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Oben Gunderson, 'most conservative' leader of his time in North Dakota House, dies

Oben Gunderson (Submitted Photo)

Oben John Iver Gunderson wasn't afraid to take on unpopular topics during his time as "most conservative" lawmaker in the North Dakota House, his son Brad said.

But the former lawmaker of 12 years was proud of the work he did for his state and lived a fulfilling life, he family said.

"He stood for what he thought was right, whether other people agreed with him or not," his son Brad said.

The legislator who served in the North Dakota State House from 1971 through 1982 died Wednesday at his home in Grand Forks. He was 91 years old.

The farmer who was born near McCanna, N.D., graduated from Larimore High School and attended Concordia College in Moorhead. Brad said his father was very involved in church life, both with Elm Grove Church in McCanna and Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks. Oben and his first wife, Janice, did some mission work in Ethiopia.

He retired from farming in 1991 and then moved to Grand Forks.

Oben became a legislator for District 19 because he didn't like how leaders were handling issues, Brad said. The son described his father as a "die-hard Republican" who was about fiscal responsibility.

In fact, he and former Rep. Enoch Thorsgard, R-Northwood, appeared to compete for the title of the "most conservative" legislator, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said with a laugh. Thorsgard, a rancher who raised Charolais cattle, spent 12 years representing District 19 before he retired in 1980, according to Herald archives.

Stenehjem, who served in the House from 1977 to 1979 before his 20-year Senate tenure, said he looked up to Oben as they worked together. Calling Oben a gentleman, Stenehjem said the McCanna farmer was willing to listen to anyone, offered advice and showed respect to everyone.

"He didn't speak on the floor often, so when he did, everybody listened," Stenehjem said.

Oben was well-known across the state, his son said. People approached Oben numerous times to greet him.

Brad recalled some people approaching him to ask if he was related to Oben, and one woman thought he was his father.

"He was very outgoing," Brad said. "He loved to meet people. ... He wasn't afraid to introduce himself to people."

When he went into hospice several months ago, he told his family he could die a happy man, Brad said.

"He said he had a good life," Brad said. "He got to do things that he never thought he would. He said he had no regrets."

Amundson Funeral Home will host visitation for Oben from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, according to his obituary. Funeral services are at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks. He will be buried at Memorial Park South Cemetery.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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