Cloquet's only female mayor dies
The mayor was a lady. The passing of long-time Cloquet resident Arlene Wolner this week signaled the end of an era. When Wolner was elected mayor of Cloquet in 1976, she became the first female mayor in the city's 77-year history - and her mark o...
The mayor was a lady.
The passing of long-time Cloquet resident Arlene Wolner this week signaled the end of an era. When Wolner was elected mayor of Cloquet in 1976, she became the first female mayor in the city's 77-year history - and her mark on history has remained unrivaled ever since.
Wolner came from a family of five children who grew up in a house on Second Street in Cloquet. Her widowed mother raised the family on her own and took in boarders to help pay the bills. Wolner and her family survived the Great Fire of 1918, and following her graduation from high school, Arlene went to work in the finishing room at Northwest Paper Company. She later worked at the telephone office at the Proulx Building on Avenue C before marrying longtime friend and fellow Thespian Society actor Fred Wolner in 1941. Fred, a high school teacher, taught in Moose Lake and Cloquet before becoming principal of Cloquet High School.
During that time, Arlene stayed at home and raised the couple's two daughters and was an enthusiastic faculty wife, helping out with school activities wherever she could. She was also instrumental in helping to form the League of Women Voters in Cloquet - which turned out to be her gateway into the world of politics.
Through that association, Arlene eventually decided to take a stab at politics herself, winning election to a seat on the city council in 1974 and then running for mayor in 1976 - even though no other woman had ever been elected to that office in the city of Cloquet.
"I couldn't have done it without my husband's name behind me," Wolner later confessed, "because his name was well known everywhere within the community. I feel if anyone wants to know what the secret is to getting elected, you have to have name identification, you have to be honest, and you have to be a little bit political, just a little bit."
Wolner won the election by a landslide, but she admitted she still had to live up to a certain standard because certain folks remained skeptical of having a woman as mayor.
"But none of it ever rubbed off on me," she said later. "I had support among a lot of people, which was very nice, and I stayed on as mayor for eight years."
Though the lady mayor knew little about finances at first, she had the help and support of a young man who had worked in a bank in the Twin Cities and had recently become city clerk - Larry Gustafson.
"He was in a category by himself," she once recalled, "and he brought us into the computer age."
Other city notables who came on board during Wolner's leadership were City Engineer Jim Prusak and City Planning and Zoning Director Bill Schlenvogt.
Later in life, Wolner reminisced about her years as mayor, saying, "Although it was always fun to put on a hat and go to a ribbon cutting, my favorite part of government took place during the decision-making process in the council chambers."
One of her most memorable times was when the city signed a $3 million bonding bill with the Potlatch Corporation. Though she was no longer mayor when the new city hall was built, she enjoyed going there later and seeing her photo as mayor "in that long lineup of guys!" she proclaimed.
Even in Wolner's later years when she was in residence at Inter-Faith Care Center, her optimism for the future of Cloquet remained unflagging.
"If I came out of my experience [as mayor] with anything, it was the care that I feel for the city, because I do feel that they deserve the best," she once commented. "It's a good city, it's a good council, and it's a good structure."