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Looking Back At Martin Sabo's Impact

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- One of Minnesota's most influential politicians has passed away. Former Congressman Martin Sabo died Sunday morning.

Sabo turned 78 years old just a couple of weeks ago. Family members said he died after years of breathing problems.

He served 18 years in the state Legislature and 28 years in the U.S. House. The Minneapolis Democrat retired in 2006.

Related: Remembering Congressman Martin Sabo (PHOTOS)

Long before he retired and his name became a landmark, his career began.

At 22, fresh out of Augsburg College, Martin Sabo was elected to the state legislature.

"It would be simple or wrong to underestimate the influence that he had both at the state level and the congressional level for the state of Minnesota, in terms of public policy, in terms of dollars and really just in terms of also being a leader for the Democratic party," David Schultz, Hamline University professor of American politics, said.

The dollars most recently went to the Hiawatha light rail line. He knew numbers well -- he chaired the House Budget Committee in Congress.

"Certainly during the time he represented the state of Minnesota, he had probably more influence in Congress than any other person from the state of Minnesota," Schultz said.

He had some fun, too, coaching the congressional Democrats in baseball -- a sport the Twins enthusiast savored. There was also another team he pulled for -- his alma mater, Augsburg College.

"This was always his college, he came to every home basketball game, every home baseball game, had his final birthday party here a couple of weeks ago when he turned 78," Augsburg College President Paul Pribbenow said.

He held on tight to his alma mater, and they to him, naming a center and program encouraging civic responsibility after him.

"He was very down to earth, he would come in to sit at a table, and the students would gather around him, I just felt that there was a real genuine sense he was a real Minnesotan in that way, a real Auggie," Pribbenow said.

Now, Sabo's name -- and a perfectly appropriate structure bearing that name -- stand strong.

Martin Olav Sabo Bridge
(credit: CBS)

"He's a bridge, a bridge that connects us from Humphrey, Freeman, Mondale, through him up until the present where we had people such as Wellstone, and now up to Klobuchar and Franken," Schultz said.

Political leaders from across the state reacted to Sabo's death on Sunday.

Sabo is survived by his wife Sylvia of 52 years, his two daughters and six grandchildren.

Memorials should be sent to the Sabo Endowment Fund at Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis, MN or Trinity Lutheran Congregation, 2001 Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis, MN.

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