Chester Reiten’s funeral brings people from around the world

People traveled to Minot from around the country and around the world Tuesday to pay their final respects to a titan of the Magic City.

The funeral of Chester Reiten was held in the afternoon in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Old Main, on the campus of Minot State University. Friends, family and many more turned out to talk about a man described as larger-than-life, and tell a few funny stories as well.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Reiten is a classic American success story, and his place is firmly set in the history of North Dakota. Dalrymple noted Reiten will be remembered for his public service to North Dakota. Reiten served as mayor of Minot for 14 years, worked on flood recovery from the 1969 flood disaster and spent 16 years in the North Dakota Senate, including a time as president pro tempore. Dalrymple served together with Reiten for four of those years in the state Legislature.

“Perhaps more than anything, Chet will be remembered as the creator and master of the largest Scandinavian-American festival in the world,” Dalrymple said. “I always thought of Chet as the great ringmaster that I remembered from when I went to the Shrine Circus as a child. The ringmaster was always in the middle, and the ringmaster was always big and had a loud voice.”

Dalrymple fondly remembered a past visit in the Capitol when he was sharply corrected by Reiten after mispronouncing “Hstfest.”

“Believe me, I never forgot from then on,” Dalrymple said to laughter from the crowd.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend the funeral, noting he wasn’t the only one to earn frequent flyer miles.

“I thought maybe coming from Washington, D.C., I’d win the distance award, but I should have known better,” Hoeven said. “People are here from as far away as Norway. And for Chester Reiten, that’s to be expected.”

Hoeven met Reiten as a child, and said his father, Jack Hoeven, who wasn’t easily impressed, had amazing respect and admiration for Reiten. Hoeven said Reiten truly was a titan of the Minot community.

“Chet was larger-than-life. He was a big man with big, bold ideas,” Hoeven said. “And he was always doing something for Minot. To me he epitomized Minot, the spirit of Minot.”

Hoeven said on Monday he entered a tribute to Reiten into the permanent record of the U.S. Senate, and brought a copy to give to Reiten’s wife, Joy. He then read a portion of the tribute, breaking up a little with emotion as he did so.

“Chester Reiten was a great North Dakotan and a great American. He especially loved the city of Minot. I feel privileged to have known Chet all my life, and I’m thankful to have called him a friend,” Hoeven said. “He’s left an indelible impact on our state and our country.”

Rolf Haugen, who represents Minot’s sister city in Norway, Skien, also made the long trip to Minot to speak. Haugen called Reiten a true friend of Norway, and mentioned the founder of Hstfest was 100 percent Norwegian by descent.

“But I believe he was 150 percent Norwegian in heart and mind,” Haugen said.

He told the story of Reiten visiting Norway to promote the idea of Minot and Skien becoming sister cities, and making a first impression as only he could.

“People were waiting for him, but had not met him before. How would we recognize him, they wondered. Well, as you probably might have guessed, they didn’t have to worry about that,” Haugen said to laughter from the crowd. “This obvious big guy, coming against them, his hand stretched out, and said, ‘Hello, I’m Chester.’ And then the connection was established.”

Haugen ended his remarks by saying “rest in peace” in Norwegian, in honor of how much Reiten has meant to those in Norway as well as the United States.

One of Reiten’s daughters, Kathleen Hruby, told some stories from Reiten’s past the family still cherishes to this day, and also of some pearls of wisdom her father imparted over the years.

Hruby said that when she was growing up, being late for something was whenever Reiten was ready, and said her brother David once mentioned their garrulous father didn’t have an unexpressed thought in his head. That meant the advice he doled out to his children came freely, and came often.

“If you get stuck in a snowstorm, never leave the car; save money; and if someone challenges you to a game of tic-tac-toe, always be the “X” so you can make the first move. Never fight with your family or your neighbors,” Hruby said. “Then there is this pearl: the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. And my father practiced what he preached. He loved our mother beyond measure.”