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Star of long-running Kroll's Diner ads dies at 88

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Pat Sondrall, left, of Fargo, and Clara Hedin, of Moorhead, stand outside of Kroll's in Fargo. Sondrall died at age 84 in June 2013. Hedin died Jan. 28, 2016. Forum file photo2 / 3
Clara Hedin of Moorhead has been featured as one of the Kroll's Diner ladies in commercials. Carrie Snyder / The Forum3 / 3

MOORHEAD – She was known region-wide for flogging fleischkuechle and knoephla, in a distinctively German bark more reminiscent of a drill sergeant than a dear little old lady.

But to the man who cast her two decades ago as "an authority figure" to sell his tagline for Kroll's Diner – "Sit down and eat!" – Clara Hedin turned out to be even sweeter than your typical pie-pushing granny.

Hedin, 88, of Moorhead, died Thursday.

"She was just a peach," David Hanson said.

The octogenarian had only recently taken a back seat in her promotional duties for the small chain of North Dakota restaurants that made her and fellow Kroll's lady Pat Sondrall of Fargo famous. She and Sondrall starred in more than 20 Kroll's commercials beginning in 2000.

Hanson was working for another ad agency that wanted to sell Kroll's as the latest 50s-style sock-hop spot. But when their research discovered Kroll's big draw was its western North Dakota-influenced German cooking, Hanson decided youth wasn't the way to sell the diner.

"When people are zigging, I like to zag," he said.

Instead, a little-old-lady search landed him Hedin, who had worked in food service and the hospitality shop for the last 25 years at then-St. Luke's hospital, now Sanford Medical Center, said her daughter, Loree Brenna of Moorhead.

Hedin's stern, Teutonic line readings of his scripts for the ad campaign made Hanson laugh right off the bat, and boom – Hedin had a new career.

"She'd just spout back these lines, and they'd be so weird the way they came out," he laughs. "She was the original star. She was the shining light of the whole thing.

The ad campaign moved with Hanson when he went to H2M in 2001, and Hedin and the Kroll's account went with him.

"There's been no copycats," he said of the campaign, which once featured the Kroll's ladies getting covered in flour and soda pop and flashing a "gang sign" driving a Kroll's vehicle. "It made a lot of money for them."

Hanson said Hedin was a good sport through all the shenanigans, but Brenna said that was just her mom's real personality.

"The commercials were just like her normal self," Brenna said. "She was not acting."

Two new Kroll's ladies were cast following a cattle call in 2011, when co-star Sondrall moved away to be closer to family. Sondrall died in 2013, at 84, followed by one of the "new" Kroll's ladies, Eileen Veitch of West Fargo, in 2014.

But Hedin, who'd been living on her own here, didn't stop working for Kroll's until about two years ago, when her health made it difficult for her to get around.

She was recognized wherever she went, even in the nursing home, her daughter said.

"You just can't replace a Clara," Hanson said.