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Kenneth Simons, political activist


Kenneth William “K.W.” Simons was born on this date in 1927, the son of Kenneth Wetherill and Marie (Malloy) Simons. Born and raised in Bismarck, Simons became a teacher and political activist.

His father was the editor of the Bismarck Tribune from 1930-1948 and, while in high school, Simons worked at the Tribune.

After graduating from Bismarck High School in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. He returned home and attended Bismarck Junior College and later the University of North Dakota.

He met his wife, Ferne Rohde, while teaching English and history in Pettibone. They married on August 17, 1958, and had three daughters.

From Pettibone, Simons continued his teaching career in Zap and Erie. He later began teaching in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools on several reservations in North and South Dakota. During that time, Simons and his wife took in several Indian children into their home.

After retiring from the BIA in Rolla, he taught in Esmond until the mid-1980s. Simons taught high school for 30 years.

In the early 1950s, Simons served as editor of the NPL’s Leader newspaper. He wrote a column in the Turtle Mountain News during his retirement, along with letters and essays to many newspapers around the state.

Though Simons never ran for political office, he was very much a political activist and an outspoken advocate for progressive causes. He was an avid reader and quite knowledgeable about government and democracy. Simons was known as a faithful writer of “letters to the editor” in newspapers throughout North Dakota.

Simons was called a “good friend and a fighter for the Non-partisan League.” He was considered a key figure in moving the League to the Democratic Party in the 1950s.

He died March 16, 2007, in Grand Forks at age 79. Continuing to give generously even after his death, Simons donated his body to the University of North Dakota medical school.

Former Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl said of Simons after his death, “Simons was one of the ground troops who worked tirelessly to recruit insurgent members for the NPL and to sell stock in the Non-partisan Leader, both efforts critical in the struggle to create a two-party system in North Dakota.”

by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.