PARK RIVER, N.D. – An American flag at half-staff and tractors parked in front of a country church paid tribute on a brisk fall day to the late Don Hylden.
The symbols honoring Hylden on Oct. 15, the day of his funeral, were befitting for the farmer whose life was hallmarked by American patriotism, faith in God and a passion for agriculture.
Hylden, who died Oct. 10, was one of the last remaining grandsons of the pioneers who settled Walsh County. The 90-year-old’s Norwegian grandparents, Mikkel and Brita Hylden, left Norway in 1880, and homesteaded in Pleasant Valley, west of Park River, in 1881. The couple, together with other Norwegian immigrants, helped build a church there a few years later.
Don Hylden worshipped in the church until it closed in the 1980s and farmed nearby land his entire life, still taking an active role in the farm operation until a few weeks ago, said his son, Mark Hylden.
“He was swathing, he was combining, he was driving truck,” Hylden said. During a trip to his farm shortly before he died, Don Hylden took a final look at the land he loved.
“We were chisel plowing a field just to the east, and he got a ride out there to see how that was going. He thought that it looked beautiful,” Hylden said.
The elder Hylden and his brothers began farming in the 1930s, when their father was hospitalized at the San Haven Sanitarium in northern North Dakota.
“Their father, David, was stricken with (tuberculosis) and managed the farm from his hospital bed. He would talk to the boys and the hired man. They did the work,” Hylden said.
Beginning his farming career during the Great Depression didn’t dampen his father’s enthusiasm for farming nor his positive outlook on life, friends and family members said.
For many years, besides raising small grains and row crops, Don Hylden operated a Grade A dairy with his brothers Duane and Mike.
“Even when he was in his last night in the hospital he was talking about this we needed to do or that we needed to do. His wheels were just spinning,” Hylden said.” From his hospital bed at Sanford, he struck up a deal with a well-established farm family to rent out some of the land he owned to a potato farmer.”
Hylden’s undying interest in farming didn’t come as a surprise to Walsh County Extension Agricultural Agent Brad Brummond.
“You really couldn't’ talk to Don – outside of the weather – unless you talked farming,” Brummond said. "That’s where Don’s heart and soul were: farming."
As a farmer and as an individual, Hylden was open to new ideas, Brummond said.
“Don was branching out to some new things,” he said. “Corn was one I helped him with.
“The qualities I liked about Don Hylden were, he always had an open mind. He always wanted to be better. He was always willing to find the best in people when it was sometimes hard to find.”
Hylden’s sunny outlook endeared him to Spencer Bina, his neighbor. Although Bina is more than half a century younger than Hylden, the two shared a common interest in agriculture.
“The thing that I always admired about Don Hylden (was) his mind was sharp right to the end. He could tell such detailed, vivid stories of farming in the old days," Bina said.
Another thing he appreciated about his neighbor was that no matter how challenging the year, Hylden was unfailingly positive about his beloved profession.
“I always had a fondness for Don because it didn’t matter how tough the farming season was, he always had a smile on his face.’ he said.
When Mark Hylden told Bina that his father had requested that Bina fly the U.S. flag he put on land he owns adjacent to the Pleasant Valley at half-staff from Oct. 11 to Oct. 15, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, Bina said.
“That’s a pretty simple request to grant,” he said.
Hylden, who served in the U.S. Army on the front lines during the Korean War, was proud of his service to the United States, Mark Hylden said.
"Dad liked to say that he stood for the flag and knelt before the cross of Christ," he said.