FAIRMONT - Former Sentinel editor and publisher Ray Stougaard died this week at Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center. He was 89.
Stougaard is remembered by family, friends and colleagues as an old-fashioned newspaper man, not afraid to express his opinion even if it was unpopular, and as a leader in the community.
Originally from Minneapolis, Stougaard began his career path by majoring in economics and political science at Macalester College. (His college time was interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.)
"He wanted to go into journalism; he knew that he'd pick up the basics," said David Stougaard, Ray's son.
He started as a reporter in International Falls, then was news editor at KSUM radio in Fairmont before crossing over to the Sentinel to become an editor in the early 1950s.
"What I remember about him was he was a stickler for the truth," David Stougaard said. "He was not afraid to say his opinion; he wrote some opinions that ruffled some feathers. But he was a very fair person. People appreciated the way he treated them."
Stougaard ended up becoming publisher of the Sentinel, and was also put in charge of the Mickelson Media newspaper group (including the Sentinel) until it was sold in 1980.
He retired from full-time management in 1982, but remained a Mickelson Media board member until it sold to another company in 1989.
Retirement from the newspaper business did not slow down Stougaard in the least.
"Ray was the first person I knew here when I moved here in the early 1970s," said Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce president Bob Wallace. "He was heavily involved in the Fairmont GO program, which was the industrial park. He was the old-fashioned newspaper man; he was involved with everything in the community. He'd take a leading role, and was interested in spearheading projects."
In fact, many places that exist today in Fairmont - Red Rock Center, the Historical Society, the fairgrounds, the soccer fields and Fox Lake ball diamonds - have Stougaard to thank.
"You look around Fairmont, and there are very few charities where the Fairmont Area Foundation has not had a major impact," said Ernie Nuss, an original and current Fairmont Area Foundation board member.
When Mickelson Media sold its business, part of the proceeds were put into a foundation, with the community asked to match the funds.
"[Mickelson Media] offered to provide $100,000 matching contribution to the fund if the residents of Fairmont would raise $200,000 during the next two years," Nuss wrote in a brief on the history of the Fairmont Area Foundation. "The individuals accepted the challenge and agreed to serve as the first board of directors. They created the Fairmont Area Foundation."
Stougaard did the leg work setting up the foundation, and had done his research so the foundation would continue to prosper for generations to come.
"He didn't take no for an answer," Nuss recalled about the fledgling foundation going to businesses and organizations to raise the needed funds. "He had the foresight for what the Foundation would do in good years and bad years. He called the Foundation 'the perpetual gift.' A lot of the younger members of the Foundation now don't understand sometimes why it's set up the way it is. But back in December, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that had a list of what you need to have a successful organization, and Ray had covered all those points. He was really looking into the future."
Today, Fairmont Area Foundation has a balance of about $1.5 million. The dream of the original board of directors was to eventually exceed $1 million.
It is not known if Stougaard ever realized his dream for the Foundation, as he became afflicted with a form of dementia.
"It's a real loss, and he'll be sorely missed," Wallace said. "He was a good person to work with and a good person to know."
"People didn't always agree with him," Nuss said. "But he never let that stop him."
"He was a person who loved his community and believed in Fairmont," David Stougaard said. "He always tried to make it a better place."
More information about Stougaard is available in his obituary on page 5 of today's Sentinel.