Eight honorable mentions

By Teri Finneman

Since we found it too difficult to only recognize eight North Dakotans age 80 and older making a difference, we granted honorable mentions to eight others.

Here they are:

Bob Keim, 84, of Bismarck

Nominator Arlene Farnsworth of Bismarck wrote: “Bob volunteers most days of the week. For example, every Thursday morning, he can be found in the Waterford on West Century store, serving residents at this 55-plus resort-style community. He also calls bingo at Waterford, as well as at a number of senior centers and nursing homes.

“Bob helped to form Bismarck’s Golden K Kiwanis Club … today, he chairs the Youth Committee. For more than 15 years, the club has helped to sponsor a five-day camping trip to the North Dakota Badlands for five to 12 students and their instructors from the Youth Correctional Center.

“Another project Bob and his Kiwanis club support is the annual one-day Cops N Kids Fishing Derby.

“Several times a month, Bob is in the kitchen of the Martin Luther School. He is a self-described “cook’s helper.

“Retirement isn’t in Bob’s nature. Service is.” Keim also does gardening at the Waterford and is treasurer of his church foundation.

Norma Kjellberg, 91, of Stanley

Nominator Jo Reep of Stanley wrote: “We are nominating this volunteer for all the services she provides for our nursing home and community.

“This volunteer is organist every Sunday for church services (at the nursing home) and plays piano for musical programs weekly. She is also the organist and helps with communion for the Thursday chapel services that are conducted by our local pastors.

“She comes to special events held at the nursing home to be with residents who do not have family members around.

“This volunteer has not let age interfere with her enthusiasm, caring and compassionate attitude toward others.

“This special lady is very active in community events. She quilts at her local church weekly and is always ready to help out with church activities. She takes the elderly to doctor appointments, goes to their home and fixes their hair, takes them on shopping trips and runs errands for them.”

Kay Kroulik, 90, of Grafton

Nominator Nancy Burke of Larimore wrote: “Kathleen Kroulik deserves recognition for the work she does at Century Elementary as well as for the Grafton community. Grandma K, as she is called by staff and students, has been a foster grandparent at Century Elementary in Grafton for 17 years.

“Grandma K starts her day about 8 a.m. when she rides the student handicapped school bus. The school bus picks her up so she does not have to drive to school. At the same time, she helps the adult aide that rides the bus make sure children preschool through grade 12 are in the seatbelts and safe on the bus until they get to school. Grandma K spends the entire school day working in the school with teachers and children in classrooms.

“She is an inspiration to adults and students at Century Elementary.”

Lowell Latimer, 80, of Minot

Nominator Roger Reich of Minot wrote: “Lowell is the director of the Minot Public Schools Foundation, but his service to the community goes much deeper then that. He is a member of over 20 organizations and spends over 100 hours a month doing volunteer work for them.

“Here’s a list of just a few of the organizations he is involved with: Norsk Hostfest, Minot Area Community Foundation, Minot Area Retired Teacher Association, Minot Lions, Chamber of Commerce, First Lutheran Church and many more. Lowell is one of those unsung heroes of the volunteer world.

“His endless energy and winning smile make you feel special. I know many lives in Minot have been touched by Lowell and his good works. By knowing Lowell, my life and many others have been enriched. I can think of no one person more deserving to be nominated for his outstanding service.”

Janet Miller, 91, of Fargo

Nominator Roberta Shreve of Fargo wrote: “Rev. Miller has a long history in church ministry and became fully ordained as an elder of the United Methodist Church before women commonly held such roles. Rev Miller still serves as visiting pastor in area churches and leads Bible studies, things she delights in doing.

“She strives to bring people together in ecumenical ways through involvement with groups such as Church Women United and the Native American Christian Ministry. Janet Miller’s passion is social justice for all. She has supported the efforts of the Native American Christian Ministry and the Recovery Worship, for people struggling with addictions.

“She has served on the Coordinating Committee for the CROP Walk for about 10 years, doing all the publicity. Janet continues to support the efforts of Churches United for the Homeless and has assisted in preparing meals for those in the shelter.

“Presently, she is writing and directing some dramatic skits on musical history for meetings of the Music Club.”

Jim Rathert, 101, of Forman

Nominator June Fritzen of Forman wrote: “Jim Rathert is a lifelong collector of cars and tractors, having amassed perhaps the largest collection of significant antique automobiles and tractors in the state. Much of Jim’s and his son Rudy’s collection is on display with the Sargent County museum in Forman.

