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Howard Jensen, from left, Diane Klaers and Gerry Nyberg are pictured Wednesday with some of the memorabilia that belonged to their late father, Roy C. Jensen. Tribune photo by Anne Polta
Howard Jensen, from left, Diane Klaers and Gerry Nyberg are pictured Wednesday with some of the memorabilia that belonged to their late father, Roy C. Jensen. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

Former west central Minnesota lawmaker, 101, remembered for work ethic, forward thinking

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Roy C. Jensen didn't attend school past the eighth grade and was happiest running his dairy farm north of Priam.

Yet he left a statewide legacy: As a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the 1950s, he helped craft the bill that established Minnesota's community college system.

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Jensen died Sunday at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar at the age of 101. He was among the oldest living retired lawmakers in the state.

His family remembered him this week for his work ethic, disciplined habits and forward thinking.

"It was never 'look back.' It was always 'look ahead,'" said his daughter, Gerry Nyberg.

Jensen, who was born on the family farm, milked his first cow at the age of 5. Although farming always came first, he also somehow found time to serve as director of the Kandiyohi County Rural Electric Association, clerk of the District 80 School Board, president of the St. Johns Telephone Company, secretary of the Priam Co-op Elevator Association and a member of the St. Johns Township Board.

"He didn't just get up and milk the cows and plow the field and do the farmwork," Nyberg said. "In the evenings he had all those activities. He used his time well."

A lifelong Republican, he ran for the Legislature in 1950 at the urging of friends. In his official announcement of his candidacy, he said he "always believed in honest government."

He served two terms, from 1951 through 1953, before being defeated for re-election to a third term.

It was a different era in politics, said his son, Howard Jensen.

"In those days the Legislature only met for three months and they met every other year," he said.

Many legislators also were farmers, and the bills they dealt with reflected a society that was largely agrarian, he said. One of the more controversial bills debated by Rep. Jensen and his colleagues was whether to allow oleomargarine to be sold with yellow coloring. Back then, oleo was white and consumers had to add the color themselves; many dairy supporters, including Jensen, wanted to keep it this way in order to distinguish oleo from real butter.

In later years, Jensen remained interested in politics but mostly kept his thoughts to himself, his son said. "He had his opinions, but after he got through with the Legislature, it was someone else's time."

Jensen was hale and active well into his 90s. He didn't smoke, didn't drink and never took second helpings, his family said.

He was eager to embrace new things -- installing a telephone in the barn for business calls, for instance, or hosting 5,000 visitors on the farm for a demonstration on grassland crops. At age 99 he contemplated getting a cell phone.

"He always looked forward to tomorrow," Howard Jensen said.

The senior Jensen took up golf in his 80s while wintering in Arizona and played the game regularly, walking the course until succumbing to the ease of a golf cart when he turned 90.

His manners were always courtly, said his daughter, Diane Klaers. "He always wanted to do the right thing."

It wasn't until the last year of his life that he began to slow down, she said. "He finally started getting up at 7:30 or 8 o'clock. He started to relax a little bit."

One of the highlights of Jensen's final years was returning to the state Capitol in October 2009, where he was honored as one of the state's oldest living retired legislators. He was 100 at the time.

He and his wife, DeEtta, were married for 68 years. She died in 2005 at age 91.

The funeral is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Willmar, where Jensen was baptized and confirmed. Among the survivors are his three children, who all live in the Willmar area, and nine grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

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