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Clarence Norman Brunsdale


Clarence Norman Brunsdale, North Dakota’s 24th Governor, passed away on this date in 1978. Brunsdale gained a reputation as a businessman and farmer in addition to his political career, and continued farming until his retirement at the age of 77.

Born in Sherbrooke, North Dakota, on July 9th, 1891, Brunsdale spent the first eight years of his life on the small family farm near Hatton. Then, in 1899, the family moved to Portland, North Dakota.

The young Brunsdale attended public school before enrolling in the Bruflat Academy and Business Institute, one of the first advanced educational institutes in the state. The school offered college preparatory courses in business, in addition to general secondary education classes. After graduation, Brunsdale left home to attend Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He finished his degree in 1913, and returned to Portland to teach business at his alma mater, Bruflat Academy. While teaching, he also continued to work on the family farm, which had grown extensively in size.

In 1927, Brunsdale was elected to the North Dakota State Senate, and served until 1935. He returned to the State Senate in 1940, serving as president pro tempore in 1943, and as majority floor leader for the Republicans in 1945, 1947, and 1949. In 1951, he vacated his State Senate seat once again, but this time to move into the Governor’s Mansion in Bismarck after winning the 1950 election. Brunsdale served as governor from 1951 until 1957. He became known for supporting water development projects, education, agriculture, and mental health issues. He is perhaps best remembered for his involvement with the Garrison Dam project, which was completed during his tenure. In 1956, the dam began producing hydroelectric power, and Brunsdale participated in a highly-publicized dedication demonstrating the concept of hydroelectricity to the public. Holding a light bulb, the Governor wowed audiences by lighting the bulb using power from the dam.

In 1959, Brunsdale was appointed to fill William Langer’s seat in the U.S. Senate, after Langer’s sudden death. He served until a special election could be held in 1960. Afterward, Brunsdale returned to his farm near Mayville, where he passed away in 1978.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job