Former Grand Forks City Councilman Sam Martinson rememberedSam Martinson, who died Saturday, was a strong advocate for private enterprise and against much government involvement in business when he ran for the Grand Forks City Council in 1998, winning a three-way race in Ward 4 with just under 50 percent of the vote.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Sam Martinson, who died Saturday, was a strong advocate for private enterprise and against much government involvement in business when he ran for the Grand Forks City Council in 1998, winning a three-way race in Ward 4 with just under 50 percent of the vote.
“I am extremely opposed to government of any shape or form getting into the private sector,” Martinson said shortly after his election. “It’s never worked in the history of our nation. It never will. The market will take care of itself.”
But that conservative philosophy didn’t keep him from bringing a lot of heart to government service, former city colleagues said.
“He thought government had its place,” former Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said. “He always told me that. But he wasn’t too keen when government tried to interfere with business of any kind.”
Martinson was one of the key backers of Owens’ successful campaign for mayor in 1996, and he organized a lavish going-away party for her and her husband, Bobby, when they left Grand Forks in spring 2001.
“I didn’t always agree with him,” Pat Owens said from her home in Florida. “But when you looked at him, you could almost see his heart through his eyes. He was a super-caring person, and he was the one who was always there to say things will be OK. He would always boost me up.
“You could not find a more honest, dedicated person than Sam.”
Beth Bouley served on the council with Martinson in the often frenetic post-1997 flood days.
“Sam and I were very cognizant that we were jumping onto a moving freight train,” she said. “Sam was a good man, a kind and gentle man. I don’t know that I ever saw a moment of temper out of him. He was always even-keeled.”
Hal Gershman, the current council president, also served with Martinson.
“He was a sweet man, with a gentle demeanor about him,” Gershman said. “He never became vitriolic or pounded the table. You could disagree and talk with him about the issues, and he didn’t demean other people if they disagreed with him.”
Mayor Mike Brown, who defeated Owens in 2000, said that Martinson “served selflessly on the council for many years, (and) our community is better because of his service. It was my pleasure to work with him and learn from him while he was on the council.”
In 2002, Martinson left the council and, after briefly considering a run for the Grand Forks County Board of Commissioners, decided to take himself out of government and return fulltime to his business, which was real estate.
Martinson, 76, was born in Churchs Ferry, N.D., where he attended school and played basketball. After service with the Air Force during the Korean War, he returned to North Dakota and worked for Otter Tail Power Co. in Devils Lake, where he also served as a volunteer firefighter. His work with the power company later took him to Garrison, N.D., and Fergus Falls, Minn.
In 1969, Martinson was a founder of Northland Homes in Grand Forks, where he later worked as a real estate agent. Until recently, he was president of Options for Independent Living in East Grand Forks.
He was president of the Sioux Boosters, 1991-1992, and served as president of the Sharon Lutheran Church Council, among other community involvements.
Friends posting messages on an Internet guestbook noted that Martinson was proud of the banana bread he liked to deliver to acquaintances. He claimed creative rights, one friend noted, though the loaves were always labeled “Bernice’s banana bread.”
Martinson is survived by Bernice, his wife of 56 years; daughters Joni Gilbertson and Tammy Bauduin, both of Grand Forks, and four grandchildren.
His funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Sharon Lutheran Church with visitation 5-7 p.m. Thursday in Amundson Funeral Home, Grand Forks, and for an hour before the service Friday in the church. Burial with military honors will be in Memorial Park South Cemetery, Grand Forks.
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.