If she could, there isn’t a thing Virginia Smith would change about being Chippewa Falls’ longest tenured and first — and so far only — female mayor.
“I think if you had to do anything different, you wouldn’t, would you?” Dick Smith asked his mom.
“No,” Virginia said confidently.
Now residing in Bloomington, Minn., the longest-serving mayor in Chippewa Falls’ history will be back in the Chippewa Valley as the Chippewa Falls Public Library dedicates its large meeting room to her at an event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6. The dedication event will include Smith and her family, as Smith makes her way back to Chippewa Falls for the first time in years.
Besides her time as mayor, Virginia Smith served the city as a city council member for nine years and worked with the Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army and for the beautification of the city, Dick Smith said. She served the Second Ward while on the council.
“She dedicated her life to the city of Chippewa Falls for a good span of it, so we were very proud to hear we were considered,” Dick said. “I think at the time I didn’t realize what she accomplished.”
The idea to dedicate a room in the library to Virginia is a natural one, said Robert Hoekstra, a member of the library board and the Chippewa Falls City Council. Hoekstra has served on the council two times prior to his current one, including a stint during Virginia’s tenure as mayor.
“She had a real heart for Chippewa Falls, and I’m sure she still does,” Hoekstra said. “We had an excellent council at the time, and I believe we got a lot accomplished.”
One such accomplishment, Hoekstra mentioned, was working with the county to get it to increase its funding for the library. Virginia also served the library as president of its board.
And her love of libraries has extended into her Bloomington apartment, where Virginia said she has photos from the library and has served as a friend of multiple libraries.
Past her passion for reading and a local library, another accomplishment Virginia sees during her mayor stint is helping deny building of a supermax prison in Chippewa Falls. She was able to work out a compromise, which brought the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment facility to 2909 E. Park Ave.
“The people didn’t want it, so we turned that down,” Virginia said of the proposed maximum security prison. “As mayor you had to listen to all your citizens and decide what was best for your community.”
Viriginia said she always wanted to give people a chance to come into her office and talk, even if that meant they were complaining, so long as they didn’t swear. In her office she had a target from her shooting practice to serve as a reminder for that rule.
And sometimes listening to her community meant doing what they didn’t want. This came to fruition when Virginia and the council voted to put chlorine in Chippewa Falls’ historically pure water supply.
“People like our pure water. But it wasn’t pure anymore, and it was hard to convince people,” Virginia said. “And it’s hard to make a decision like that when people are used to having pure water, and then all the sudden we don’t anymore.”
Meanwhile, her husband, Robert, was always supportive, Virginia said — even when the criticism about her mayor’s job was aimed at him.
“He supported me in my mayor’s job. He got a lot of flak from people,” Virginia said. “He took it well. He didn’t get upset by people talking to him. He was a good listener too.”
Since retiring from her mayor’s position, Virginia has been traveling and soaking up some family time. Her travels include China, Japan, Kenya, Morocco, Germany, Italy, France and Norway.
Virginia moved to Bloomington about eight years ago to be closer to family and her grandchildren, but even after moving out of Chippewa Falls, Dick said his mother still has pride in the area.
“It was hard for her to move here, but she gets to see her grandkids,” Dick said.
Always thankful to the community she served, Virginia is ready for the return trip to Chippewa Falls.
“I think it was a wonderful city,” Virginia said. ‘And I thank them for all the support.”