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John Sullivan cast a big shadow. His strong and steady presence was a major factor in the transformation of Baxter from a sleepy little afterthought to Brainerd to one of the state’s fastest-growing commercial and residential centers.


Sullivan died Monday at age 86, after a long career in which he stood out as a promoter of economic development and a selfless philanthropist. Giving back to the community, whether it meant serving on government boards or working with his church’s Royal Ranger Scouting Program, was inherent in his life of service.

As owner and president of Navillus Land Company, he attended countless Baxter City Council meetings, offering input and witnessing first-hand the decisions made by elected officials. Long-term planning and development were areas of particular interest to the developer. He served, it was often joked, as an unofficial city council member. That was an acknowledgment of his knowledge, passion and his role as “institutional memory” for city officials.

In today’s busy world, public servants  and citizen activists often burst upon the scene, full of ideas and enthusiasm, only to burn out after a half dozen  years. Sullivan’s commitment and interest in his community was unwavering.

As Todd Holman, a Baxter City Council member, pointed out, Sullivan was a man of vision who left his mark on the community.

“He was a do-er; those folks are rare,” Holman said.

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2010 and works as a online reporter, content editor and staff writer. She is a world traveler, accused idealist and California native now braving the winters of Central Minnesota. She believes in the power of human resolve and hopes to be part of something that makes history by bringing an end to injustice in the world. Sarah has worked as a criminal background researcher, high school civics teacher, grant writer, and contributing writer with Causecast.org — tackling every issue from global poverty to bio-degradable bicycles. Her favorite thing about living in Minnesota is July. Sarah left the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2014.
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