In Memory of Denis Gardner, 1965-2022

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In Memory of Denis Gardner, 1965-2022

By: Todd Mahon | Preservation & Facilities | May 6, 2022
Composite image: Left to right: Denis with beard and scarf; Denis in baseball cap with Saint Paul municipal grain terminal head house in background; Center: Denis with Minnesota State Capitol East stairs behind him; Denis at his desk at MNHS

As noted in the May 4, 2022, edition of the Local History News, Denis Gardner, Minnesota’s National Register Historian, passed away unexpectedly on March 4, 2022. His work with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and his important research and writing about Minnesota’s historic places brought him in close contact with many in Minnesota’s history network. 

His professional work in the field began in 1996 as a historian for Minneapolis’s Hess Roise and Company. With that work, he developed a strong connection to the National Register of Historic Places through various projects with the firm. He struck out on his own and worked as an independent consultant, researching and writing nominations for properties to be listed on the National Register. With this deep experience, as well as his published books, Denis became a National Register Historian with SHPO in 2011, where he managed the National Register program for the Minnesota Historical Society. In 2018, SHPO, along with Denis, transferred from MNHS to the State of Minnesota. 

Denis leaves behind an impressive record of work that will benefit Minnesotans for generations to come. He wrote books about the state’s bridges, the construction and restoration of the Capitol building, and books about the state’s other National Register properties. He conducted countless book talks, lectures, and programs at local history organizations across the state. 

These contributions to the historical record and sharing it with so many people are perhaps only matched by the friendships that he forged with many of us. Denis was… a character. He often had us all laughing at his small quirks and independent attitude. Melinda Hutchinson, Grants Specialist, said, “Denis was a wonderful guy--intelligent, dedicated, witty. He put up with all my sassy remarks and good-natured ribbing. In return, he called me one of his favorite people. He was one of mine, too, and I will miss him.” Carolyn Veeser-Egbide, our Grants Office manager, noted Denis’s (extreme) enthusiasm for bridges when she said, “I have fond memories of him, especially stories involving his love of bridges. His knowledge of Minnesota resources was impressive, and he could easily recall many details when most of us would need to look them up. I’ll miss him!”

And miss him we do. We still have moments of reaching for the phone to call him or drafting an email to ask him a question. There are still so many things that are “good questions for Denis.” It’s a reminder that his duties will be taken over and continued, but he will not be replaced. Thanks for being a great colleague to all of us, Denis, and thanks for leaving behind a legacy for Minnesota to benefit from. 

There will be a memorial service for Denis in the L’Etoile du Nord vault (room B015) at the Minnesota State Capitol on Saturday, May 14 at 11:00 am.