Mike Engel

In this 2013 file photo, Mike Engel stands on the street in downtown Kenyon shortly after winning his first election as mayor. Engel, who was in his early 70s, died Thursday at his home. (Leader file photo)

Kenyon Mayor Mike Engel, 73, died suddenly Thursday at his home.

His death was due to natural causes, according to the Kenyon Police Department.

A lifelong Kenyon resident, Engel was first elected mayor in 2012.

“Mayor Engel will be greatly missed, and his impact and legacy will remain with the community for many years,” read a statement from Mark Vahlsing, city administrator, and Councilor Richard Nielsen, posted Friday on the city’s website.

According to his obituary, Engel was a dedicated reader, which earned him the nickname “Einstein” in high school. He traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe, and his previous jobs included work on the oil pipeline in North Dakota and machine maintenance in Minnesota, along with positions at Foldcraft and Custom Iron. He married Annette Peterson in 1972.

Engel had a long history of involvement in city government, having held positions on the council, utilities commission, Economic Development Authority and personnel committee, along with serving as an election judge and representative to the Central Minnesota Municipal Power Co.

Both before and during his time as mayor, Engel was an advocate for Kenyon, always encouraging residents to become involved in their city and new ones to move in. The city saw healthy residential growth under his leadership, according to Vahlsing, the city administrator.

Engel was also instrumental in bringing the new Kenyon fire hall to completion in 2016, a project more than 15 years in the making.

“He was a very fair-minded man, very dedicated to the city of Kenyon and trying to move the city forward. He cared deeply for people in general,” said Vahlsing.

More recently, Engel’s vision for Kenyon involved bringing new business to downtown and revitalizing current storefronts through the EDA’s facade improvement program. His leadership guided the purchase and development of a future business park on a 30-acre property just east of Kenyon.

He also played a key role in starting the community gardens and was an avid gardener.

Nielsen, who served alongside Engel on the council for several years, described the loss as “devastating.” Engel’s accomplishments, said Nielsen, were too many to list.

“He always had his fingers on the pulse,” said Nielsen. “He was a good guy. I sat next to him on the council, and he was always friendly, and we always had interesting conversations.”

Terri Malloy, Kenyon resident and former Leader editor, remembered Engel as the type of mayor who was always willing to swap ideas and look for new ways to improve the city.

“He didn’t set a lot of stock by wearing a suit or things like that, but he was incredibly smart,” said Malloy. “He will definitely be missed. He was willing to step up and take that role, and he took it seriously.”

Engel’s term was set to expire at the end of 2020. As the longest-tenured councilor, Nielsen is now acting mayor. Since the remaining term is shorter than two years, the city won’t hold a special election, according to Vahlsing.

Instead, the council will appoint an interim mayor, either a councilor or other eligible Kenyon resident. If the council appoints one of its own, it has the option to appoint someone else to fill the vacant council seat.

Engel is survived by his three children and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife.

The family will host a public celebration of life at noon Saturday at the Kenyon VFW.

Reach Reporter Anne Kopas at 507-333-3148. Follow her on Twitter @NFNanne.

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