“Jim delights in getting into his electric cart and driving himself over to the museum to give personal tours of the museum to visitors. He has encyclopedic knowledge and crystal clear personal memories of each and every piece of equipment in the museum and can expound at great detail upon any of them.

“He is a wonderful volunteer at the museum and an incredible asset to the community.”

Jean Rockne, 90, of Hazen

Nominator Mari Lynn Crowley of Moorhead wrote: “Jean, my grandma, is a tireless giver of her talents and loves to serve others wholeheartedly. She has volunteered countless hours and currently continues to volunteer at the local hospital, putting in eight-hour shifts once a week.

“Each week she joins others in quilting for families in third-world countries. Her week also includes joining a team dedicated to working on making Braille New Testaments for the visually impaired. In her “free time,” of which there is not much, she knits baby/toddler sweaters for disadvantaged children in impoverished countries.

“She has been making these sweaters and donating them for over 20 years. It is a rare moment when she is sitting down and not knitting a sweater at the same time. The number she has made is truly countless. It is difficult for members of the community to believe she is 90! She is dedicated to giving her best in every way.”

Mary Young, 90, of Jamestown

Nominator Jayme Job of Binghamton, N.Y., wrote: “Anyone from Jamestown knows Mary Young, the town’s unofficial historian. Mary works with the community’s youth in a program with the local elementary schools in which she gives annual tours of the town’s history.

“The tours are part of every Jamestown child’s fourth-grade education. In addition, Mary works with several other community groups and gives lectures and tours as part of community events. She is full of stories about North Dakota, North Dakotans and the history of the state.

“She is always ready to greet any visitor with warm treats and interesting stories, and her age, if anything, has only added to her homespun grace.”

Enoch Thorsgard of Northwood

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the eighth story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

93-year-old Enoch Thorsgard of Northwood. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

NORTHWOOD, N.D. – Enoch Thorsgard said it’s common for people in the latter part of their lives to want to do something significant. So at 93, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

The Northwood man takes great pride in his latest career as author of the book “Enoch’s Saga: Horsepower to Satellite in a Single Lifetime.”

He keeps busy traveling to Pride of Dakota events, book signings and parades to promote the story he finished two years ago about his life.

Thorsgard is particularly touched by the pile of letters he’s received from fans.

“I never, ever thought I could write a book that people would enjoy and appreciate like that,” he said.

His book talks about his Norwegian heritage, his childhood and all of his ventures since then.

Thorsgard is a former state legislator who served from 1969 to 1980. He and his sons are partners in a large family business that includes 6,000 head of cattle and a farming operation.

His daily routine still involves checking the markets, calling cattle buyers and heading out to the feedlot to check on his cattle.

From there, the self-described “social activist” turns his attention to his other causes, like serving on the board of directors of the North Dakota Family Alliance.

Executive Director Tom Freier said Thorsgard is a one-of-a-kind, staunch supporter of family.

“We know that, on a personal level, he is just a great family man,” Freier said. “He is just an amazing person, at his age, to be so on top of everything that he’s involved in.”

Thorsgard has also been a “great supporter” of the state Heritage Center in Bismarck and has worked hard getting funding for it, said Virginia Nelsen, executive director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation.

“We just really appreciate his energy and consistency with this organization,” she said. “He could be sitting at home doing anything he wants to do, but he tends to still reach out and do important things for other people, and I just find that just wonderful.”

Thorsgard has also been supportive of North Dakota Oilseed Mills, a successor company to Northwood Mills.

North Dakota Oilseed Mills co-owner Clarence Leschied said Thorsgard kept busy advocating for the new company and making business contacts.

“He leaves people half his age in the dust for his energy and zeal,” Leschied said. “I think he still wakes up every morning and makes a list of what he needs to do.”

Leschied said he’s only lived in Northwood for five years, but knew right away Thorsgard was “one of the stalwarts of the community.”

“Enoch is a great advocate for Northwood,” he said. “I think if every rural North Dakota community had an Enoch in their midst, we’d have a much different looking state.”

Thorsgard said he’s always had a strong urge to be involved in community betterment.

“Your age doesn’t change that,” he said. “It’s still in your blood.”

Jean Albertson of Fargo

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the seventh story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Jean Albertson laughs as she runs alongside a large dog from the Humane Society where she volunteers to walk dogs in addition to her many other activities. Dave Wallis/The Forum

FARGO – An excitable large black dog is no match for 84-year-old Jean Albertson.

