A well-known Northfield area farmer, successful small business owner and township official was killed Saturday after a piece of farm equipment he was driving appears to have rolled over on top of him.
Rice County Sheriff’s deputies found Gary Ebling, 71, about 4:30 p.m. after responding to a call that a tractor had rolled over down an embankment in the 9000 block of Albers Avenue in rural Bridgewater Township west of Northfield, according to a release from the Sheriff’s Office.
The caller reported there was a man trapped under an implement with severe injuries. When deputies arrived, Ebling was deceased, said Sheriff Troy Dunn.
“It appears the operator was mowing the ditch on the east side of the road when it rolled down the embankment, ejecting the tractor operator and partially pinning him under the mower implement,” Dunn said.
The owner of Retail Design Services, Ebling was a successful small businessman with major corporate clients across the country. Yet according to his former Township Board colleague John Holden, Ebling’s passion for the residents of Bridgewater Township often matched or even exceeded his entrepreneurial zeal.
“He was very caring, truly dedicated to having a really great township,” Holden said. “So there he was, on a hot July 4th afternoon, mowing to make sure his area of the township looked beautiful.”
Doug Jones, of rural Nerstrand, also spoke of Ebling’s interest in making Bridgewater all it could be, noting that Ebling was able to see the big picture as well as willing to put in the time and effort to get things done.
One of several generations of Eblings to call Bridgewater Township home, Gary Ebling was a fixture of the community, popular with his neighbors. At the time of his death, he was serving as chair of the Bridgewater Township Board of Supervisors.
First elected to the board in the 2000s, Ebling began his second stint on the board in 2013. During his tenure, the board approved a 30-year long annexation agreement with Dundas, and first began and then took over its own planning and zoning.
In 2005, he was selected by the Rice County Board of Supervisors to serve as Bridgewater’s representative on a countywide economic development planning group. In recent years, he was the supervisor who oversaw roads for the township.
“He was very, very effective, and connected to so many people in the township,” said Glen Castore, Ebling’s longtime colleague on the Board of Supervisors. “He cared a lot about the township, and thought a lot about how it should be operated.”
Leif Knecht, also a longtime member of the Board who served alongside Ebling during his first stint on the board, said his friend and former colleague was a tireless worker who helped to bring about many changes to the township, both big and small.
Even though he’s not on the township board anymore, Knecht said he would call Ebling from time to time. Just a week before Ebling’s death, Knecht said Ebling called when he needed help convincing a neighbor to allow the invasive wild parsnip on his property to be treated.
“That’s an example of the kinds of nuts and bolts things Gary was able to accomplish,” Knecht said. “Occasionally, we viewed things differently but he was wonderful to collaborate with.”
Janalee Cooper, who served as clerk on the town board during Ebling’s first tour on the board, concurred, and called Ebling a “solid, constructive, practical and fair leader.”
In government, Holden said that Ebling was always looking for ways to help promote the interests of Bridgewater Township. To that end, he cultivated strong working relationships with Rice County as well as neighboring jurisdictions, particularly Dundas and Northfield.
Holden said that among Ebling’s most important accomplishments came more than a decade ago, when a proposed ethanol plant in Bridgewater Township was under consideration. Ebling ensured that the concerns of residents were heard, and the project was ultimately shelved.
As the supervisor responsible for overseeing road maintenance, Ebling also helped Bridgewater Township’s road system to become among the county’s best, even though road maintenance takes up a relatively small portion of its budget compared to other area townships.
As the township continued to grow, Ebling became very active in ongoing debates regarding how best to serve its residents. He backed the initiative that made Bridgewater the first township in Rice County to increase its number of supervisors to five.
The township is also one of a limited number of Minnesota townships to have its own zoning responsibilities. Bridgewater Zoning Administrator Jim Braun said he was “in shock” at the loss of one of his closest friends and colleagues.
“We would talk back and forth probably three, four or even fice times a day,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”
While Ebling supported efforts to boost the township’s powers and responsibilities, Braun said that Ebling’s ultimate wish was to see Bridgewater incorporated as its own city. That idea has been discussed, but the township moved away from it after facing significant pressure.
In addition to empowering the municipality’s residents, incorporation could prevent further annexations by Northfield or Dundas. Both cities have eyed land closer to I-35 for potential business development, and were staunchly opposed to the township’s potential incorporation.
“If I can do anything to help Bridgewater become a city, I‘m going to do it, because that’s what he wanted,” Braun said. “He thought it was just the thing Bridgewater needed.”