Tom Shinnick, dedicated Brooklyn Center volunteer and community leader, dies at 85

Erin Golden, Star Tribune
·3 min read

If you spent any time at community events in Brooklyn Center in the last six decades, it's likely you would have run into Tom Shinnick.

You'd catch him on the Little League fields, where he might be coaching, serving as an umpire, or cutting the grass. You'd spot him in parades, driving an ancient fire engine for the Brooklyn Center Lions Club. He was a school board member, president of the local historical society, and a founder of the Brooklyn Center Business Association. He spent more than 30 years on the city's park commission.

"He was one of the most dedicated people to community service I've ever seen," said his son, Dan Shinnick. "I'd always tell people: My parents aren't Tom and Lorraine, they're Mr. and Mrs. Community Service."

Shinnick, who died March 12 at age 85 of complications from dementia, was still vice president of the business association at the time of his death. In recent months, with community events canceled and his outings limited, Shinnick was still logging on to Zoom meetings, eager to keep tabs on the community that was so central to his life.

Born in Minneapolis and raised in a downtown boarding house, Shinnick suffered a series of early losses. After his mother died in childbirth, Shinnick was looked after by an elderly woman who ran the boarding house while his father worked. The woman died when Shinnick was 12, and he and his father moved in with relatives on the city's North Side.

After graduating from Minneapolis North High School, Shinnick served in the Army and National Guard and eventually began a 37-year career with Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. He installed phones, climbed poles as a lineman, traveled to storm-ravaged areas to restore power and served in management roles in the company's downtown Minneapolis office.

The phone company was also, in a way, responsible for Shinnick's 61-year marriage to wife Lorraine; both were Northwestern Bell employees when they were set up on a blind date at a bowling alley.

The couple moved to Brooklyn Center in 1961, raised three children and threw themselves into community organizations and activities. When his sons started playing Little League baseball in the late 1970s, Tom Shinnick started as a coach. Before long, he was also an umpire, then president of the Brooklyn Center league and then the organization's treasurer. That work led him to the Brooklyn Center Lions Club, where he continued to champion parks and youth activities.

The list of Shinnick's volunteer duties and titles grew to the point where he'd often have a half-dozen meetings to attend each week. Shinnick's family joked that his busy volunteer schedule was likely the reason he took an early retirement from Northwestern Bell.

Cousin John Shinnick said Tom Shinnick had a lifelong interest in looking out for others and being around people. The decisions to volunteer, over and over again, came easy.

"I think he just thought it was the right thing to do, and he enjoyed doing it," John Shinnick said.

Andy Meyer, who met Shinnick when he joined the Brooklyn Center Business Association, said Shinnick's commitment to community and civic service was notable because it seems increasingly rare. To be around Shinnick, he said, was to feel like you should try to do more, too. "You almost couldn't help feel kind of inspired and prompted to try to make giving back part of your life," he said.

In addition to his wife and son Dan, both of Brooklyn Center, Shinnick is survived by his daughter Lynn Kottke of South Haven, Minn.; son Patrick of West Fargo, N.D., and four grandchildren. Services have been held.

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790