Art Link: The land is his legacy
The physical and political landscape in North Dakota was forever changed by Art Link.
Renowned for his environmental stewardship and push for responsible energy policies, the former governor's Tuesday death symbolized the end of an era.
"He changed the face of North Dakota," filmmaker Clay Jenkinson said. "He is what I would call the last agrarian. His passing is a terrible blow to a certain idea of North Dakota and a phase of North Dakota history."
Link just celebrated his 96th birthday on May 24.
Jenkinson, one of the producers of a documentary on Link released in 2008 , saw him last week.
"He was alert. He was funny," said Jenkinson, who got to know Link and his wife, Grace, well throughout the making of the film. "He told me he planned to live another 10 years."
The son of immigrant parents from Germany and Czechoslovakia who moved to western North Dakota, Link was born in 1914 on the family farm in Alexander. He later attended North Dakota State University, returning home to ranch before starting a career in public service, first as a township supervisor and then, in 1947, in the state House of Representatives.
After 24 years in the Legislature and two years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was elected the state's 27th governor in 1972.
In 1973, the Democrat began two four-year terms, with Wayne Sanstead serving alongside him as lieutenant governor.
"I clearly would not be in public life today if it wasn't for what I learned from Art Link," said Sanstead, the state school superintendent for the past 25 years. "He taught me that you deal with the public from a four-square position ... that you respond to people's concerns and cares."
Sanstead and others say Link's years as governor were the pinnacle of his career, allowing him to make a lasting mark in energy policy.
"When the great (energy) crisis of the 1970s came ... he staked his career - really he staked his life - on the principle that there was a higher value in North Dakota life than energy extraction," Jenkinson said.
U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it was Link's love for North Dakota that spurred his policies to protect "the rich heritage of our land."
U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., added:
"Art Link's legacy will be his stewardship of the land, his commitment to educate our children, and his determination to make government work for average people."
In 1980, though, Link lost a bid for a third term to Republican Attorney General Allen Olson.
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But Link never really left the public limelight.
"He never stopped talking about public policy," said Bob Valeu, a longtime friend and colleague. "He never really retired."
In fact, even when he left public office, Link stayed active, from philanthropy to giving speeches to making public appearances at the state Legislature as a longstanding vocal opponent of state-supported gambling.
It was that determination that helped him gain high regard from people on both sides of the political aisle.
"Regardless of political affiliation, North Dakotans respected and admired him for his genuine concern for our state and our people," Gov. John Hoeven said.
U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy attributed Link's strong rural roots growing up on a western North Dakota farm for shaping everything from his politics to his personality.
"He approached issues with a strong conscience and the kind of common sense that you get growing up on the prairie," Pomeroy said. "He was interested in results, not the limelight."
In fact, even at 96, Link was still concerned for North Dakota's future.
The last thing he told Jenkinson last week was his concern for the energy boom and how the state handles it.
"He was still thinking about these issues, which I think is amazing," Jenkinson said.
On Saturday, Link was admitted to St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck with pneumonia.
Before he died there Tuesday morning, Valeu, who acted as a spokesperson for the family, said Link's five sons, grandchildren and wife Grace, spent time with him.
Just under two weeks ago, the couple had celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary.
"It's really hard (for her)," Valeu said. "They were a very close couple."
Recent ND governors
Arthur Link-D, 1973-1981
Allen Olson-R, 1981-1984
George Sinner-D, 1985-1992
Edward Schafer-R, 1992-2000
John Hoeven-R, 2000-
Key dates in Art Link's life
1914: Born in Alexander, N.D.
1947 to 1970: Served in the North Dakota House of Representatives
1970 to 1972: Served in the U.S. House of Representatives
1973 to 1980: Served as North Dakota's 27th governor
1980: Ran for a third term as governor, but lost to then Republican Attorney General Allen Olson
2008: Documentary "When the Landscape is Quiet Again: The Legacy of Art Link" is released.
Dem-NPL Chairman Mark Schneider: "For literally decades, this tireless champion of the people was a shining example of all that is good in public service."
U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy: "Art Link was a uniquely North Dakotan public servant. There is an old Nonpartisan League adage that 'the office seeks the man.' That described Gov. Link perfectly."
U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad: "I've always admired Gov. Link. He knew what he believed; he knew what he stood for; he knew the values that he had been raised with, and that was something unshakeable in Art Link."
U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan: "Art Link lived a long, productive and wonderful life. And, today, even as we express sadness of his death, those of us who were privileged to know and work with him over these many decades celebrate the life and achievements of this wonderful man."
Gov. John Hoeven: "Gov. Link never stopped caring, or getting involved, well into his senior years. After his terms of public office, he dedicated much of his time as an advocate for the preservation of North Dakota's history."