100-year-old ex-lawmaker from Willmar honored Friday
ST. PAUL -- Roy Jensen returned Friday to the Minnesota House to be honored as the oldest retired state lawmaker.
"It's the first time I've been back in all these years," the 100-year-old lifelong Willmar-area resident said.
Jensen, who served in the House from 1951 to 1954 and is thought to be the oldest living ex-lawmaker, received a standing ovation from a couple dozen other former lawmakers gathered for an annual mock legislative session where they debated issues like they did when they served.
Former state House Speaker Martin Sabo, also a longtime member of the U.S. House, presided over the session.
Jensen took the attention in stride, but his three children and other family members beamed as younger ex-lawmakers, who nonetheless were graying, applauded him.
He did not know what to say about the most important issues of his time in the Legislature. But a daughter, Diane Klaers, did not hesitate: He helped start Willmar Community College, now known as Ridgewater.
"It has been a real popular thing," Jensen said.
Jensen, who lives in Willmar's Sunrise Village and gave up golf at 99 but still likes to fish, had no intention of running for the House when he was asked to attend a 1950 meeting.
"I was called into a meeting with 20 people," he recalled. "They said they would promise to support me."
It was a surprise request. "I would never have thought about it."
But he agreed and won two terms before losing a third attempt.
As a farmer -- with what then was a big 100-cow dairy herd-- and as an official of a local telephone cooperative, he served on legislative committees dealing with those issues, as well as game and fish and elections.
Back then, being a legislator worked well for Jensen, as well as other farmers, because sessions were held during three winter months every two years.
"There were quite a few farmers," he said.
His son Howard, daughters Gerry Nyberg and Klaers and other family members attended Friday's ceremony, organized by another former Willmar lawmaker, Wally Gustafson.
Gustafson said that while it is not certain, he thinks Jensen is the oldest ex-lawmaker.