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John Wellner Trail dedication planned

August 5, 2018 GMT

Kay Wellner said her husband shunned the spotlight.

“He never wanted any of the credit,” she said of his work as Rochester’s infrastructure manager.

Yet, after Wellner died in September, the Rochester City Council and Park Board wanted to make sure Wellner’s contributions are recognized for years to come, especially those related to efforts that fueled the expansion of the city’s trail system, which offers more than 85 miles of pedestrian and bicycle paths.

As a result, the John Wellner Trail will be dedicated at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday where it passes through Parkwood Hills Park in Northeast Rochester.

“He would have hated the recognition,” Kay Wellner said, acknowledging it means a lot to the family.

The section of trail, which stretches from Wheelock Drive to the Rochester Community and Technical College campus, was one of the last projects to be completed under Wellner’s watch. It also passes close to the family’s home.

Wellner’s son, Mark, said he appreciates the city’s recognition, because it shows respect for his father’s work and dedication to providing an asset all could use in the community.

“He was really all about making Rochester more accessible,” Mark Wellner said.

John Wellner worked 18 years for Rochester, continuing to work from home and go to the office as he was treated for the cancer that eventually led to his death.

His wife said that dedication — to his work, the city and his co-workers — helped keep him going as he battled cancer.

“He had a passion for engineering,” she said, noting family trips were often marked by comments on infrastructure in other communities.

While helping the city build new projects, Wellner’s family also noted he was dedicated to preserving the old, when possible.

That dedication also can be seen along the trail that will carry his name.

A 1930 bridge was repurposed to complete the trail, and Kay Wellner said her husband was adamant about making sure it was restored to original condition, as much as possible.

“That really meant a lot to him, that they were able to restore it,” she said, noting he was a stickler for everything down to paint color in the effort to honor the past.

The bridge crosses Silver Creek, just east of the Quarry Hill Nature Center.

Adam Wellner, an engineer for Minnesota Department of Transportation, said his father’s dedication to the bridge and trail were a large part of who he was, and the work he did wasn’t easy.

“It’s a lot of effort to get a project built, even if it’s a 12-foot-wide piece of asphalt,” he said.

The effort and commitment didn’t go unnoticed by his co-workers.

Known as a mentor for others at Rochester Public Works, Wellner’s passion was known beyond his department,

“John was passionate about multiple things, not the least of which was creating access to trails.” said Mike Nigbur, Rochester park and forestry division head.

Former Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann noted Wellner’s passion also extended to the city’s flood-control project and other infrastructure that benefits residents today.

“He was absolutely amazing to work with,” Neumann said.

Tuesday’s dedication is intended to honor the work and the man behind it.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, City Council members, past and present Public Works staff, Parks Department and other city staff, are expected to attend, along with friends and family members.