Former Baxter City Council member, Military Order of the Purple Heart member and outdoor enthusiast Ron Kristofferson of Nisswa died Monday in Brainerd. He was 63.
Kristofferson served as a council member in Baxter from 1989-1996, and as mayor from 1997-1998. It was at that time that he was diagnosed with cancer, which he fought up until his death.
Baxter City Council member Gary Muehlhausen, who served for several years with Kristofferson on the city council, said even after Kristofferson was diagnosed with cancer he would always offer Muehlhausen, also a former mayor, advice.
"The one thing that impressed me about Ron was that he was a true leader, a true friend and most of all a true gentleman," Muehlhausen said. "I can't say enough about Ron."
Muehlhausen said he was praying for Kristofferson's wife, Sue, and Kristofferson's family.
Ron was born July 29, 1945, in Brainerd to Oscar and Lorena Kristofferson. He graduated from Brainerd High School and was drafted into the Marine Corps, serving as a lance corporal with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Division - "Magnificent Bastards" - in Vietnam, where he was decorated with three Purple Hearts.
Following his honorable discharge, he married Susan Waldin on Aug. 20, 1977, on Gull Lake. He worked for Job Service and the state of Minnesota for a number of years as a rehabilitation employment counselor.
Though he never worked with Kristofferson, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said he appreciated the policies and ideas put forth by Kristofferson while he was on the council, some of which are still in effect.
"It's always a loss and I send my condolences to his family," Olson said.
Kristofferson and Bill Wroolie started the Brainerd chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in 1976 and Kristofferson served as Wroolie's aide-de-camp when Wroolie was the order's national commander.
Wroolie said their friendship started in high school.
"For me, he was a friend that I'm not going to be able to replace," Wroolie said. "We've done so much together over the 50 years we've known each other. The thing is, we always remained friends. We realized it's OK to agree to disagree on some things. He was just a great all-around guy."
Wroolie described Kristofferson as an avid outdoorsman and the two shared numerous hunting and fishing trips throughout North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Two years ago they took a fishing trip to Alaska.
Muehlhausen recalled annual fishing trips with his father and Kristofferson on Lake Mille Lacs.
Friend Dan Sura, of Lindner Media Productions, described Kristofferson as an all-American who was proud of his Marine heritage and of his work helping others.
"The ultimate measure of a guy is what you can give back, and he gave back a lot," Sura said.
Kristofferson was one of the first members of the Nisswa Guides' League, said Ron Lindner of Lindner Media Productions. The two fished often together, including recent winter trips to Florida and Louisiana. He said Kristofferson made his last fishing trip about two months ago.
"He was a real good guy, a good man, a great father, the whole nine yards. He was a patriot, a soldier and all the other things that go with it," Lindner said. "He had a sweet personality, he was gregarious, interested in people and cared about people. He's touched a lot of people."
Kristofferson was even a bit of a television star, appearing in commercials for Lindner Media and once for Old Milwaukee Beer, holding up the beer under the slogan, "It doesn't get any better than this."
"We used to joke about it because he didn't drink," Lindner said. "But he said if he did drink it would be Old Milwaukee."
Wroolie said the two chatted several times a week.
"I've enjoyed his company and friendship immensely. It's sad this had to happen to him at 63," Wroolie said. "He was a fun guy, very intelligent and very witty. If I needed to get an uplift or whatever, I'd call Ronny. He was outgoing, very friendly and cared about other people."
Kristofferson also was a member of the Crow Wing Power Board, Disabled American Veterans and the VFW.
In addition to his wife, Susan, he is survived by five daughters and seven grandchildren.
Funeral services are 11 a.m. Monday at Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter with Pastor Randy Ahlberg officiating. Visitation is 10 a.m. Monday at the church. Interment will follow the services at Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Camp Ripley.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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