Willmar City Council candidates a mix of new and familiar faces

There are four seats on the Willmar City Council up for election this year, one in each ward. Candidate filings to run for those seats closed Tuesday at 5 p.m. The Ward 1 race will include a primary election in August, as three candidates put their names into the ring.


WILLMAR โ€” The Willmar City Council will have three new members following the general election in November.

Only Julie Asmus, council member from Ward 2 in southwest Willmar, has filed to run for re-election.

As of the closing of candidate filings at 5 p.m. Tuesday, only Asmus is running unopposed. Candidates still have until 5 p.m. Thursday to withdraw.

The Ward 1 race will require a primary election on Aug. 11, as three candidates filed to run for the seat currently held by Kathy Schwantes. The candidates for the seat are Steven P. Dresler, Lester J. Heitke and Michael O'Brien.

Ward 1 is the northern quarter of the city including neighborhoods around the lakes and Ridgewater College.


Dresler is the safety manager at Marcus Construction. He currently serves as secretary for Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota and does construction coordination for the organization. He also volunteers on the Stormwater Subcommittee of the Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax board and helped with the Willmar Destination Playground.

Heitke is a former Willmar City Council member, was mayor of the city for 16 years and is currently serving on the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission's Joint Operations Board.

O'Brien is currently a member of the Willmar School Board, elected in 2018. He also served 14 years on the New London-Spicer School and 12 years on the Southwest West Central Cooperative Board. For 17 years O'Brien was a conservation officer in Kandiyohi County. He also has worked for Willmar Bus Company, transporting special education students to schools outside of the Willmar area.

Justin Ask and Zeke Dahl filed to run for the open seat in Ward 3, currently held by Fernando Alvarado, who is running for the state Senate.

Ward 3 runs along the U.S. Highway 12 corridor from approximately state Highway 23 to 11th Street Southwest and includes the downtown Central Business District.

Ask is the lead pastor for Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar. Along with his wife, Seyward Ask, an associate pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Spicer, they are co-founders of a national nonprofit organization, Serve Boldly, that connects middle and high school youth with underresourced communities to provide opportunities. Ask also serves on the board of directors for Green Lake Lutheran Ministries.

Dahl moved to Willmar in 2015 and ran for mayor in 2018, losing to incumbent Marv Calvin. He previously worked at Cash Wise Foods and has been a vocal opponent of the proposed Willmar City Hall project, having even unsuccessfully filing a lawsuit against the mayor to halt any work on the project.

The Ward 4 race for the seat being vacated by Shawn Mueske will be between Tom Butterfield and Hans J. Hibma. Ward 4 covers the southeastern quarter of Willmar.


Butterfield previously ran for the same seat in the 2015 special election, losing to Mueske. His family has lived in Willmar for over five generations and he attended and graduated from Willmar High School and Willmar Vocational School with a degree in marketing management. Butterfield served on the advisory board for the Ridgewater College marketing management program and managed a local employee recruitment firm.

Hibma works for Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota as the Restore manager. He grew up on a farm in the Hutchinson area and has lived in Willmar for 10 years.

The general election for 2020 will be held on Nov. 3.

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.

What To Read Next
Get Local