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Hector family legacy will live on with charitable foundation

Keith Ernst.jpg
Keith Ernst, a Fargo businessman who operates Ernst Trenching Co., is the trustee for the newly announced Hector Foundation. Ernst's company does trenching work for utility companies in the state. He also works with commercial real estate. Barry Amundson / The Forum
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FARGO — Fred Hector Jr. wasn't much for the limelight in his life of 86 years, but the multimillionaire and descendant of one of Fargo's premier pioneer families has made sure the family legacy will live on.

The newly formed $7 million Hector Foundation will launch its website on July 1 and begin taking applications from nonprofit groups in the area.

"This will be a great thing for the people of Fargo-Moorhead and the area and should have a significant impact on their quality of life for decades to come," said Fargo businessman Keith Ernst, who is trustee of the foundation.

Ernst, who along with his wife have been neighbors and close friends of Hector for years, said he called one day before he died last June of cancer and asked his family to help him out.

He told Ernst he wanted the family's legacy — dating back to the 1800s in the city — to "definitely live on" through the foundation and that the money should go to help "ordinary people or the common man."


Ernst and a small group of others will decide where the contributions should go, and although the total donations given will be in the $150,000 range this year, they will be doubling and growing next year and for years to come.

With all of the land and business holdings in Hector's estate, Ernst said the amount of money in the foundation will also continue to grow in the coming years.

He said Hector, who farmed most of his life in North Dakota and Minnesota, was a "bare bones type of guy who didn't like a lot of fluff."

For that reason, he gave many donations in the city over the years but did so anonymously. One well-known donation, however, was 150 acres given to the Fargo Park District for south Fargo's Rose Creek Golf Course.

Rose Creek
A dedication outside the clubhouse of Rose Creek Golf Course to Fred and Earlyne Hector for donating land to the Fargo Park District. Fred Hector passed away Saturday, June 1. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

"He wanted to keep it low key," Ernst said about most of his giving.

After his death, though, Ernst said his friend wanted the family's name to live on. The foundation's simple website contains a story about the family's long history in the area starting with Fred Hector Jr.'s grandfather, Martin Hector, and was written by his niece, Susie Yakowicz, who has been the family historian.


Martin Hector, born in Norway, arrived in Moorhead in the spring of 1872 and started in the bar and liquor business which he moved to Fargo in those early years. He then helped form the city's first bank and served as its president for 41 years. In 1927, he leased 160 acres to the city for a municipal flying field, and five years later gifted the land. Today, the airport is still named after the family.

Hector International Airport in north Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
Hector International Airport in north Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Fred Hector was one of Martin and Caroline Hector's four children. Fred Hector Jr. was then one of five children of that couple, and their tradition of civic engagement, business leadership and giving continued.

Ernst said one of Fred Jr.'s passions was his love for adventure and water.

Up until 2018, well into his 80s, Ernst said his friend would get up early at the family's longtime home on Detroit Lake and kayak for up to five hours around the lake, making stops at a few places along the way. The family history said during those later years, he became especially fond of the Red River, too, kayaking it whenever weather and river levels permitted.

Ernst said his intelligent friend "loved to tell a story and enjoy a good meal."

He said he always needed to be doing something, and if he wasn't enjoying the water or some activity, he was reading.


"He never watched TV, though," Ernst said, adding he ignored national politics but was interested in local affairs.

Two of Fred Jr.'s sons preceded him in death and his daughter, Carrie, still lives in Fargo. His ex-wife, Earlyne, with whom he had a high-profile divorce case over a family estate estimated at $50 million, also still lives in the city.

The foundation, according to the website and Ernst, is "Fred's final gift to the people of Fargo-Moorhead."

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