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December 14: U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard C. Halverson

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On this date in 1995 the Bismarck Tribune ran a front-page story about the memorial service for Richard C. Halverson. This was no ordinary service. It was held in the U.S. Capitol building, and the attendees included members of the U.S. Senate. The Reverend Richard C. Halverson had served as the chaplain to the Senate, and the most powerful people in the country gathered to pay tribute to this humble minister from North Dakota.

Richard Halverson was born Pingree in 1916, but spent his childhood moving to various towns as his single mother looked for work. He loved being on stage and worked in vaudeville as a youth. He went to Valley City State College for two years for a teaching degree, but his dream was to be an actor, so Halverson and his family moved to Hollywood when he was 19. However, six months after arriving in California, he was inspired to change direction after going to church. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1939, and a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1942.

After college, the Reverend Halverson became a pastor at various Presbyterian churches in Missouri, Kansas, and California. In 1958 he moved to the Washington, D.C. suburbs to become pastor at a Presbyterian Church in Bethesda. He was an associate of the National Prayer Breakfast movement from 1956 until his death, and chairman of the charity “World Vision” from 1966 to 1983.

The Reverend Halverson was elected Chaplain of the Senate in February 1981. His new job entailed just one duty, opening each session of the Senate with a prayer. However, that wasn’t enough for Halverson. He saw the job as a ministry. He not only got to know all the Senators, but also the police officers, pages, elevator operators, and cafeteria workers. Senators sought him out for advice and attended his bible studies. The Reverend Halverson was known for his sermon-like prayers, which sometimes made the news.

He was well respected and beloved by both Republicans and Democrats. Senator Tom Daschle noted, “In this very political city, in this very political place, no one ever knew Dr. Halverson’s politics.” President George H. W. Bush remarked that Halverson was “one of God’s very special messengers. He is one of the most thoughtful individuals I have ever met.”

In 1994, Governor Ed Schafer bestowed on Halverson the highest award that North Dakota has to offer, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award. Halverson retired from his chaplaincy in 1994 for health reasons and died on November 28, 1995.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


  • Associated Press, “Painful Childhood is Secrete to Senate Chaplain’s Success,” The Bismarck Tribune, March 21, 1993, pg. C1.
  • Associated Press, “Senate Chaplain Pursued Acting,” The Bismarck Tribune, July 13, 1986, pg. 4C.
  • Author Unknown, “Rev. Richard C. Halverson,” Office of the Governor, https://www.governor.nd.gov/theodore-roosevelt-rough-rider-award/rev-richard-c-halverson accessed November 15, 2022.
  • Davis, Don, “Senate Remembers Chaplain, N.D. Native, The Bismarck Tribune, December 14, 1995, pg. 1.
  • Donatelle, Kristine, “Senate Chaplain Gets N.D.’s Highest Honor,” The Bismarck Tribune, December 18, 1993, pg. 1.
  • U.S. Government Publishing Office “Richard C. Halverson, U.S., Senate Chaplain, Memorial Tributes, In the Congress of the United States,” (S. Doc. 104-15) U.S. Government Publishing Office: Washington, D.C., 1996.

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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