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U.S. ag secretary, House member Bob Bergland dies

Former U.S. representative and secretary of agriculture Bob Bergland, photographed near Roseau in 2003, died Sunday at age 90. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

ROSEAU, Minn.—Former U.S. secretary of agriculture and U.S. Rep. Bob Bergland died Sunday at LifeCare Roseau Manor in Roseau, Minn. He was 90.

The Roseau native served three terms in the U.S. House before being chosen by President Jimmy Carter to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bergland overcame four bouts of cancer throughout his life. Shortly before Thanksgiving, he had been hospitalized for sepsis, said his daughter Linda Vatnsdal.

"He was proud of helping others and disenfranchised people," she said.

Bergland's colleagues praised him for being an advocate for farmers and consumers.

"Bob served the Seventh District of Minnesota exceptionally before taking his farmer's experience and work ethic to USDA to make sure that crop insurance, rural development, conservation and research programs worked better for farmers and ranchers across the country," said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in a statement. "I was fortunate to have visited with him back in August and am proud to continue in his footsteps in serving the residents of the Seventh District."

Bergland "dedicated his life to elevating the standard of living for hard-working family famers while at the same time safeguarding the interests of American consumers," said Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin in a statement.

"Bob was a champion for farmers and a true advocate for consumers. He will be missed," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted Monday.

A hockey goalie in high school, Bergland studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota. In 1950, he married his wife, Helen, with whom he had seven children.

he represented northwestern Minnesota in the House from 1971 to 1977. Bergland also served on the House Agriculture Committee, the Select Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Science.

He served as secretary of agriculture under President Carter from 1977 to 1981.

From 1981 to 1983, he was president of Farmland World Trade. He then worked as a general manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Washington, D.C. In 1993, he returned to Roseau, where he designed a 3,000-square-foot home that was badly damaged by a flood in 2002, according to Herald archives.

The Minnesota Legislature in 1997 elected Bergland to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. During his time on the board, he focused on making the university more accessible and taking "the ivory out of the tower," he told the Herald in 1997.

But more than anything, Bergland was proud of his family, Vatnsdal said, noting he had 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

In the early 2000s, Bergland was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated with a radioactive seeding. A year later, he developed sarcoma in his left arm.

Bergland is survived by his wife, Helen; two daughters; and three sons.

Dan Niepow

Niepow covers social and community issues for the Grand Forks Herald. Before joining the paper, he worked as a magazine writer and editor. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he currently resides over the river in East Grand Forks, Minn. To reach Niepow with story ideas, send him an email at or call him at (701) 780-1110. Follow him on Twitter @dniep.

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