Services for Peter can be viewed at courtesy of First Lutheran Church - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYFoInrAV9c
Peter Christian Gandrud peacefully departed for heaven Tuesday morning, February 15, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, after suffering a stroke recently.
Peter was born July 3, 1935, in Brooten, MN to Edmund and Alyce (Peterson) Gandrud. He was baptized at the PA Gandrud residence in Sunburg, MN on July 23, 1935 and grew up in this very small Norwegian town where Norsk was more commonly spoken than English. His Norwegian heritage remained a passionate interest for him throughout his life.
Peter grew up helping his parents in the general store his parents owned in Sunburg, and attending West Norway Lake Lutheran Church where his mother was the organist. Beginning at age five, he literally walked a mile uphill to the one room school outside Sunburg. (Return trip was downhill.) Later, since there were only two students in his grade, both were moved up so Peter graduated from high school at age 16. He then attended St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, graduating in 1956 with a BA in Economics and Political Science. While at St. Olaf, Peter was in the Air Force ROTC and planned to become an Air Force pilot. The one big disappointment of his life was that he developed rheumatic fever as a Senior and afterward was no longer eligible for service.
At age 19, Peter lost his father to lung cancer; from then on, as the oldest son, he did his best to care for his mother and three younger brothers, traveling back and forth from Northfield to Sunburg on his Indian motorcycle. After graduation, he worked as a partner with his mother at the family store for five years, also serving as the Sunburg Fire Chief and Justice of the Peace.
On August 17, 1957, Peter married his one and only true love, Marilyn Sorby, who had just graduated from high school as Valedictorian of her class. Daughters Mary and Karin were born while the family lived in Sunburg. Having passed his CPA exam, in 1962 Peter went to work for the US Treasury Department as an Internal Revenue Service officer; he served in that capacity until his retirement.
After attending IRS training in Duluth, Peter moved his family to Bemidji, where son Michael was born and where he and Marilyn have lived ever since. They both loved the Bemidji community and their church home at First Lutheran, Peter turning down promotions over the years in order to stay in town. At one point during the 1980s, an anti-government ringleader moved to Bemidji with plans to blow up the federal building and other crimes directed most specifically at the IRS, including assassinating Peter because he happened to be the local IRS agent. After months of local drama, the ringleader was arrested, a semi load of weaponry was recovered from the home he was renting on Birchmont Drive, and the ringleader and some of his companions in crime went to prison. At that point, Peter and Marilyn were offered the chance to enter the federal witness protection program, but both said they were not going to be intimidated into leaving behind their friends and family.
The irony of targeting Dad over his IRS employment was how Peter approached his job. He believed in doing everything he could to help local businesses who were having good faith tax issues work through their difficulties and stay afloat. There were other cases where Peter felt people’s circumstances dictated he shouldn’t disturb them. One tale he liked to tell was of an older man who lived a hermit-like existence alone on an island on the Rainey River and never filed his taxes. According to Peter, (who never hesitated to “improve” a story a bit), he and the man had come to an understanding. Annually, Peter would rent a boat and begin the trip across the water to visit the man. The man would use his shotgun to fire over Peter’s head. Peter would then turn the boat around and return to the mainland, feeling he could report in good faith that he had attempted to contact the man.
Another story very personal to Peter’s family involved a family with small children, living in a one room cabin in the woods North of Bemidji. The husband was a logger who was struggling to make ends meet. Peter was concerned about this family, but knew they would not accept outside help. So Peter’s family and close friends, the Nylands, put together Christmas presents, food and necessities and brought them to this home at a time when Peter knew no one was home and a box could be left anonymously. Peter taught his family that the joy of Christmas was in the giving.
Back in “those days”, there was an IRS office open in town; Peter and his partner happily would answer tax questions in person and do your taxes for free. Peter was known for the great relationships he developed with other federal, state, tribal and local officials. He had a special friendship with, and enormous admiration and respect for Red Lake Chairman Roger Jourdain, who each year gifted Peter with a Red Lake license plate that said “1040”.
