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Retiring Sault, Michigan leader met George Bush, Hillary Clinton (2 photos)

Bill Lynn, former Sault, Michigan city commissioner and former mayor leaving politics after three decades; recalls challenges, high points, says ties between Twin Saults have gotten stronger

Not every city’s mayor gets to meet the leader of his country, nor a national leader’s wife.

However, Bill Lynn, who has announced his intention to retire from politics after many years of service to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan as the city’s mayor and as a city commissioner (city councillor), met and hosted President George H.W. Bush when he led the U.S., then later, Hillary Clinton when she was America’s First Lady.

“That (meeting Bush in 1991) was an experience,” Lynn told SooToday.

“You go out on the tarmac at the airport at Kinross, you get in line and there’s this big 747, Air Force One, down he comes and my wife and I were pretty excited.”

“President Bush is very tall, that’s the first thing that came into my  mind. I introduced him to my wife and said ‘Mr. President, welcome to Sault Ste. Marie, and this is my wife Mary.’”

“He said ‘no, no, no, you mean your beautiful wife Mary,’ and I thought that was pretty nice,” Lynn chuckled.

Accompanied by then-First Lady Barbara Bush, the President, Lynn and his wife Mary went to a banquet at Sault, Michigan’s Ramada Ojibway Hotel (where the President and First Lady stayed for the night).

“He went around (at the banquet), him and his wife, and talked to everybody. They were just great. They walked the Mackinac Bridge, they were unbelievable.”

Hillary Clinton also landed at Kinross, when she was First Lady in the 1990s, on her way to a National Organization for Women (NOW) conference on Mackinac Island.

“They wanted some local dignitaries to meet her, just a few people. There was no press allowed out on the tarmac. None.”

Lynn was accompanied by his wife and some Sault, Michigan city commissioners.

“I gave her a Sault, Michigan T-shirt and we got some great pictures with her. Her staff, you could tell they were in a hurry, but she took time to talk to us.”

“I was impressed with how she treated us. She wanted to talk a while. She was very nice.”

Lynn, now 76, was born and raised in Sault, Michigan.

His father Roy, who served as mayor from 1959 to 1963, established Lynn Auto Parts in the 1940s, which Bill later owned and operated, the business now run by Bill’s son Michael.

A Sault High graduate, Lynn enjoyed playing hockey and fast pitch.

He graduated from Northwood University with a business degree, then earned an education degree from Northern Michigan University.

He taught school in the community of Denmark, Wisconsin, where he met his wife Mary. 

He moved back to Sault, Michigan in 1977 to operate Lynn Auto Parts for his ailing father, who passed away in 1979.

Lynn was first elected as a city commissioner in 1981.

Lynn said he was inspired to get into local politics, partly because his father had served as mayor, but also because he felt his own need to get involved in public office.

Throughout his career in local politics, Lynn saw Sault, Michigan see its share of highs and lows.

“I got elected right after Kincheloe Air Force base closed. It was tough in Sault, Michigan.”

“I thought for sure we (the city) were going to file for bankruptcy. We needed two police cars and we couldn’t afford them but mechanics kept the old ones running. We survived it.”

After two terms as a commissioner, Lynn ran for mayor and won, serving as mayor from 1989 to 1999.

He returned to politics as a commissioner in 2006.

“I’ve got great memories, fond memories of (former Sault, Ontario mayors) Don MacGregor, Joe Fratesi and Steve Butland.”

“That’s where a lot of cooperation started between the two cities, two countries one city. We’ve worked closely ever since. Steve Butland and I are very good friends. I think he’s a great guy.”

“I think just surviving the rough times in Chippewa County was pretty good,” Lynn recalled.

“The City Commission and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians in the older days did not get along, and I wanted to change that. I helped change that to where we really worked together and it’s been really great for the community. When they put in the casino that really helped get things going.”

“We’re still working with the tribe and it’s been good.”

“One of the highlights was when a group of us formed a committee and went out and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to save and remodel Pullar Stadium.”

The stadium, built in 1939, is an historical Sault, Michigan sports landmark, having served as the Detroit Red Wings training camp site back in the 1950s glory days of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel.

“We really did a nice job on that. It was in pretty rough shape, but it should last for a couple more generations,” Lynn said.

“What was so great about it was how the community came together and we raised a ton of money, and it’s really looking nice. It had nothing to do with taxpayers money, it was donations.”

“People really came forward. A man came up to me and he said ’I don’t have much money but I love the Pullar,’ and he gave me 20 bucks. He said ‘I’ve got to do something for the Pullar.’”

Pullar Stadium is now home to the Soo Eagles Junior A hockey club, the Sault Michigan Hockey Association and the Hiawatha Skating Club.

“We’ve literally paved miles of streets in this town, which we really needed. I think we’ve done a great job of getting our streets in order. They’re going to last for years because they’ve been done right, because a quick fix never works. Don’t put some asphalt down and think that’s the answer. You’ve got to dig them up.”

Other high points and accomplishments in which Lynn played a role throughout his political career included the city government’s move into the former Federal Building at 209 East Portage Avenue, which was built in the early 20th century.

“It’s a great building. It’s built so well, it’ll be city hall 100 years from now.”

Referring back to President Bush’s visit, Lynn said “if there would have been any attack on him, the Secret Service would have taken him there,” in another nod to the building as being solid and secure. 

Cross border shopping also improved in Lynn’s time (though it goes up and down according to the Canadian dollar’s value).

Nov. 8 marked Lynn’s final Sault, Michigan city commission meeting, in which he delivered his farewells.

Lynn said “it was time (to leave politics). It was three decades,” adding he wants to spend more time with his family (three children and six grandchildren) and travel to the southern U.S.

“I’ve gone to enough meetings,” Lynn laughed.