MANKATO — The name Larry “Ralph” Forsythe probably doesn’t ring a bell for many of the tens of thousands of people who shop at River Hills Mall, the thousands of employees in Mankato’s east-side industrial area or the hundreds living in the city’s widespread affordable housing units.
But Forsythe, the former city planner and economic development director who died Thursday at the age of 60, had his hand in all of that and much more.
“He definitely did a lot of good for Mankato,” said retired City Engineer Ken Saffert, who spent three decades working for the city.
“He took a job when there were difficulties and solved the difficulties,” said former City Manager Bill Bassett.
“And he was very visionary,” said Paul Vogel, Mankato’s current community development director. “He saw the potential of Mankato as a growing regional center.”
Forsythe, who had a small-town upbringing in Vernon Center and got his start with the city as an intern, was also quick to mentor other would-be urban planners as an instructor at Minnesota State University and as the boss of the city’s planning/community development department.
He emphasized the importance of critical thinking and being technically strong — digging into the nuts and bolts of good long-term planning — and the result was a community that has grown steadily without generating the conflict with surrounding townships, the traffic congestion caused by uncontrolled sprawl and other problems that have beset some regional centers.
“People talk about the development process in Mankato and how orderly it is. That foundation was laid by Larry,” Vogel said. “To my credit, I haven’t screwed it up. But he basically laid that foundation.”
That doesn’t mean Forsythe’s tenure was without conflict. Forsythe was the one who negotiated the development agreement for River Hills Mall, which was the final blow to the downtown mall as a retail hot spot in Mankato.