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Friends remember Lauerman as a friend

Jim Lauerman

Friends of Jim Lauerman on Monday remembered a man who never hesitated to speak his mind.

The founder of Jim Lauerman's Chili, Sandwiches & Beer in downtown Fargo and Jim Lauerman's No. 2 Saloon in north Fargo died Sunday morning.

Lauerman, 57, had been battling a reoccurrence of cancer.

"He was always plotting, planning to do something new," said Spider Johnke. The owner of Spider & Co. was among the first to meet Lauerman when he moved to town.

Lauerman, who had worked in oil fields and served in Vietnam, moved to Fargo from Long Beach, Calif.

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Married at the time to Brenda Jore of Fargo, he and Long Beach friend George Burtch turned the old Crescent Jewelry Co. building at 64 Broadway into an old-time saloon in 1982.

Johnk, an early regular, drew the caricature of Lauerman and Burtch that still hangs over the downtown bar.

"It was the easiest caricature I ever did, because they were caricatures to begin with," Johnk said.

While Burtch returned to California, Lauerman went on to expand, doubling the size of his downtown bar and then, in 1994, turning an old meat locker building into a restaurant and lounge in the Fargo Industrial Park.

As a businessman, he was often at odds with city leaders over issues such as liquor license classification and control, and smoking.

"He was a voice of common sense about free enterprise and business in this town, and that's going to be missed," said friend Jeff Samson of McDonald's Livestock in West Fargo.

Randy Thorson, who owns Old Broadway and CI Apparel downtown, among other business interests, said he and Lauerman -- though competitors -- consoled each other through downtown construction and liquor regulation fights with the city.

"He was certainly a guy who spoke his mind," Thorson said. "And it was hard to change his mind on a subject."

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More days than not, downtown businessman Dan Martinson could be found dining at Lauerman's bar. He dined there Monday, where it was business as usual -- just as Lauerman would have wanted it.

"Know what I had? Jim's Special," Martinson said. That's a polish sausage, split open, served on bread with a pickle, Swiss cheese and plenty of mustard.

He said he'll miss the noontime bantering with Lauerman. "The conversations were always on a controversial subject," Martinson said.

Lauerman's daughter Greta and son Mike are running the downtown bar today. He also has a son, Wally.

Dr. Garth Teske was one of Lauerman's best friends. As an emergency room physician, Teske would stop in to see Lauerman at odd hours.

Teske told Lauerman he liked to hunt the first time he met Lauerman. The next day, the two were hunting ducks near Alice, N.D.

"Jim liked to hunt. I liked to hunt. We went hunting and fishing every chance we could," Teske said.

"Jim was a pretty honest guy. You pretty much knew where he stood," Teske added.

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Teske recalls the night of his wedding, when Lauerman laid out a late-night feast for the wedding guests.

"He thought that might be better than another drink. And I couldn't pay him for that, because that was his gift," Teske said.

Lauerman was generous to those who came calling, whether by donating to a youth hockey team or by opening his doors early for a 5K run on St. Patrick's Day, Teske said.

"Everybody always got something from Jim," he said. "And he gave everyone some sort of grief, too, in that respect. His metaphors were amazing."

Lauerman was diagnosed with multiple melanoma two years ago and treated for the cancer. It recurred several months ago, Teske said.

Lauerman told his friends he wanted no obituary in the paper; no funeral.

Instead, the doors to the downtown saloon opened Sunday night as about 30 of Lauerman's closest friends gathered for an impromptu Irish wake.

"He was very clear about that -- no funeral," Teske said. "He wanted his friends to go down to the bar, to have a cold one on him, and to tell stories. And that we did."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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