Peter was a charter member of the Bemidji Sons of Norway Lodge 500, and past President for many years. During that time, for about ten years, the Lodge sponsored an annual student from Norway to attend Bemidji State (then) College, partially choosing the student based on cross country skiing abilities. Many of these students were All American skiers and won National Championships. Having developed a “home away from home” relationship with these students, Peter stayed in touch, with visits back and forth and even a surprise birthday for Peter in Norway where nearly all were able to reunite. These students also gave Peter many special opportunities on his many visits to Norway, including mountain camping, sailing fjords, walking the King’s dog at his summer palace, being on the dock to greet the Hjemkomst when it arrived in Norway after its historic trip across the Atlantic that confirmed the viability of Lief Erikson’s voyage, attending the Olympics in Norway and many more. In recent years, as his health was failing, he greatly cherished a visit from former student and close friend, Lief Kagge.
After Peter’s retirement, his interest in Norwegian culture and pursuit of his family history became like a second career. He traveled to Norway many times to the point he became a part time tour guide for Brekke Travel, Grand Forks. From 1992-1997, he served as President of the Hallinglag of America, an organization for Americans who trace their ancestry to the Hallingdal area of Norway. In addition to visiting churches, court houses, cemeteries in the U.S. and Norway, and Salt Lake City, to trace his own family roots, he helped many others trace Norwegian ancestors. (Of course, this was all before things like ancestry.com). He also was a charter member of the Nordic Initiative, a Grand Forks organization that helped establish a Norwegian history section at the University of North Dakota library. Because one of the BSC students had become the director of the Oslo airport, he was part of facilitating the connection between Norway and UND to expand the aeronautical department in order to train all of Norway’s air traffic controllers. At one point, Dad received a special plaque from the Norwegian government recognizing him for his work promoting US-Norwegian connections. From cross country ski races in Bemidji to the Skogfjorden Language Camp at Concordia Language Villages, Peter was involved wherever something Norwegian was happening. Last but certainly not least, Peter cooked the fish at First Lutheran Church lutefisk dinners for over fifty years.
Other organizations that were important to Peter over the years included the Bemidji Lions Club, the Bemidji Eagles, and as a member of the unofficial Black Forrest Bakery gang and the “Grizzlies”, IRS retirees who got together annually. Most recently, Peter maintained his friendships with regular coffees at Raphael’s.
Peter is survived by his wife of 64 years, Marilyn, daughter Mary (John) Olson, son Michael (Jennifer) Gandrud, Michael’s daughter, Ellen Gandrud; daughter Karin (Casey) Malmquist’s children Chloe and Jamie Malmquist; and Mary’s children, Alyson (Eric) Swanson, Annalise Aakhus, Caliyah, Ceyonna and Celisha Olson, and step-children John M. (Kala) Olson and Michelle (Chris) Bliss. Also surviving him are brothers Rolland and Phillip (Delores) Gandrud and their families. Waiting to greet him in heaven are his parents, Edmund and Alyce Gandrud, infant brother Edmund Longworth Gandrud Jr., brother David (Margaret) Gandrud and beloved daughter, Karin.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, remembrances in Peter’s honor be directed to one of the many organizations where he was a member, including especially First Lutheran Church of Bemidji and the Bemidji Sons of Norway lodge.
Services will be this Saturday, February 19, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji, with an opportunity for private good-byes beginning at 2:00 p.m. followed by the funeral at 3:00 p.m. The service will be live streamed through the church website for those unable to attend. The family requests that COVID protocols be observed, according to your comfort, by those attending in person. Peter will be laid to rest at West Norway Lake Church outside Sunburg, at a date this Spring that is yet to be determined.
Peter was known for his kindness and devotion to family. He generally was a quiet man who did not like to call attention to himself, but among his friends he was known for his love of telling and hearing stories and his wry wit. He will live on in our hearts until we see him again.