City Manager Who Shaped Town Of Normal Dies | WGLT

City Manager Who Shaped Town Of Normal Dies

Mar 18, 2020

An iconic city manager of Normal has died at the age of 82.

Dave Anderson took the municipality from a small town of 20,000 people to a thriving city of more than 40,000 during three decades in the job.

Former City Manager Mark Peterson spent a decade as Anderson's assistant before becoming city manager when Anderson retired.

"I was blessed. Dave had that organization running like a well-oiled machine. I would have had to really screw things up not to have been successful following Dave," said Peterson.

Peterson said Anderson also had a huge impact on the community.

"Nearly all of the east-side Veterans Parkway development occurred under Dave's tenure as manager. The original College Hills Mall was under Dave's tenure. He negotiated the deal for that mall and that was a big deal for the town at the time," said Peterson.

Anderson shepherded the Ironwood subdivision and golf course into reality.

Dave Anderson on the job in 1976.
Credit Vidette Archive / Illinois State University

Current City Manager Pam Reece said Anderson was a terrific teacher who gave advice, but was not afraid to let young professionals make mistakes as part of their development.

"He was an icon. He was my first professional mentor. I just think he was iconic. His presence, the things he worked on, and the impact he had on the community were pretty amazing," said Reece.

Reece's experience was not unique. Peterson noted Anderson had many assistants who went on to become city managers.

Anderson's teaching extended to young officeholders. Longtime council member Jeff Fritzen said he was 30 and a novice at local politics when first elected to the council in 1983.

"Dave was patient. He went to great lengths and was so thorough and explained things so well that it really helped me to understand all sides of an issue. He didn't sugarcoat things and some people would say that is an understatement. And so I always felt he made sure that we (on the council) were making informed decisions. Dave wanted to make sure we were comfortable with the material," said Fritzen. "Dave was the best possible city manager for a guy like me in those first few years. He ensured that it wasn't a disaster, that I succeeded at it."

Anderson was known as a tough negotiator with profound respect for the roles of various community stakeholders, and someone with a dry, wry wit. Fritzen recalled legendary interactions with the late developer Jack Snyder on various projects.

"Jack was the developer in town, really making things happen at the time. Dave and Jack knew how to negotiate with one another. Jack would always ask for more than he knew he was going to get and Dave knew that and would pick items off Jack's want list and would say you can't have that and you can't have that. And Jack would whine and moan and groan about it like you were killing him. And at the end of the day Dave got what he wanted and Jack got what he wanted," said Fritzen.

"It was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object," said Mark Peterson.

Another plaudit came from former council member Garrett Scott.

"He was very good at dealing with people," said Scott. "He could be polite courteous and kind. He could also be stern and take a stand where he believed we needed to take a stand. He was really good at choosing the appropriate mood for a particular situation."

"What he did for our community still reverberates."

"I'm a real admirer of Dave Anderson," said former Bloomington Mayor Jesse Smart. "Normal wouldn't be what it is today without Dave Anderson. He took what was a little farm town and made it into a flourishing major metropolis. ... He just had a drive and was able to persuade people to go along with him, and he had a vision. And he used them all."

"He was among the best managers I ever saw, and I saw many," said former Mayor of Normal Paul Harmon. "He executed plans better than anyone I knew."

Many said Anderson tended to have strong convictions. But former council member Sonja Reece said he was also flexible and adaptive. She recalled coming back from a National League of Cities conference in 1991 where she heard about other cities filming their meetings and televising them.

"He thought that was the silliest thing and said who would ever want to watch a town council meeting. But, he thought about it a while and said it makes some sense and started the process," said Reece.

Reece said Normal was the first municipality in the area to televise meetings. It is something many now consider a minimum standard for governmental transparency.

Anderson also spent a harried year and a half in the early 1970s managing both Bloomington and Normal, before the municipalities abandoned the experiment. Peterson said Anderson referred to that experience as the worst 18 months of his life. The task was too big, but at the time, Scott said, it was a good idea to try.

"When he thought the community needed something, he would step forward and do his best to make sure that it got done," said Scott.

The Town Council renamed Ash Park as Anderson Park for him after Anderson retired.

"What he did for our community still reverberates," said Scott.

In retirement he raised chickens and rode horses even into his 70s.

Anderson had lived at his daughter's home in Jonesboro, Ark., for the last three years. Peterson said a memorial ceremony may be scheduled for the summer in Normal.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.