Shrewd political instincts and a strong sense of empathy guided Chuck Repke throughout his life, say those who knew him well. Repke died on August 2 after a long battle with cancer. In his 67 years, he shaped countless Saint Paul city policies and developments. He was a fixture on Saint Paul’s West End, at City Hall and in DFL Party circles. He worked on countless political campaigns and chaired almost 60 DFL conventions.

Repke was born in Washington, D.C., and as a child moved to Saint Paul’s West Side. His involvement in city politics began at age 18 when he answered a call on his family’s home phone from a young DFL organizer named Jim Scheibel. A future member of the City Council and mayor of Saint Paul, Scheibel wanted to speak to Repke’s father but he got the son involved in politics—“just like that,” said Gloria Bogen, Repke’s future wife.

Repke graduated from Humboldt High School and attended the University of Minnesota. He settled in Irvine Park when that neighborhood was being threatened by urban renewal, and he became involved in the fight to save its historic homes.

Repke joined about 30 West End and Summit Hill neighbors in forming Residents in Protest-35E. In 1982 the group sued in federal court to block the construction of Interstate 35E through the West End and Summit Hill neighborhoods and eventually settled to have the would-be freeway constructed as a four-lane parkway with a ban on trucks and a 45 mph speed limit. In the decades that followed, Repke trekked to the state Capitol numerous times to lobby against legislation to raise the speed limit.

Chuck Repke
Chuck Repke

Ed Johnson, longtime executive director of the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation, recalled Repke’s dogged activism. “He was one of the best presidents the West Seventh Federation ever had,” he said. Johnson remembered Repke’s involvement in the fight against storefront prostitution, picketing the saunas and rap parlors that had been springing up on the West End. Repke later worked on reforming state laws regarding nuisance businesses, making it easier to shut them down.

“Chuck was involved in so many issues, it’s impossible to name them all,” said former Ward 2 City Council member Dave Thune. “His fingerprints are all over this city, in so many ways for the better.”

Repke led the federation’s efforts to preserve local housing and construct new homes. He was involved in efforts to shut down group homes near the former Schmidt Brewery and worked to revitalize that neighborhood and save the brewery itself. He served on the Saint Paul Planning Commission and schooled younger activists in the ways of politics. Former Irvine Park resident Erik Hare described Repke as “brave, caring, practical and smart as all hell. He made an impression on everyone he ever met.”

Repke could come across as gruff, “but he had empathy in spades,” Johnson said. “He had a strong sense of right and wrong and really disliked any kind of injustice.”

He researched and wrote city’s human rights ordinance

Repke and fellow Irvine Park resident Dave Thune would spar over politics and neighborhood issues, but they eventually became close friends and political allies. Repke ran Thune’s campaign for the Ward 2 City Council seat in 1989, and served as Thune’s legislative aide through 1998. After taking office, Thune enlisted Repke in the effort to reinstate Saint Paul’s human rights ordinance. The ordinance had been repealed by referendum several years earlier, and Thune pledged to restore it during his 1989 campaign.

“Few people know that it was Chuck Repke who researched and wrote the new human rights ordinance,” Thune said. “He strategized on how to build and maintain the coalition that supported the ordinance. And he helped me develop the backbone I needed to weather the nasty politics and personal attacks that followed. The ordinance was adopted on a 5-2 vote and with the signature of the mayor. It put Saint Paul back in the business of protecting human rights for everyone.”

Repke assumed a dual role as Thune’s legislative aide. He was kind to those who needed help with city issues, but held the feet of city staff and would-be developers to the fire and wasn’t afraid to take on the city administration if there were disagreements over issues.

A civic leader for neighborhoods north and east of downtown

After leaving the council offices, Repke registered as a lobbyist, working on numerous development and licensing issues and Saint Paul’s District Energy. He also served as executive director of the Greater East Side Community Council and the North East Neighborhoods Development Corporation. One of Repke’s proudest accomplishments in the neighborhoods of northeast Saint Paul was the redevelopment of the area southeast of Lake Phalen where a Cub Foods and several other stores and restaurants were built.

“I learned a lot from Chuck,” said Kerry Antrim, executive director of the North End Neighborhood Organization. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of how the city worked. He impressed upon me that it was important to cultivate good relations with city staff.”

“Chuck was involved in so many issues, it’s impossible to name them all,” Thune said. “His fingerprints are all over this city, in so many ways for the better.”

Celebration of Life on September 1

Repke will be remembered at a Celebration of Life from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday, September 1, at Mancini’s Char House, 531 W. Seventh St. Memorials are preferred to the District 2 (Greater East Side) Community Council, 1365 Prosperity Ave., Saint Paul, MN 55106.

— Jane McClure

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