A Norwegian who launched UND's American College of Norway and helped form Grand Forks' sister city relationship with his hometown has died.
Steinar Opstad, 76, died Tuesday, the American College of Norway in Moss, Norway, announced in a statement this week. He visited Grand Forks multiple times and had a key role in expanding Norway's presence in the city, said Bruce Gjovig, CEO of the Center for Innovation Foundation and friend of Opstad.
"He fell in love with Grand Forks, North Dakota and UND," Gjovig told the Herald. "We are very fortunate that Steinar was very much a part of our community and our education community.
"In many ways, he brought the world to UND."
Opstad formed a partnership with UND to launch in 1991 the American College of Norway, an American-style college that allowed hundreds of Norwegian students to travel to and study in the U.S. Hundreds of UND students also have traveled to Norway through the program. The first classes were held in 1992, and the school is celebrating its 25-year anniversary, according to its statement.
"Steinar was generous in sharing his love of learning, passion for teaching, knowledge of curriculum and high expectations, while continually focusing on the students," said College Executive Director Krista Lauritzen in a statement. "His commitment has defined our success."
Opstad also helped form the sister city relationship between Grand Forks and Sarpsborg in 2005.
Opstad received numerous awards, including Norway's King's Medal of Merit in Gold "for his multi-faceted life's work and for his extraordinary humanitarian contributions both here and abroad," according to Herald archives. UND also gave him honorary degree when he delivered the summer commencement address in 2008.
He was the first man to receive the title of "honorary citizen" from the city of Grand Forks. Mayor Mike Brown, who gave Opstad a key to the city, joked in an interview with the Herald that the Norwegian would not accept the award unless he knew he didn't have to pay taxes on it.
Brown called Opstad a great visionary whose legacy reached around the world.
"You always felt like you were in the presence of a great man," Brown said in an interview with the Herald. "His passing will leave a great void in our world, but I think his legacy is one of bridge-building and fostering growth. I think his legacy will endure forever."
The founding of the college played a role in the education of many UND students, as well as providing opportunities for faculty, UND spokesman Peter Johnson wrote in a statement.
"The University of North Dakota lost a great friend with the passing of Steinar Opstad," Johnson wrote. "Steinar was a gracious and generous man, a true ambassador for Norway, and an ambassador on behalf of the University of North Dakota."
Opstad was a great friend, Gjovig said, adding they jokingly called each other brothers. The Norwegian was known for his work promoting entrepreneurs and small businesses, involvement in relief and development activities in developing nations and building relationships with diplomats and Norwegian royalty.
"He was an extraordinary individual," Gjovig said. "He was a citizen of the world who deeply cared about education and studying abroad."