FARGO – Judge Myron Bright had a lot to celebrate at his party on Sunday afternoon.
This year marks Bright’s 50th year of service to his country: four in the army and more than 46 as a federal judge on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The event was also a book launch for Bright’s autobiography and a belated birthday party – he turned 95 in March.
Bright took senior status in 1985, but continues to hear cases and is the longest-serving judge in his circuit.
He said he was “amazed” at how many turned out for the party: more than a hundred friends and family from across North Dakota and Minnesota.
They gathered at Touchmark at Harwood Groves, a retirement community where Bright lives.
Early in the afternoon, Bright stood up and recognized a few who had come particularly far, then extended the invitation:
“All you are friends!” he cried in the booming voice that Susan Skeen, 62, associates with her former next-door neighbor. “Why don’t you stand up and give yourselves a hand?”
Skeen was there with her parents, Luther and Marilyn Kristensen, who live in Bismarck. The three of them spent the afternoon fondly recalling their 15 years as neighbors of the Bright family, on 21st Avenue South.
The Brights taught the Kristensens about Jewish holidays, and the Kristensens invited the Brights over to hang Christmas lights and bake cookies.
“Are you ordering one of those books?” Luther Kristensen, 83, asked his wife.
“I’m ordering six of ’em,” said Marilyn, 82, without hesitation.
Bright’s memoir, titled “Goodbye Mike, Hello Judge: My Journey for Justice,” was published by North Dakota State University and should be available in about a week, editor Bob Jansen said.
Rob and Wendy Gordon were also at the party with their two children; their son Micah, 9, is friends with one of Bright’s great-grandchildren, and they’ve known Bright for 12 years through Temple Bethel.
Wendy described Bright as “kind, insightful, but tough as nails.” She and her husband refer to him as simply, “the judge.”
Bright will hear 40 to 50 cases this year, from September 2014 to June 2015. In December, he’ll hear cases happening in St. Paul through video conferencing, he said.
“Retiring for most other people would not be what it is for him,” said his granddaughter Amy Long, 38. Long’s 9-year-old son, William Bright Long, is named after his great-grandfather.
Bright has two children, three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and another on the way. His wife Frances, or “Fritzie,” died in 2000 after almost 54 years of marriage.
Bright said two things are important to him: family and work.
“I always tell people, what the hell am I gonna do if I retire?” he said with a grin. “It keeps my mind active. It keeps me young.”
Bright said his biggest challenge today is not a personal one but a cause: He is concerned by the disproportionately long sentences for Native Americans who commit the same crimes as whites.
As the child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Bright considers himself a champion of equality for minorities, and his son said that’s still the case.
“What hasn’t changed or him are his convictions,” said Josh Bright, 57.
Josh and his sister, Dinah Golding, were glowing as they watched their father shout greetings to everyone who walked by him at the party.
“He eats this up; he loves this,” Golding said. “He loves embracing life.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Grace Lyden at (701) 241-5502