly in the Legislature.

"We're going to miss him a lot," said Rep. Lyle Koenen of Clara City. "He kept us on an even keel."

For most of those who gathered, there really was only one way to remember Kubly. "He was a friend," said Rep. Andrew Falk of Murdock.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Kubly's daughter, Erin, told those who gathered that their presence was evidence of the great love her father had offered. "The more you give it, the more you get in return. That's how our dad lived," she said.

Kubly is survived by his wife, Pat, and three adult children, Matthew, Andrew and Erin, and other family members. He died Friday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul of an apparent cardiac event. He had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, on Dec. 9, 2010. Kubly had hoped to complete his term in the Senate, and said he had taken on the challenge of his disease with a philosophy of focusing on what he could do.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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