Kandiyohi County Commissioner Madsen to retire due to heart problems, though drive to serve remains

While his drive to serve remains undiminished, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen made the decision to suspend his re-election campaign due to ongoing health issues. He will finish his current term and retire after 26 years on the board.

Health and Human Services director Jennie Lippert, center, sits with County Commissioners Rollie Nissen, left, and Harlan Madsen during the Kandiyohi County Board meeting in February 2019 at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building in Willmar. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The decision to halt his campaign for another term on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners was made quickly and decisively very early Wednesday morning by Commissioner Harlan Madsen; even though as late as Tuesday afternoon, as he was preparing for a second heart procedure in eight months for heart arrhythmia, he still believed he was going to run.

"I never thought of ceasing the campaign or suspending it, I did not think of that," Madsen said.

However, following frank and thoughtful discussions with his medical team, Madsen decided the time had come to end his period on the County Board and instead focus on his family. He will remain on the board until his term concludes at the end of the year.

"I am replaceable as a commissioner. I am not replaceable as a grandpa, or a husband or a dad," Madsen said, who turns 72 this fall.

If he had know his heart issues were going to flare up as quickly and seriously as they did this week, Madsen said he never would have filed for re-election in May. But, if his medical issues in any way were going to impede his ability to serve the people of Kandiyohi County, Madsen felt retiring was the best course.


"If I can't do it 100 percent, I don't want to do it. Because I don't think that does justice to the position and it doesn't do justice to the people I serve," Madsen said.

Since 1995, Madsen has served as the county commissioner for District 5. He is currently chairman of the County Board and the longest serving commissioner on the present board. Prior to winning his seat on the board, he was a teacher and served on the county planning and zoning commission.

"I consider that I have been in public service for 50 years," Madsen said. "It has been so much a part of my life. The rewards have been incredible. The accomplishments I have been privileged to be a part of are just phenomenal."

He has also been dealing with his heart condition for well over 50 years, it first having been confirmed when he was in high school. The arrhythmia is genetic and his mother had it as well. Over the years, Madsen had a pacemaker implanted, underwent cardioversions and has been taking medication to help control his condition.

This past Sunday and Monday, Madsen said he started to feel off and wasn't able to do what he normally could. Early Tuesday he woke up feeling lightheaded and dizzy, but still came into Willmar intending to attend the County Board meeting. He never made it to the meeting.

"It was just there, you better get to the ER," Madsen said.


At Carris Health — Rice Memorial Hospital, an electrocardiogram found his heart rate was 140 to 160 beats per minute and the technician said he was in full-blown atrial fibrillation. Madsen was taken by ambulance to St. Cloud Hospital where a cardioversion was done Tuesday evening. The procedure is used to get a person's heart back into is regular rhythm, usually by sending electrical shocks to it.

"Things went right back to normal," Madsen said.

Since it had only been 8 months between his two cardioversions, Madsen said his doctors were concerned, since there are risks involved. If Madsen has another episode in a short period of time, he might need a more in-depth procedure. It was that possibility that helped Madsen make his decision to suspend the campaign and do more to control the things he could in his life, such as stress.

"It was 2:30, 3 o'clock Wednesday morning, I made the decision that this needed to be done. I needed to suspend, I need to focus on the family and my health," Madsen said.

He is still a dairy and crop farmer near Lake Lillian. He has already been transitioning responsibilities to his children, but plans to be involved.

Madsen is at peace with his decision and is looking forward to all the things he will be able to do with the 40 to 60 hours per week he will have free. It is also a sad decision for him, as he will miss being at the table and helping to get things done. Madsen said being able to serve the people of Kandiyohi County has been a gift and he is grateful for the opportunities he has been given.

"I have no regrets. I have done my best to represent, I have done my best to research, I have done my best to communicate and make decisions in the best interest in a good, long-term positive vision for Kandiyohi County, our business and our people moving forward," Madsen said. "That is what drives me."


Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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