Kenneth Russel Bjorhus was born on July 29, 1929, in Driscoll, North Dakota and passed away November 7, 2022 in Monticello, Minnesota. He was the 8th of Arthur and Belle Bjorhus’s 10 children. The family moved to Valley City, North Dakota and then to Ulen, Minnesota in 1943. They didn’t have much, but the family was close and happy, and they all cherished their memories of life on the family dairy farm.
He was nicknamed Rusty as a boy and throughout his life he went by his middle name Russel, or Russ. After high school, he joined the US Air Force and served for a short time in Iceland as an armament crew chief with a fighter squadron. He was planning to go to flight school. But he changed his mind at the last moment as he and his girlfriend Marjorie Forsythe waited at the railroad station in Minneapolis for his train. He decided he wanted to stay in the Twin Cities to keep dating her, and never boarded.
Marjorie convinced him to join her at the University of Minnesota and take advantage of the GI Bill. They were married in 1956, and he graduated a year later with a major in soils and agronomy and a minor in agricultural economics.
They moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where Russ worked for the Farmer’s Production Credit Association. But they soon returned to Minnesota after he landed a job in 1957 as an assistant county extension agent for the University of Minnesota in Alexandria.
He would work as an extension agent for decades, a career that reflected his deep love of people and of farming, and his innate drive to make things a little better.
Their first child Kari was born in 1958. After a few years in Alexandria, they moved to Elbow Lake where Russ became the Grant County extension agent and daughter Lori was born in 1960. The family moved to Litchfield in 1964 where Russ served for years as the Meeker County extension agent. Daughter Jenny was born that year, and the Litchfield became the family’s hometown. He was a wonderful father, making up bed-time stories, drawing cartoons, holding daily pow-wows and cheering every accomplishment, large or small. He made sure his children had everything they needed and encouraged them to aim high.
In the middle of raising three girls, Russ decided to earn his master’s degree in agricultural education. He thought it would be more enjoyable to take classes in Arizona during the Minnesota winters, so he took the family to Tucson twice for the winter quarter. He and Marjorie came to love the Southwest, and after retirement, they returned to Arizona for the winter months.
Although he worked hard, Russ was never too busy for some fun. He and his friends often got together to play golf, go hunting or fishing, or play cards. He particularly loved the annual Leech Lake fishing trip and golf foursomes at the Litchfield Golf Course, where he once hit a hole in one.
He brought a lot of creativity, energy and innovative thinking to his role as county agent. He wrote weekly newspaper columns, organized education and training programs and helped farmers solve their problems. He supervised Meeker County’s large 4H program, spearheaded the development of many area parks and helped lead the effort to build the Forest City Stockade.
Always interested in politics, he decided to run for Congress in Minnesota’s sixth district. He won the Republican party’s endorsement in 1978 and campaigned hard but lost to DFL’er Rick Nolan in a close race.
The loss was a big disappointment. But the experience opened a new door. In 1981, he was named state director for Farmers Home Administration. He was proud to head the agency that had given his own father a loan to buy the family farm back in 1943.
Russ led the agency for 13 years, helping farmers manage through the farm crisis as small family farms were replaced by larger operations. He concluded his career working as economic development director for Meeker County, bringing several businesses to the county.
In retirement he focused much of his energy on restoring the cottage on Lake Sylvia that he and Marjorie bought in 1994. His grandsons spent many happy days with Grandad at the lake, swimming, fishing, building birdhouses and other projects and racing around in go-carts. This beautiful spot continues to be a family gathering place.
His retirement years were happy ones. He finally did become a pilot, bought a Piper Cherokee 190 Low Wing with a couple of friends, and had a lot of fun flying all around central Minnesota. He and Marjorie took trips to China, Norway, Germany, Africa and Egypt. He loved spending time with his daughters and grandchildren, golfing, going to Kiwanis and keeping up with politics.. An avid newspaper reader, he was always eager to discuss the events of the day.
Russ was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. It has been heartbreaking for his family to see him lose his many capabilities, but his joyful spirit and love for his family remained with him until the end. He passed away on November 7, 2022.
Russ was the last of his brothers and sisters. He is survived by his wife Marjorie, daughter Kari Bjorhus and her husband Ken Carlson, and their sons Nick Carlson (Ernie Darby) and Noah Carlson; daughter Lori Johnson and her husband David Johnson, and their sons Evan (Allie) and Lance (Emily), daughter Jennifer Bjorhus and her husband Ranjit Kesha and their sons Parthan Kesha and Kai Kesha. He is also survived by great grandchildren Emma Johnson, Wesley Johnson, Riley Johnson, and Avery Johnson.
As he often said himself, who would think that a poor farm boy from North Dakota, born during the Depression into a family of 10, would have such a wonderful life?
We remember him as ever grateful for all the good things that came to him, confident he could tackle any challenge, expecting the best from himself, and from everyone else.
He lifted up those around him and made his corner of the world a better place.