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September 28: John Odegard

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On this date in 1998 the front page of the Bismarck Tribune shared the sad news that John Odegard had died at age 57 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was the founding chairman of the University of North Dakota’s department of aviation.

Mr. Odegard, a native of Minot, was born in 1941. He had an early passion for aviation and got his pilot’s license in high school. While attending UND as an undergraduate he flew a crop duster to help pay for school. He also revitalized the flying club. He graduated in 1966 and earned his master’s degree in accounting in 1967. He was so passionate about flying that his master’s thesis was titled, “Feasibility and Cost Analysis of Institutional Private Aircraft Transportation.”

Mr. Odegard joined UND as an accounting professor. However, his desire was to start an aviation program. In 1968 he became the founding chairman of the Department of Aviation. The new department had two airplanes, one other professor besides Mr. Odegard, and twelve students. In 1969 the program was the first in the country to offer a business degree in aviation administration.

Through sheer force of will and passion, Mr. Odegard grew his tiny department into one of the biggest undergraduate aerospace programs in the country. In 1982, the department became the Center for Aerospace Sciences. Then in 1983, it became its own college within the university. Mr. Odegard was named the first dean.

The program became so prestigious that in the 1980s Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, even taught some classes. In 1996 Mr. Odegard was awarded the prestigious Federal Aviation Administration’s Distinguished Service Award. Shortly before he died in 1998 the center was renamed to the John D. Odegard School of Aeropsace Sciences and had over 600 employees and 2,000 students.

As of 2022 the UND Aerospace program has the largest collegiate training fleets of aircraft in the world with over 110 airplanes. The program offers degrees in air traffic management, airport management, atmospheric sciences, aviation management, aviation safety & operations, aviation studies, commercial aviation, and unmanned aircraft systems. The program also offers masters and PhD degrees. UND is one of only 40 universities in the world to be accredited by the Aviation Accreditation Board International.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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