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DULUTH – Kathy Cargill didn't always have the means to drop millions on coveted Park Point real estate.

The wife of an heir to the global Cargill company's fortune became a household name here in recent months for her Park Point buying spree and public squabble with Mayor Roger Reinert, during which she ignored his requests for more information on her plans for her 20-plus parcels on the beloved sandbar. But she once operated a boiler at an Ashland, Wis., paper mill and enforced invasive species laws on northwestern Wisconsin lakes as a state deputy conservation warden.

Ashland Mayor Matthew McKenzie has known Cargill for years and said she's environmentally conscious with a "good Midwestern upbringing."

"I'm guessing if all parties involved could go back and hit the redo, they probably would," he said. Cargill is a private person, he noted, which is probably why she was reluctant to share her Park Point plans.

Indeed little is known about the 66-year-old who has spent most of her life in northwest Wisconsin. And painting a complete picture of Cargill is complicated. Dozens of her relatives, neighbors, former co-workers and business associates declined to speak about her or didn't respond to messages. Some said they were afraid she would sue and some said they have signed nondisclosure agreements.

When called to talk for this story, she directed an expletive at the reporter before hanging up.

Cargill has also worked as a real estate agent and has managed a 74-mile state trail for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that runs past Birchwood, Wis. The town, close to Spooner, is where her third husband, James R. Cargill II, has long had a residence. She married Cargill, a widower, in 2012. It is unclear how they met.

She is a McLaren sports car enthusiast and a Green Bay Packers fan. She has mentored kids in their quests to hunt bears, according to a game warden newsletter.

She is the mother of two grown children and is estranged from two of her three siblings, including a brother she hasn't spoken to in more than 30 years. She has separate lawsuits against the two estranged siblings in Wisconsin courts. She didn't attend her mother's memorial event in 2019, but went to her father's funeral in 2021, according to a brother.

Records show that she and her husband, whose fortune is valued at $4.7 billion, have a history of giving gifts in the $10,000 to $50,000 range to nonprofits, including the Minnesota Historical Society, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and the American Indian College Fund.

'We have a housing crisis'

For more than a year, a limited liability company run by Cargill has purchased property after property on the 7-mile sandbar that separates Lake Superior and the mouth of the St. Louis River. The home purchases number more than a dozen and parcels nearly two dozen. She bought the first one in 2021 for $2.5 million and renovated it.

As for the rest, North Shore LS LLC has applied for demolition permits and systematically torn down the homes, which it has bought for $300,000 to $900,000. North Shore has spent $7.3 million on homes it has either demolished or has plans to — most of them bought for well over market price. (No demolition permits have been filed yet for the most recent purchase last month.)

In December, Cargill told the Duluth News Tribune the homes she was tearing down on Park Point were "pieces of crap" and she told the Wall Street Journal in March that the home "everyone says looks so great in the real estate ads" was filled with mice and garter snakes.

For months, her unwillingness to discuss her plans has worried much of the Park Point neighborhood and troubled the city at large. The concerns are many: potential loss of access to the city's only sandy, public beach, property value increases, loss of housing stock, and further development on the fragile sandbar.

The neighborhood is already in flux, with vacation rentals and condos replacing family homes, and many wonder what will become of the point, home to sacred Anishinaabe land, one of the city's most used parks and two popular community gatherings in the annual art fair and rummage sale.

Newly elected Mayor Reinert has stopped taking questions about Cargill, but told a crowd at a Chamber of Commerce lunch on April 9 that Duluth's housing problem was the reason he reached out to her.

"It was not to say, 'Hey, I'm anti-development, hey, you shouldn't be doing this.' I started my letter by saying, 'I completely respect and appreciate your private property rights. I just want to flag for you we have a housing crisis,'" he said.

Reinert noted that the city saw a net gain of 39 houses in the last decade, and Cargill's demolition plans amount to a third of that.