The Fargo woman can pull right back with the best of them.

Every Thursday afternoon, Albertson volunteers as a dog walker at the FM Humane Society. No matter the dog’s size, she’s game to get them some much-needed exercise and fresh air.

“Obviously I love dogs,” Albertson said of why she’s volunteered there for the past five years. “I don’t have one now, so I get to see nine or 10 different dogs every week. I love to walk and I need to walk, so it gets me out in the fresh air with somebody to talk to when I’m walking.”

FM Humane Society Executive Director Nukhet Hendricks called Albertson “incredible” and said she’s a reliable volunteer who shows up no matter what the weather conditions.

“The dogs love her. She loves the dogs, and I think that it is kind of like a volunteer match made in heaven,” Hendricks said. “You can see how dedicated she is, how much she loves the animals.”

It’s the same reason why Albertson volunteers to walk the dogs at Bethany Homes in Fargo on Wednesdays. She speaks fondly of her time spent with furry friends Marcus and Sasha.

“Those dogs don’t pull,” she said with a laugh. “They hardly need to be on a leash.”

Kathy Fritz of Bethany Homes, whose office is near the volunteer kiosk, said the dogs love Albertson.

“It’s like the dogs can just sense when she comes in the building,” Fritz said. “They bark, and they bark, and they bark. They are so happy to see her.’

Fritz said Albertson has “such a delightful personality,” and she hopes to have Albertson’s energy when she’s that age.

Jean Albertson of Fargo. Dave Wallis/The Forum

Dog walking is just the beginning of Albertson’s activities. She also participates in the 5K at the Fargo Marathon, rings bells for the Salvation Army, volunteers at her church and helps out at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead every month.

“It’s just kind of a fun thing to do,” she said of preparing and serving food at Churches United. “I’ve got plenty of time. There’s no reason why I can’t do that. It’s nice to visit with the residents a bit. As they come through the line, they’re so appreciative.”

In her free time, she stays active riding her bike and cross country skiing, as well as playing golf and tennis.

She thinks people in their 80s get a second wind at life, or at least have more time to be active.

“I just love to get out and see people and see what’s going on in the community,” Albertson said of why she volunteers. “I just felt that, since I had the time, I should be doing something constructive rather than sitting around playing cards or reading.”

Helen Kistler of Leonard

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the sixth story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Helen Kistler, 82, of Leonard greets 6-year-old Cort McDonald as he arrives to check out books from her at the city library. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

LEONARD, N.D. – Helen Kistler jokes that she has the same line of thinking as Sarah Palin when it comes to her 40 years of service to the city’s library.

“Like Mrs. Palin said, if nobody else wants to do it, I’ll run for president,” Kistler, 82, said with a laugh.

Since 1971, Kistler has worked hard to keep her little town’s cozy library going – especially when there was a push back then to use the building for bathrooms for the park.

A group got together to protest that idea and, since then, the library has done well, she said.

“All of us enjoy the library so much,” said Kistler, the library board president. “The children are very happy to come here and take out books.”

For two hours on Saturday mornings, Kistler opens the nearly 100-year-old Watts Free Library, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although she’s technically the librarian, she brushes aside the title, saying she doesn’t have the degree and formalities aren’t important.

“It’s more important to keep the door open here and keep it going,” she said.

Helen Kistler, 82, of Leonard has devoted 40 years to her city's library. As president of the library board, she opens the doors Saturday mornings, checks out books and buys new books. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

The little library runs the old-fashioned way. Book borrowers sign their name on the library cards and enjoy seeing who else has checked out the books.

Kistler estimates the library has nearly 3,000 books and continues to add more. The library takes requests, and she gets ideas for kids’ books by consulting with her daughter, Diana, who works at the Davenport school office.

Kistler drives to Fargo to buy the books and likes to have titles about North Dakota or by North Dakota authors. Mysteries and romance novels are the most popular selections, she said.

Cort McDonald, 6, of Leonard recently made a trip to the library and said he likes going there.

“You get to check out books, and there’s also kids’ books,” he said. “If there was only adult books, kids would not have fun at the library.”

His mother, Kelly McDonald, said she’s been going to the library since she was a little girl.

“I love the library. It’s a great place for me to come with the boys on Saturday and take out some books,” she said. “Helen’s great. She has given a lot of her time to keeping this place running.”

