Engineer that saved St. Peter, Minn. from flood waters dies at 92

Image 1 of 2

Martin Menk was the co-founder of an engineering firm and helped build parks, roads, and municipal buildings in towns across the Midwest. But he may be best remembered for helping his hometown St. Peter stay above water a half-century ago.

"I always had tremendous respect for Martin. He was just the perfect gentlemen," Bob Sandeen, family friend and historian at Nicollet County, said.

Since it was founded back in 1853, St. Peter has seen its share of natural disasters. But the fact that a large part of the town is still standing, is a testament to one of its favorite sons.

"1965 is way up there. That's the one everyone remembers," Sandeen said.

After growing up in St. Peter and serving in World War II, Menk returned to his hometown to get married and raise a family. As city engineer in 1965, while the Minnesota River threatened to flood the town from the east, Menk realized a heavy snow pack on the west side would soon melt – sending water cascading down the hill.

So, he organized a massive sandbagging effort along Sunrise Drive to hold the flood waters at bay.

"He was the man who first perceived the threat to the city and insisted action be taken to diminish that threat," Sandeen said.

But the sandbags were no match for the rising water so Menk and his colleagues decided to carve an artificial river through town. They opened a break in the sandbags to send the floodwaters through a ravine and onto several city streets, before they ended up in an athletic field and eventually the river.

The flood ripped up roads and carved a hole 10 feet deep through the city, but didn't destroy any houses.

"That's pretty good to take off the pavement. All the way down 10 feet. The water had some real power to it. You can imagine what would have happened if it hit the east side of Sunrise Drive, it would have been pretty bad," Sandeen said.

Menk may have alerted his city to take a stand on Sunrise Drive, now, that same community is mourning the fact that the sun has set on one of its own.

"He was universally respected. I never heard anyone say anything bad about him – just one of those real treasures," Sandeen said.

Memorial service for Menk will be 2 p.m. Thursday, March 31 at Trinity Lutheran Church, St. Peter.