Vic Ormsby, a social activist and public servant widely known for his devotion to environmental causes, died Thursday in his sleep after a battle with cancer.
He was 68.
Ormsby leaves a legacy as a shrewd consensus builder who was an advocate for women, helped change rural farming practices and garnered statewide attention to Winona County environmental concerns.
"He was a giant in our small corner of the planet," said Winona County commissioner Dwayne Voegeli, who served with Ormsby in public life. "He will be greatly missed."
Ormsby unwittingly entered public service on Election Day 1996.
His neighbor Joyce Ford noticed no one was running for supervisor of her soil and water conservation district. She called Ormsby and asked if he'd take the job if he won as a write-in candidate. He agreed, and Ford began calling her neighbors.
When the votes were tallied later that night, Ormsby had received every vote cast - all 36, Ford remembers.
Ormsby became a devoted public official, also serving on the county planning commission and many other local, regional and state boards and committees. He was appointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2001 to the state Board of Water and Soil Resources.
Most Thursdays, he could be found in the small crowd that gathers regularly on Broadway Street to protest war. He liked to garden, bake bread and produce wine, which he gladly shared with friends.
Ormsby was a founding member of the Wiscoy Valley Community Land Cooperative, where he grew his own food and used solar panels to generate electricity.
"Vic really liked pot luck dinners," said friend Joe Morse. "Some people bring things like chips or cheeses. He would always bring something of real substance to the dinner, something like a pot of warm stew."
Ormsby was born Sept. 4, 1941, in Denver. He went to high school in Huron, S.D., and earned a degree from Saint Mary's University in Winona. It was there he met Sharon Keefe, whom he married in 1965. Ormsby received a master's degree in guidance counseling from Illinois State University and later studied statistics at the University of Iowa. He was employed in Iowa City, Iowa, at American College Testing.
In 1973, he began teaching nurses at the College of St. Teresa's Rochester, Minn., campus. He later established what is now Bluff Country Co-op and Prairie Moon Nursery.
Even after his diagnosis in 2007, Ormsby continued to live a public life, serving on the planning commission until just weeks ago. His friend and neighbor Jim Riddle will remember one final gathering Ormsby hosted in July as a sort of farewell to friends.
"It was like he was holding court," Riddle said. "He wasn't going to hide."