Distinctive histories, character and charm differentiate the neighboring communities of the southwest metro region. But one thing we all have in common is growth—this area has experienced remarkable expansion throughout the past several years, and the trend is expected to continue for decades. So we asked the mayors of Waconia, Victoria, Chaska, Chanhassen and Eden Prairie to talk about being a mayor of these rapidly growing cities, as well as a little bit about where they grew up, what their favorite foods are and whether or not they have any dream vacation destinations. Here’s what they said.
Mayor of Waconia
Jim Nash grew up in Colorado in the 1970s and attended college in the corn husker state, earning a degree in geography information systems from the University of Nebraska. “I connect data to maps,” says Nash, who co-owns a local information technology analysis firm DCIG.
In 2002, Nash moved to Waconia, where he lives with his wife Kim and their six children. He was elected to city council in 2008. “When I first became a council member, the city was dealing with huge budget issues,” Nash says. “This spurred me to run for mayor in 2010. I wanted to help move Waconia forward and be in a better position to handle forecasted growth.”
Nash loves being mayor. He first got into politics in the third grade when he volunteered to help campaign for Apollo 13 astronaut turned U.S. representative Jack Swigert, who resided in Colorado following his historic space mission. (Unfortunately, Swigert passed away before he could take office).
In his spare time, Nash is an area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child and has traveled to Russia to help deliver gift boxes to children. He also enjoys hunting and fishing, and says his dream vacation would be a hunting or fishing trip to Alaska or Canada.
Favorite Food: Smoked brisket that Nash prepares himself.
Most Unusual Moment as Mayor: Winning a game of cowboy poker at the Waconia Rodeo. Cowboy poker involves a card-table, a deck of cards, four contestants and a bull. The last ‘cowboy’ to set down his cards and leave the table wins. His opponents were friends from his church.
Mayor of Victoria
Tom O’Connor is a retired U.S. Navy officer with an MBA from the Carlson School of Management and retired from 25 years of experience in commercial real estate. He has also taught naval history at the University of Minnesota. He and wife Cathi have lived in Victoria for 15 years and have four children and seven grandchildren.
O’Connor, 69, was elected mayor in November, 2012. When asked why he decided to run, O’Connor says, “It might sound corny, but I’m retired. I have a business background, and I’m committed to this city. It’s a very special place.”
The key issue O’Connor faces is managing the tension between a demand for high-quality services and the costs associated with those services. In the mix is a new city hall and public works facility. “I try to get people to work together in a civil and respectful manner,” O’Connor says. “And occasionally part of what the mayor of Victoria does is visit third-graders at Victoria Elementary to explain what a mayor does.”
In summer, O’Connor likes to golf. He’s an avid reader and gravitates toward novels by authors like John Sanford and Michael Connelly, and nonfiction by David McCullough. Even though he loves being mayor, O’Connor admits being a grandfather is the best job in the world.
Book Recommendation: Bunker Hill by Nathanial Philbrick
What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor, until my first dissection of a cat, which took place during my freshman year in college.
Mayor of Eden Prairie
Nancy Tyra-Lukens grew up in Golden Valley. She recalls family drives to New Prague, through the “countryside” of what is now a fully developed Eden Prairie, where Tyra-Lukens has lived since 1985.
The sole woman on our mayoral list has a degree in nutritional bio-chemistry from Northwestern University. She also has a masters degree in bio-chemistry from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management. She’s worked at the Mayo Clinic and for the American Cancer Society, and always has been heavily engaged in volunteer work. But after her third child was born in 1989, Tyra-Lukens decided to focus her efforts closer to home. So she volunteered for an Eden Prairie community needs and resources committee.
That’s when Lukens met the mayor and many others who would encourage her to run for city council, which she did in 1994. And when Mayor Jean Harris passed away in 2002 with less than a year left in her term, the council appointed Tyra-Lukens mayor. She officially ran for office that fall for a term ending in 2006, but Tyra-Lukens was asked to run again in 2010.
The critical issue on her radar as of late is light rail. “Figuring out the best way to accommodate light rail is a challenge,” Tyra-Lukens says. “The upside is I get to help create a community that is aesthetically pleasing with amenities people appreciate.”
When not working, Tyra-Lukens loves to read. She’s kept track of nearly every book she’s read since college. She also enjoys cooking and staying active. Her kids will say she never cooks the same thing twice and she resists burgers and pizza in favor of mostly vegetarian fare.
What course do you think every student should take? Speech. Being able to organize thoughts and present them in a clear way is huge.
Most unusual moment as mayor: When a developer approached the podium and mistakenly addressed her as “Mayor Tyra Banks”, as in the super model.
Mayor of Chaska
Windschitl has lived in Chaska since 1973 and worked for the city from 1974 to 1987, much of that time as a firefighter. (He is currently assistant chief with the St. Louis Park Fire Department.) Windschitl never dreamed he’d pursue this career after his father fell from a fire truck. (Dad lived 24 years after the accident and was honored as a fallen firefighter.)
But at age 32, Windschitl decided to take the firefighter eligibility test. He admits it’s the most gratifying job he’s ever had. Through the years, Windshitl has traveled all over to help victims of disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, the I-35 bridge collapse and floods in the Red River Valley, Windschitl has offered assistance to those in need.
It is his desire to help people that inspired Windschitl to run for mayor in 2009. “My job is cheerleader,” Windschitl says. “I promote the city and give people somebody to talk to about their concerns.”
Windschitl was surprised to discover most Chaska residents are happy. “I expected more complaints,” he says, “but there are few. We have an awesome city manager and lots of great things are happening in our area.”
In his free time, Windschitl, now 59, saddles up a steel horse, weather permitting; Windschitl meets weekly with motorcycle buddies. They take a ride, have some dinner and try to be home by dark.
Windschitl’s Motorcycle: 2009 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic
Best Part of the Mayoral Campaign: Working with my three grown children. They are so supportive and smart.
Mayor of Chanhassen
Tom Furlong has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management. He owns Apex Financial Services in Eden Prairie and has lived in Chanhassen for 20 years. He and wife Anne have five children between the ages of 9 and 17 years old.
Furlong became interested in getting involved with city council after the 2000 election. Friends encouraged him to run for mayor in 2002, which he won in a three-way race. Since then, Furlong has run unopposed. “Elections can be hard work,” Furlong says. “I try to get out there even if I’m the only candidate. It’s fun to get a sense of who our neighbors are and learn what is important to them.”
Managing growth and expanding transportation systems is top of mind for Furlong. “We must look long term and not be reactionary, he says. “That requires diligence.” He believes the recent growth has provided good opportunities for businesses and residents. “We have a strong school system, civil organizations and neighborhoods,” Furlong says. “People care.”
Like many Chanhassen families, Furlong spends much of his free time attending his kids’ sporting events and activities. But Tom and Anne make a point of scheduling a family vacation each summer. They’ve traveled to Yosemite, Glacier and Banff national parks, and there is talk of a possible trip to Alaska. “The kids think we should go to Hawaii,” Furlong says. “I tell them it’s too difficult to drive there.”
Favorite Leisure Activities: Camping, fishing and golfing
Most Unusual Moment as Mayor: When first elected, Furlong’s door bell rang. It was a young boy who asked the new mayor to sign a tennis ball. Furlong signed the boy’s tennis ball—even though he doesn’t play tennis.