The library receives funding from a mill levy and from donations. All of the money goes toward books, Kistler said.

City Auditor Marcia Wendling said the library is a nice addition to the small town.

“We just let her have at it,” Wendling said. “She’s run it so many years and done such a good job on it.”

Kistler said she’s loved reading since she was little and doesn’t expect to step down from her library volunteer work anytime soon.

“I love it. It’s not that hard,” she said. “The more people that come, the happier I am.”

Gunny Schmidt of Lakota

By Teri Finneman

Gunny Schmidt

LAKOTA, N.D. – Gunny Schmidt went to work helping hungry people with nothing but $20 and a dream. Since 1988, the now 86-year-old Lakota woman has worked hard to maintain the local food pantry. And people know she’s the go-to woman willing to lend a hand.

“If anyone comes to town looking for food assistance, it is Gunny Schmidt they are directed to,” said Phyllis Kupitz of Lakota.

Schmidt, who has been active on the county Social Services board, said she started the food pantry because she knew of the need.

“There was no funding from anyplace except for them to go to the churches, and the pastors sometimes would have to dig in their own pockets to help them,” she said.

Schmidt takes 15 to 20 calls a month from local families or people traveling through who need food assistance. She recently helped four families in one day. The pantry is supported by local donations.

Schmidt also helps organize the annual Thanksgiving food baskets, working with other volunteers to put together about three dozen baskets earlier this week.

Nelson County Social Services Director Marcia Beglau said Schmidt’s longtime involvement with the Social Services board and the community is admirable.

“You can’t find a younger 80-some year-old person,” Beglau said. “You can’t find a more compassionate person than Gunny.”

Schmidt’s compassion is also evident with her longtime dedication to education. Schmidt knew from her first day of first grade that she wanted to be a teacher one day.

“I couldn’t even speak English,” said Schmidt, who spoke Norwegian. “But after that, I wanted to be a teacher.”

She started teaching in 1943 in a rural school. For nearly 60 years, she’s been a substitute teacher at Lakota Public Schools.

“You know, in small towns there aren’t very many (substitutes),” she said of why she’s taught for so long.

Lakota Superintendent Joe Harder said Schmidt also goes to the local ball games to support the students, who “treat her just like a grandma.”

“She’s just always willing to help out in our school system whenever she’s been asked to,” he said. “She’s just a super gal who has always just been a big part of our school system and our community.”

Schmidt is also active with her church, helping with “whatever is needed” and making quilts. She fixes hair twice a week at the nursing home and makes lefse each year for the town’s Labor Day celebration.

Schmidt said she grew up staying busy and said she didn’t know what she’d do if she slowed down.

“Some people say the minute you sit down and stay sitting down that’s when you go downhill,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll stay on top of the hill.”

Mary Guenther of Cavalier

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the fourth story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Mary Guenther, 92, of Cavalier is manager of the local thrift store, which has donated $340,000 of its proceeds to the community since 1996. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

CAVALIER, N.D. – Mary Guenther doesn’t like to sit around, even when it’s time for afternoon coffee. The 92-year-old would rather keep working.

That kind of dedication for the past three decades has contributed to the success of the thrift store she manages.

Since 1996, the Cavalier store has donated about $340,000 to local and regional organizations. The volunteer-run store takes out money for rent and utilities, then gives the rest of its profits away.

Guenther’s skills even impressed high school students who toured and helped at the thrift store for a Future Business Leaders of America activity.

“She’s been helping with the thrift store for many, many years now,” said junior Carmen Ermer, 16. “She goes to my church, too, and she’s always helping out around the church and always in a helping mood.”

Guenther credits her husband for getting her interested in volunteerism. In the late 1970s, she got involved with the thrift store through her church, which benefited from the store’s proceeds until the volunteers decided to branch out and give money to community groups.

Mary Guenther, 92, of Cavalier arranges some items at the city's thrift store, where she's volunteered for more than 30 years. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

The store has donated money to a variety of places, such as nursing homes, the local ambulance, hospice, school scholarships and the Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks.

“I love working at the thrift store because it gives me a feeling that maybe I’m doing something for the community,” Guenther said. “And, because I was raised at a time when prices were low and no one had any money, I think I appreciate the fact that there are people who need help.”

Michelle Murray of Cavalier said Guenther is like the Energizer Bunny.

“Without her devotion and the devotion of many of them to the thrift store, many programs would not get the funding they get,” Murray said. “They have helped many people.”

Guenther is proud of the precise records she has kept for the store and said the store’s good reputation has resulted in donated items from around the region.

The store is brimming with assorted merchandise, and customers eager to visit with her.

Cavalier High School junior Mali Berg, 16, said Guenther deserves recognition for how hard she works.

“She manages everything really well,” Berg said. “She keeps everybody going, and she donates a lot of money to a lot of different things and puts smiles on people’s faces.”

Linda Otto with Cavalier Ambulance Service said Guenther and the thrift store have been “very generous” to the ambulance.

“She’s just a sweetheart,” Otto said. “I can see them from across my building. She’s there early in the morning, and she’s there at night. She’s just a goer.”

And Guenther doesn’t plan to give it up anytime soon.

“As long as I can walk and talk and think, I’ll probably stay,” she said. “I can’t think of anything else I would enjoy more.”

Alfred Juntunen of Rolla

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the third story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Alfred Juntunen, 81, of Rolla looks after the Finnish rest area eight miles east of town. He keeps the rest stop clean and offers tourism advice to travelers. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

ROLLA, N.D. – At 81, Alfred Juntunen has quite the “retirement” resume: rest stop caretaker, church janitor, meal deliverer, farmer, tourism guide and nursing home entertainer.

But even with his long list of activities, the Rolla man downplays his impact on his community.

“If I was sitting here at home, the days would get long,” he simply says.

His modesty doesn’t surprise those who know him.

“He’s one of these quiet souls who just unassumingly does things without wanting any real recognition,” said the Rev. Mark Kolbo of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Rolla. “He’s always wanting to do things properly and make sure it’s done right. We’d really miss him if he wasn’t around.”

And around he is.

For five months of the year, Juntunen makes a 17-mile round-trip daily drive to the Finnish rest stop east of town on Highway 281. He cleans the toilets, keeps the grass mowed, ensures there’s no vandalism, empties the garbage and overall makes the place welcoming.

“It’s a neat little job,” said Juntunen, who gets paid for his efforts. “You meet the nicest people.”

While he’s chatting with travelers, he also suggests they visit North Dakota tourism sites such as the International Peace Garden.

Juntunen also works part time as a janitor at his church, a job he thought would be temporary.

“The janitor left to move to Fargo, and they couldn’t get anybody to do it,” he said. “(I said,) ‘I’ll do it this fall,’ but that was 21 years ago and I’m still doing it.”

His hours vary each week, depending if there are weddings or funerals to clean up after. He takes care of the church flowers and is busier during the winter months when Sunday School is in session.

Alfred Juntunen, 81, of Rolla picks up his Meals on Wheels instructions from Marsha Abrahamson. He delivers meals in his community once a week. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

Juntunen also helps deliver Meals on Wheels, a way to pay it forward for the service the program provided his parents.

“It’s one day a week we can do something different instead of sitting at home,” said Juntunen, whose wife, Hazel, also helps.

Nutrition United Director Larry Leonard Jr. oversees the senior meal program and said the group is fortunate to have Juntunen as a volunteer.

“He’s somebody who wants to make it better for his neighbors,” Leonard said. “That’s what we’re all about and that’s what Alfred’s all about.”

Juntunen is retired from farming but still helps out at his cousin’s farm. He also enjoys playing his mandolin and joining his friends to provide entertainment at area nursing homes.

So what’s the secret to a good old life?

“Just stay active,” Juntunen said. “That’s my main reason.”

Ed Laskowski of Bismarck

By Teri Finneman

Editors Note: This is the second story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Ed Laskowski, 94, of Bismarck works 32 hours per week as the chief medical consultant at Disability Determination Services. He's scheduled for "mandatory retirement" at age 100. Teri Finneman/Forum Communications

BISMARCK – Ed Laskowski’s co-workers have told him there’s a mandatory retirement in his future.

The 94-year-old Bismarck man isn’t too worried. He still has 5½ years until his “forced” retirement at age 100.

Laskowski is the chief medical consultant at Disability Determination Services, where his co-workers praise his longtime dedication.

The former neurosurgeon works 32 hours a week, reading medical evidence and deciding whether claimants are eligible for Social Security disability. He said it’s a blessing to still be able to contribute in some way at his age.

“I feel that I can do something, and I feel that I’m helping the community,” Laskowski said of why he keeps working. “So, it’s beautiful as far as I’m concerned to just be here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Laskowski was in his early 60s when he retired from neurosurgery. He foresaw spending his summers golfing and being under his wife’s feet when the winter months came.

