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Longtime Grand Forks leader Gerald Hamerlik dies at 88

Gerald Hamerlik, a longtime civil servant and UND administrator, died Wednesday in Valley Eldercare of Grand Forks. He was 88. Hamerlik, a native of Wahpeton, N.D., spent nearly all of his career at the university, recruiting students and managin...

Former Grand Forks city councilman, Jerry Hamerlik, center, jokes with ND Republican candidate for Governor, Doug Burgum and fiance Kathryn Helgaas, and Dist. 42 Republican legislative candidates Emily O'Brien and Curt Kreun during neighborhood campaigning this week in Grand Forks. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Former Grand Forks City Council member Gerald Hamerlik, center, jokes with Doug Burgum and fiancee Kathryn Helgaas during Burgum's campaign for governor in November 2016. At right are district 42 legislators Emily O'Brien and Curt Kreun. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Gerald Hamerlik, a longtime civil servant and UND administrator, died Wednesday in Valley Eldercare of Grand Forks. He was 88.

Hamerlik, a native of Wahpeton, N.D., spent nearly all of his career at the university, recruiting students and managing enrollment services. Known there as Jerry, he served nearly 40 years before retiring as an administrative dean in 1994. According to Herald coverage at the time, Hamerlik had been responsible for distributing $372 million in grants, loans and work-study opportunities since beginning his work in the 1960s.

A UND release detailing Hamerlik's accomplishments describes him as an early pioneer in federal financial aid, shaping university programs as the government stepped up its offerings.

While in Grand Forks, he served for eight years as North Dakota's representative on the corporate board of American College Testing. And for seven years starting in the mid-1970s, Hamerlik managed the U.S. Office of Education's student financial assistance training program in North Dakota. Even upon his retirement, Hamerlik made it clear he was not one to idly pass time. It wasn't long after leaving campus that he was elected to the Grand Forks City Council, where he represented Ward 2-a northside district that includes much of UND-for about 12 years.

During his time on the council, Hamerlik was an advocate of rezoning in non-campus neighborhoods near UND to slow the growth of rental housing over the existing mix of single-family homes. He also oversaw the construction of the $81 million Alerus Center and later worked as a city liaison with Canad Inns when the hotel chain was getting started in Grand Forks. He also served on the council during the 1997 flood and the city's recovery from the disaster.


Mike Hamerlik, his son, said Hamerlik had lived in the city for about 60 years, adding that the place had been one of the great loves of his father's life-the others, besides his family, being UND and St. Michael's Catholic Church.

Throughout it all, the university was a recurring theme.

Mike, who now lives in Wisconsin, has childhood memories of going to UND hockey games with his father back when the team played in the Barn, a chilly, reinforced Quonset known officially as the Winter Sports Building. The family lived just blocks away from the site of the current Ralph Engelstad Arena and, when the grandiose stadium was built, the Hamerliks would walk to games to watch the team hit the ice.

"He always had the best parking spot, right in his driveway," the younger Hamerlik said of his father. Family tradition for game day was as local as it could get-Mike said the crew would bring in sandwiches from Red Pepper for a pregame meal, with a "big basket of Widman's candy" on hand.

"He was a total Grand Forks person," Mike said of his dad.

In the brief time since the elder Hamerlik's death, Mike said the family has been steadily hearing from "all kinds of people" giving their condolences. As often happens when a life ends, loved ones are now remembering Hamerlik as they consider the legacy he leaves behind.

Mike Hamerlik remembers him as a "very loyal friend" who made connections throughout the state both in his civic engagements and in his recruitment efforts for UND. That network includes North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose father was close to Hamerlik and who now counts the family as longtime friends.

"He was known to be somewhat outspoken, but he always knew what he was talking about because he was well-prepared-and through it all, he was quite easy to talk to," Stenehjem said, noting Hamerlik's care for UND students. "We're going to miss him, and the community is much better off because he was here."


While looking through some of his father's things, the younger Hamerlik said he found an old list of contacts, a Rolodex with the names and numbers of every high school in North Dakota.

Over the course of his career, Hamerlik had traveled to these schools to represent the university and bring students to Grand Forks, where he later helped them secure financial aid and other services on campus.

"Of course, it's sad," he said of his father's death, "but at the same time, he lived an amazing life and the number of people that he touched was pretty incredible, as we have watched over the past few days as his health declined."

Now, Mike said, the Hamerliks are going through their share of sad moments, "but we're kind of laughing as we reminisce a lot too."

To that end, he chuckled a little when talking about his dad's final outfit. In true form to the way he lived, the man who said his "blood still runs UND green" after retirement will be laid to rest wearing his UND tie.

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