Gordon Vaagen, Postmaster and Music Man
On this date in 1995, the Bismarck Tribune reported on a most unusual postmaster. Gordon Vaagen, postmaster of Taylor since 1967, was a musical virtuoso. When not running the post office he was repairing and making instruments.
Mr. Vaagen was born in 1938 and grew up on a farm 12 miles north of Taylor. After graduating from Taylor schools, he served two years in the army, then worked on the family farm until 1978. His presidential appointment to postmaster was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson.
Despite having no musical training, Mr. Vaagen could play almost any instrument. In his basement he repaired instruments ranging from guitars and violins to harps and pianos. The instruments were brought to him by people all over western North Dakota, some being old family heirlooms.
Mr. Vaagen had spent some time studying under the tutelage of a master violin maker in South Dakota, and he proudly made a violin for each of his four children.
Besides repairing and making instruments, he was a member of the Roughrider Barbershop Chorus and the Friday Nite Gang band. He was a Taylor city councilman for a time, and also served on the North Dakota Council on the Arts, an organization that had given him a number of grants. For example, in 1994 he received a $1,657 grant to teach fiddle making. In 1998 he helped teach a class at Bismarck State College called “Multicultural Traditions: Folklore and Folk Art in the Classroom.” He lectured on making hardanger fiddles, an instrument that involved carved ebony and ivory inlays, and a fiddle head carved as a dragon or lion head.
Mr. Vaagen retired as Taylor’s 17th postmaster in 1998, and worked at two different funeral homes in retirement. He died in 2020.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
“Gordon Vaagen,” Stevenson Funeral Home, https://www.stevensonfuneralhome.com/memorials/gordon-vaagen/4431337/, retrieved June 14, 2021.
Author Unknown, “Artist teams win grants for culture,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 29, 1994, pg. 18.
Author Unknown, “BSC will offer folklore class,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 2, 1998, pg. 12.
Moen, Bob, “Postmaster Conductions Harmonious Second Life,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1995 pg. 31.
Taylor Centennial Book Committee, Prairie Notes: Centennial 1881-1981, Taylor North Dakota, 1981.