Even though he only made periodic appearances behind the benches in Blue Earth County District Court, Judge John Roue had a lasting impact on the people he worked with in Mankato.

Judy Besemer, Blue Earth County court administrator, said her staff was shocked to hear Monday that Roue had drowned Sunday while vacationing at a friend’s property in Panama. Roue, 68, was caught in an undertow while swimming with his wife at a beach, his daughter, Jill Burggraf, told the Grand Forks Herald.

“We’re still in shock,” Besemer said Tuesday. “It came out of the blue. It’s tragic. He was truly a nice guy.”

Roue was an avid reader and one of the first things he asked about was whether there was a second-hand bookstore in Mankato, said De Born, deputy court administrator. She directed him to the Once Read store on Front Street.

Roue would spend a week in Mankato about once a month, filling in for the county’s three full time judges. He retired as a judge in Polk County in 2006 and had been doing fill-in work in Mankato since then. He was last here in December.

On an alumni biography he wrote himself for the Fosston High School alumni Internet site, Roue said his favorite books were suspense novels. He graduated from Fosston in 1957 before going on to earn political science and history degrees from the University of Minnesota in 1961, then a law degree from the U of M Law School in 1964.

“He was a very knowledgeable guy, and even tempered both on and off the bench,” Born said. “It was a blessing to have known him.”

Sonja Kruger, another deputy court administrator who worked with Roue, said she invited him to dinner at her house after running into him at the downtown HyVee. After grumbling about eating out too much, he struck up a conversation with one of Kruger’s young daughters. The subject was peanut butter — crunchy or creamy.

That night Kruger’s daughter suggested sending some freshly baked cookies to the courthouse for her new friend. When the invitation to dinner followed, Roue accepted and brought books as gifts for both of Kruger’s daughters.

Kruger said Roue was an entertaining guest (her parents grew up near Fosston). She and her husband considered inviting him to dinner again, but their kitchen is being remodeled. Now she wishes she would have went ahead with invitation anyway, knowing he would have been happy to eat at a card table.

“He was very interesting to listen to because he had experiences similar to my parents,” she said. “He wasn’t flashy, and he wasn’t above talking to people and listening to what they had to say.”

All three court deputies said they suspect there are people in Mankato who knew Roue, but had no idea he was a judge. Some of those people are other regulars at the AmericInn, the Mankato hotel where he always chose to stay during his time at the Blue Earth County Courthouse.

The same room was set aside for him, said Stephanie Stack, the hotel’s assistant manager.

“He would talk to everyone at breakfast,” Stack said.

“He was very pleasant with our other guests and they’re going to be shocked to hear he died.

“He was just a nice guy.”

— The Associated Press

contributed to this report

React to this story:

React to this story: