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Todd Klingel, former Minneapolis chamber head, dies

Todd Klingel, who led the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce for 13 years before stepping down in March, died Sunday of colon cancer. He was 63.

Klingel, a publisher, civic leader and longtime downtown Minneapolis advocate, helped kick-start numerous programs that bring people from around the metro to downtown Minneapolis and connect young people with career training and job opportunities.

“Much of [Klingel’s] work continues to be enjoyed by workers, residents and visitors today. But it was his personality and treatment of others that we’ll remember most,” Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District said in a statement Monday. “He will be deeply missed.”

A St. Paul native, Klingel graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1975 and helped launch at least six publications, according to the chamber. Among them was the Twin Cities Reader, which was later bought by the company that owned CityPages, and CityBusiness, now known as the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, according to a chamber press release.

During his tenure as the vice president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council from 1991 to 2003, Klingel played a major part in setting in motion several programs, including the annual Holidazzle Parade. The parade drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to Nicollet Mall during the holiday season for more than 20 years until its last run in 2013.

Later, he emphasized regionalism and transportation investment as a growth strategy during his 13 years at the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce — a push that helped lead to the creation of Greater MSP, an influential public and private economic development partnership, said Michael Langley, CEO of Greater MSP.

“I think Todd was very enlightened to the importance of working together beyond local political boundaries, and understanding that the regional economy was really the economy of a much broader area than just one city,” Langley said in an interview Monday.

But one of his proudest achievements, according to those close to him, was helping to launch the STEP-UP youth internship program alongside former mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Bancorp Chairman and CEO Richard Davis in 2004.

To date, the Minneapolis-based program has connected thousands of young people with businesses to provide training and job opportunities. Klingel helped sign up some of the first companies to the initiative, Davis said.

Each year, the program hosts a graduation for participants, and Klingel was always there — even at the latest ceremony in August, Davis said.

“It was during his therapies and he went out of his way to make sure that on that afternoon he could … be there to watch,” he said. “To my knowledge, he never missed, and to the very end he was very supportive of it.”

More than anything, though, Klingel will be remembered as a dedicated family man by those who knew him personally, Davis said.

“It’s the way he brought [his family] into every conversation somehow, and I think they motivated him to be a good steward of the future,” he said.

Klingel announced in January that he would step down from leading the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce as of March 30, due to his fight with colon cancer. He wanted to spend more time with his family, he told colleagues, though he served as a part-time adviser until June 30.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision for me as it has been my privilege to lead this organization and work with all of you,” he wrote in a letter to chamber members earlier this year. “It became clear, however, that despite my best attempts and your good wishes, this cancer is not going away anytime soon.”

John Stanoch, former president of Qwest Communications in Minnesota and North Dakota, took over as interim CEO for the chamber in April. In October, Jonathan Weinhagen, the former vice president for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, took over the position permanently.

“Todd left a lasting imprint on the chamber, the city and the region,” Weinhagen said in a statement Monday.

With more than 1,000 members across the 13-county metro area, the chamber is one of the largest in Minnesota.

Klingel is survived by his wife, Debb, children Sarah Donahoe, Lindsay Litzinger and Jeff Klingel, and grandchildren Lucca Donahoe and Leo Litzinger.

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