Steve Ovick and Jane Robbins

Planning Commission Chair Steve Ovick offers Jane Robbins a thank you for her leadership and contributions. Photo by Mike Gainor.

The first woman elected as mayor of Pine City and longest-serving mayor in city history has been to a whole lot of city council meetings in her 10 terms in office.

“I have to boast just a little bit, because I didn’t miss one city council meeting in the past 20 years,” said Jane Robbins. “I’m not bragging, but I did keep track.”

That first time Robbins skipped a meeting was after leaving the job this January. She said she and husband Gerry went out to dinner, then went home and had “a leisurely evening in front of the fireplace.”

But it was a little strange.

“You think about it,” she said. “After this many years, that first Wednesday rolls around, and it automatically enters your mind. But then it feels kind of good that you’re past that now. You can’t say you don’t miss it. But there’s also that feeling of, you’ve been there, you’ve done that. Time to move on.”

Robbins is looking forward, but doesn’t mind looking back on her years of service to the community as part of nearly a half-century of life in Pine City.

Radio days

Jane and Gerry came to Pine City back in 1967 to consider purchasing the WCMP radio station.

“Well, we liked the water, the trees, everything we saw,” Robbins said. “The freeway wasn’t here yet. It seemed like a neighborly small town.”

Jane met Gerry through the radio business, back in Thief River Falls close to the town of Plummer where she grew up.

“Nobody knows where that is,” Robbins said. “[Population] was 272, when everyone was home. My graduating class in Plummer was 32. Born and raised on the farm. Picked lots of mustard in the fields back in my day.”

Once they married, the young couple sought experience in all aspects of the broadcast business with an eye toward one day owning their own station.

“We’ve been in the broadcast business all our lives,” she said. “That’s all we knew.”

From Thief River they went to Mankato, to Winona and then to Montana, where they spent over seven years.

“And then we came back because we’re both from Minnesota,” Robbins said.

New in town

After checking out the town and the station, the couple bought WCMP in 1968. Running a radio station was not always a glamorous job.

“You have to sweep the floor, fill the pop machine when you first come,” Robbins said. “You have to be very dollar-conscious. There were challenges. There always are in business. There were no amenities. You purchased and did with your own dollars.”

And though they were both from Minnesota, they had gotten accustomed to how folks do things in Montana.

“We went out to Montana and didn’t know a soul,” Robbins said. “The first day the moving van came out there ... the neighbor next door came over and said ... please come over and have dinner with us. The hospitality in the West is just tremendous. We got used to that. Then we moved back to Minnesota – and it’s not the same. I just felt like I was on the outside looking in. It just took a period of time for the people to get friendly.”

So the couple took it on themselves to become part of the community.

“We became involved in our church, and I bowled, and various things through the radio station ... and the Chamber here,” Robbins said. “And then it didn’t seem quite so cold. But I think to this day ... how many times do we go to church, and people come to church and we don’t say hi. We just don’t do enough of that. It’s too bad.”

She was also becoming known as a voice on the radio with her show, “Robbin’s Nest.”

“All local news, events, birthdays,” she said. “All local stuff. We run into people today, and they remember us. You did my birthday, you did my anniversary, you did that interview.”

She attended countless county fairs, open houses, parades and other events for WCMP, and in doing so she became interested in local politics.

She joined the city council in 1977, the first woman ever to take such a direct part in Pine City’s leadership.

She was appointed to the office twice to fill in for departing city council members. Then she ran for a council seat.

“I got beat for one four-year term,” Robbins said. “But then I came back and was elected for two four-year terms. Then after that, that’s when the write-in campaign [for mayor] started.”

In Part Two: Mayor Jane Robbins guides Pine City.

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