Hal Greenwood enjoys telling the story of his life, and with good reason: It's a heck of a story. Indeed, says Greenwood, “looking back at all that happened, it's kind of scary.“
The Hal Greenwood most Cook County residents know is a whirling dervish of civic involvement, which continues despite his 80 years. He's had his fingers in so many pies over the years that it is difficult to keep track: member of the joint Grand Marais-Cook County Economic Development Agency board; past president of the Lions Club and co-chair of the club's Fisherman's Picnic; leader of the successful 2002 school levy referendum; chairman of the Grand Marais Planning and Zoning Commission; chairman of the Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission; Cook County 2007 Citizen of the Year and reading mentor to youngsters in the Cook County schools.
One of Greenwood's proudest roles has been as chairman and member of the Cook County Revolving Loan Fund, which has made critical, low-interest loans totaling more than $4 million to county businesses, almost all of them repaid in full.
Over the years, Greenwood has been deeply, if unofficially, involved in efforts to improve Cook County. One example, was Greenwood's work to persuade Congress that federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, should make payments to county governments in lieu of property taxes they would pay if federal lands were on the tax rolls. That legislation, which Greenwood encouraged his friends Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Rep. John Blatnik to support, has been important for Cook County, where more than 92 percent of the land is owned by public agencies.
But Greenwood had lived a very full and colorful life before he and his wife, Carol, moved permanently to Cook County in 1993. Carol Greenwood, a much beloved Grand Marais figure herself, died in 2007.
Greenwood was born in Minneapolis in 1931, raised and educated there. His father was an Internal Revenue agent, and his mother served as a volunteer secretary to Gov. Floyd B. Olson, introducing Hal Greenwood to politics at an early age. “My mother was a strong Democratic-Farmer-Labor backer of Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy....” he says.
Following his graduation from Southwest High School, Greenwood enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served for four years, much of it in Washington, D.C. as a naval investigator. When he left the Navy, he returned to Minneapolis and married Carol, his sweetheart from eighth grade. He then joined the Edina Police Department. It was during his time as a policeman that he met Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Rep. John Blatnik, which began his immersion in national politics. “I drove them around a little bit,” Greenwood says of Humphrey and Blatnik.
“Reuben Youngdahl introduced us,” Greenwood says. “Reuben Youngdahl was a very close supporter of Hubert Humphrey, and Reuben Youngdahl and I were very, very close. He was on the board of Midwest Federal.” Youngdahl was the Lutheran minister who grew Mount Olivet Lutheran Church from a small congregation an exceptionally large, wealthy church.
A mention of Youngdahl leads Greenwood directly into a story about Gov. Luther Youngdahl, Reuben's brother. “Funny thing about that historically,” he says. “Luther Youngdahl was going to run against Humphrey for the Senate in '52, but … Truman appointed him a judge, 'cause he would have beat Humphrey.'
Greenwood came of age politically at a time when it was easy to have good friendships across the political aisle, in a way that sounds quaint now. Greenwood recalls fondly his enduring friendship with President Ronald Reagan. “Reagan, after he won the  election called me over at the Hilton Hotel. Reason I knew him is that he came to the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1952. At that time, he was a Democrat, and he gave a rousing inspirational speech endorsing Hubert H. Humphrey.
What turned Reagan's politics to the right? “It was the Communists,” Greenwood says. “He saw the Communists infiltrating the movie industry, and he was the one who stopped it. But he did it in a nice way, not the way Joe McCarthy did. He was really a good guy.”
Names trip off Greenwood's tongue right and left as he shows you through his memento-stuffed basement. Politicians dominate, but there are others as well. Billy Graham, Rod Carew, Jim Marshall, for example.
“I brought John McEnroe to Minneapolis for a match with Bjorn Borg. I brought Pavarotti to Minneapolis, too. That's my wife with him,” he points to a photo, “and there's me. That was at the old Met Center, out in Bloomington, the one they tore down.”
Greenwood first came to the North Shore in the 1950s when, as a parishioner at Mount Olivet, he worked at Cathedral of the Pines. He was smitten by the area and purchased a rustic cabin between the Poplar Grove Cemetery and Lake Superior. Then, in 1966, he purchased a property he calls “the Lodge” near the Brule River. The Lodge, he says, “was really a compound. There are four houses.” Over the years, Greenwood entertained the Minnesota Twins and numerous other luminaries there. About 10 years ago, he and Carol purchased the home in Grand Marais, where he still lives, amid a garden full of elves and a basement chock-a-block with mementos.
In 1953, Greenwood went to work for Minneapolis Savings and Loan Association. By 1966, he was chief executive of what had become Midwest Federal Savings and Loan. “I bought up a lot of failing savings and loans,” Greenwood says.
Within the industry, Greenwood was a rapidly rising star. At age 29, he was president of the Savings and Loan Council of the Twin Cities. At 30, he was president of the Savings and Loan League of Minnesota. In 1979, he became president of the National Savings and Loan League and chair of its legislative committee, which brought him into close contact with national politicians. Greenwood rattles off names like Ev Dirksen, John Sparkman, Wright Patman, Lyndon Johnson, among many. Should you doubt any of those relationships, Greenwood has photos and letters galore that prove he did, indeed, move in exalted political circles and exercise considerable influence.
Greenwood stayed involved in Minnesota affairs. He was one of the Minnesota Minute Men that sold the bonds needed to build Metropolitan Stadium and bring the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings to the Twin Cities. For years, Greenwood held the broadcast rights to the Twins. It would be difficult to exaggerate Greenwood's influence in Minnesota financial and political affairs from the mid-'60s to the late-'80s. He knew everyone and did pretty much everything.
When Humphrey served as vice president to Lyndon Johnson, Greenwood frequently was enlisted as an unofficial “troubleshooter” to visit countries with which the United States had difficult relationships. Those trips took Greenwood all over the world. He was, for example, one of the first Americans to visit China.
Greenwood was a trusted political adviser to Humphrey as he geared up to run for president in 1968. Greenwood says he helped draft the famed “Salt Lake City speech” in which Humphrey finally distance himself Johnson on the issue of Vietnam. “If Humphrey had given that speech a month or two earlier,” Greenwood says, “he would have won.”
Humphrey did not win, and, eventually, neither did Greenwood. His world came crashing down in 1989 when Midwest Federal Savings and Loan was declared insolvent and was taken over by the federal government. Greenwood was indicted on numerous counts of fraud and was eventually convicted on some counts. He served three years at the federal prison camp in Duluth, where he kept busy by teaching GED classes and helping arrange jobs for departing prisoners.
Greenwood maintains that he did nothing wrong and was the victim of a political witch hunt. He attributes much of his trouble to his support for Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger.
When he left prison, Greenwood “retired” to Grand Marais, where he continues to leave his indelible mark on public affairs. His mind remains razor sharp: He can tell you without hesitation the years that Rep. John Blatnik served in the U.S. House, or recall without effort who was present at a meeting in Washington that took place three decades ago.
Now, if I can just recruit him to help our team at Sven & Ole's trivia contests.