Looking for a way to occupy his time, he went to work as medical director for the state Workers Compensation Bureau. Because the Social Security disability office was in the same building at the time, he was asked to help there as well.

He eventually dropped his workers compensation duties and has spent the past 25 years working solely with Social Security disability.

Co-worker Brenda Rouse said they love having Laskowski on the staff.

“He’s not only a great medical consultant that helps us with our cases. He’s also a mentor and a friend and just a wonderful individual with a servant’s heart,” she said.

Operations Manager Al Ettl said Laskowski is like a second father to him.

“I just think that he’s been a real model of how to conduct oneself in the workplace, how to contribute to the agency and how to bring people together for a common purpose,” he said.

Of course, Laskowski’s life isn’t all work and no fun. He and his wife, Arloene, like to spend a few months of the year in Arizona. She also picks him up for lunch every day, and they do the crossword puzzle together.

Each year, he plays in a golf tournament named in his honor. He serves on a church committee and is working on a book about things he’s experienced and seen in medicine.

Laskowski said he’s fortunate his health is good and allows him to keep working.

“It’s a good, fun thing for me. I enjoy working,” he said. “My wife says, ‘You may be a workaholic,’ but I feel that it’s good for me and I think it’s good for the community.”

Howard Langemo of Valley City

By Teri Finneman

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in an eight-part series featuring North Dakotans age 80 or older still making a difference in their communities.

Howard Langemo talks Saturday, November 6, 2010, about some of the things he has fixed up and refurbished at the Barnes County Historical Museum in downtown Valley City, N.D. John M. Steiner/Forum Communications

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – When floodwaters inundated Valley City in spring 2009, Howard Langemo went to work saving history.

“When the sewers of downtown Valley City overflowed, Howard came literally running to the rescue to help salvage artifacts from damage in the basement of the museum,” said Wes Anderson of the Barnes County Historical Society.

“He was essential in repairing all the damages that occurred due to the flooding and putting everything back into order afterward.”

The 84-year-old Langemo said helping out at the museum is a good fit for him because he likes fixing things, as well as trying to save money by making use of “old stuff.”

“It’s just kind of part of me now, I guess. People see me and say, ‘Oh, what’s going on at the museum?’ ” Langemo said. “I feel like I’m making a contribution here and feel I’m needed here.”

Lending a hand at the museum has also helped pass the time since his wife died in 2007.

“It just seemed like it was very quiet, and it seemed like I was kind of wasting my time, so I started fixing things,” he said. “I’ve done almost 300 projects since I’ve started.”

His projects vary in size and include putting casters on items in the basement to make it easier to move them, restoring a Daughters of the American Revolution emblem and repairing mannequins.

Anderson called Langemo a “remarkable volunteer.”

“He’s come to the rescue on many, many things,” Anderson said. “We’re very proud of Howard and what he brings to us.”

Howard Langemo talks Saturday, November 6, 2010, about some of the things he has fixed up and refurbished at the Barnes County Historical Museum in downtown Valley City, N.D. John M. Steiner/Forum Communications

Langemo’s dedication is also evident in his work with the Kiwanis Club. A member since 1949, he’s had perfect attendance for nearly 50 years. He helps sell programs for the rodeo during the Winter Show and sells tickets for the annual pancake feed. This year, he sold more than 150 tickets.

“Our emphasis is on youth. We try to support youth in every way that we can,” Langemo said.

Friend and fellow Kiwanis member Ken DeKrey of Valley City said Langemo is one of the city’s top 10 volunteers.

“He loves this town,” DeKrey said.

Langemo, a retired State Farm insurance agent, is also active with his church council and enjoys making handmade Christmas gifts for his grandchildren.

Grandson Matt Langemo of Fargo said his grandfather “is the single most kind, gentle and selfless man I have ever met.”

“He shows that kindness, hard work and a strong faith still have a place in today’s frenetic society,” he said. “I strive to become half the man my grandfather is. He is everything a North Dakota man can be.”

About this project

This Thanksgiving week, Forum Communications is giving thanks to North Dakota residents age 80 or older who make a difference in their communities. We received 125 nominations for 8 over 80, and a committee of six took on the difficult task of narrowing the list to 16.

We decided we couldn’t narrow it any more and decided to feature eight North Dakotans and give honorable mentions to eight others. Their stories will run Sunday, November, 21 – Sunday, November 28.