Last month, Reinert questioned the purchases and said the city was investigating zoning and other regulations that would apply to future construction and also address future demolitions. He shared with the City Council a letter he sent Cargill, telling one Duluth news outlet that public beach access would be blocked "over my dead body."

Cargill, who had been quiet about her plans, including not returning repeated requests for comment from the Star Tribune, told the Wall Street Journal that along with homes for relatives, she had intended to help the city by making green space improvements, building a coffee shop and a sport court for pickleball, basketball and street hockey. She wanted to help some residents move on to the next stage in their lives, she said.

She said she's changed course because Duluth is a "small-minded community." But she wouldn't be run out of town, she said. And as for the mayor, she said he had "peed in his Cheerios."

Passion over boredom

Park Point is only 90 minutes from Ashland, another city on the shore of Lake Superior, where Cargill spent part of her youth. Her blue-collar roots extend to Wausau, where she was born and where her father, Pat Pospychalla, operated Pat's Body Shop, an autobody repair and towing service. In the late 1960s the family moved to Ashland, where her father re-established his business.

She married an Ashland man in 1980, a few years after graduating from Ashland High School. They had two children together before the marriage ended in 1994.

She married David Oginski, also a Wisconsin conservation warden, in 2003. They moved to the Phillips area that same year and in 2004 Cargill took a job as a sales associate at a local real estate firm after working for the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office.

"I have always had an interest in real estate," she told the Price County Review, which also noted that she enjoyed finding vacant and recreational land for sale and helping people looking to purchase property in the area.

She and Oginski divorced in 2011.

Now Cargill is the one buying the real estate. Records show Cargill has a $3.2 million house in North Oaks, a wealthy community in the Twin Cities, along with a $7.7 million house in Palm Desert, Calif. Through a different LLC she manages, South Shore LS, she has land along Lake Superior in Bayfield County and two more modest houses in Ashland.

Besides real estate, she also loves cars, a hobby she was exposed to all her life, she said in an online video promoting McLaren, the maker of the sports car she collects.

Spending time in her dad's shop, "I would just walk through and look at [various vehicles], and even at a very small age it just had an impact on me," she said.

The 2019 video was shot on her posh property in Eagle, Colo. Wearing a Canal Park Brewing sweatshirt, she washes her $1 million McLaren Senna. She has four McLaren supercars inside the custom garage. On its walls are a lit Hamm's Beer sign and one that says "Save an elk, shoot a land developer."

She had the throttle pedal of one of her cars inscribed with a phrase she said reflects her beliefs.

It says, "I would rather die of passion than of boredom."

'Still my sister'

Brother Mark Pospychalla still lives in Ashland.

Cargill is suing him for an alleged contract breach over loans he received from their parents. She claims he owed their parents money for a tractor and salvage yards, among other items, and failed to pay them. Altogether it was about $150,000 before interest, and some of the money was to go to her in the event their parents died.

Pospychalla argues the loans were forgiven.

Cargill is suing her sister, Carol Rydberg, for defamation. Cargill also unsuccessfully tried to remove her sister from handling their father's estate after he died in 2021. She had claimed her sister wasn't competent, according to a hearing transcript.

Court records say Cargill and Rydberg are also estranged. In her defamation lawsuit, Cargill accuses her sister of acting with malice toward her, saying she wrongly accused her of taking things from their father's house without permission and forging a document, calling the police on her before asking Cargill about the missing items or the alleged forgery.

Mark Pospychalla said the way she's handled the situation in Duluth is not reflective of how they were raised. "I'm not happy with her," Pospychalla said. "If she had good intentions with Park Point, why didn't she come right out and tell people?"

As children, the Pospychalla kids were often at their father's shop. On Friday nights in Wausau, Cargill and her siblings would sit in the open trunk of a pink 1959 Cadillac eating cheese curls and drinking orange Crush, Pospychalla said.

That's a good memory Pospychalla has of his sister.

"I don't really know her history," he said. "I was kind of hoping one day maybe we could sit down and talk over a pop, and learn of the past. No matter how ugly it gets, she's still my sister."