Al Kordiak's foray into government started inauspiciously when the young twentysomething ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives in a 1950s primary and didn't win. It was the only time he lost.
In 1954, Kordiak won a seat on the Anoka County Board of Commissioners by beating the incumbent and held it for 32 years. During his tenure, Kordiak was largely responsible for creating the county's coveted park system and credited for Anoka being the first in Minnesota to have a county administrator. He helped establish Anoka County's emergency dispatch service and criminal investigations, and he was on the first board of the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, all while winning the hearts and unwavering respect from his constituents in Columbia Heights and Fridley.
"He was so popular that no one ever ran against him," said his son, Jim, of Vero Beach, Fla., who took over his father's seat in 1986. "He was one of the gang. He never saw himself as a politician. He was a community friend."
Albert Kordiak, 93, died Feb. 5 from a combination of illness and old age with his family at his side in Vero Beach where in recent years he spent time during the winter months.
Kordiak did not fish, hunt or camp, his son said, but in his early days on the Anoka County Board he spearheaded the effort to create the county park system. At the time, state law prohibited counties from buying property for parks. He got the Legislature to change that.
With that hurdle cleared, he worked a deal with a developer who had planned to build homes on a 29-acre wooded area on 49th Avenue and bought the land. Kodiak and his father, George, mowed the lawn, built a picnic table and planted elm trees in what became the first Anoka County park.
"We worked nights, month after month," Kordiak was quoted as saying in Irene Parsons' book "Columbia Heights: Bootstrap Town."
From the park named in his honor, the Anoka County park system has since grown to 11,500 acres and attracts more than 4 million visitors a year.
"Al's dedication and foresight was essential in this process," said Anoka County Board Chairman Scott Schulte at Tuesday's board meeting. "Al left a legacy in Anoka County, and it will not be forgotten."
Kordiak served as the county's park commissioner for 21 years and had several stints as chairman of the county's Board of Commissioners.
Kordiak was executive director of the Columbia Heights Chamber of Commerce and ran an income tax and real estate business on Central Avenue, where the welcome mat was always out. Some stopped in to seek advice on how to fix their cracked stucco houses or talk about how they would to pay for dentures they could not afford. Often Kordiak would drive them home, his son said.
Known as the "Godfather of Columbia Heights," the bottom line for Kordiak "was to help people find answers, and he worked hard to lessen their burdens," Schulte said.
Kordiak at age 20 testified in Congress against a local Communist leader, an experience that led him into a life of civic service, his son said.
Always smiling and full of humor, Kordiak graduated from Columbia Heights High School and the University of Minnesota. He was a pillar of the community and county, those who knew him said.
"He has been a cornerstone here for so many years," said Anoka County Commissioner Mandy Meissner, who now holds his former seat. "What an honor to pick up this family's legacy, the amazing history and all the things in place because of the Kordiak family."
Besides his son Jim, Kordiak is survived by his wife, Mildred, of Columbia Heights; sons Stephen of Blaine and Daniel of Minneapolis; and daughters Bonita Jones of Anchorage, Alaska, and Deborah Meschke of Denver.