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Roy 'Pete' Pedersen, 'Mr. Bison' dies at age 98

FARGO - Roy "Pete" Pedersen, who left his mark on the city of Fargo as a city commissioner and at North Dakota State University as one of the founders of the school's athletic Hall of Fame and of fundraising juggernaut Team Makers, died Wednesday...

Roy “Pete” Pedersen
Roy “Pete” Pedersen helped establish the North Dakota State University athletic Hall of Fame. Forum file photo

FARGO - Roy "Pete" Pedersen, who left his mark on the city of Fargo as a city commissioner and at North Dakota State University as one of the founders of the school's athletic Hall of Fame and of fundraising juggernaut Team Makers, died Wednesday at age 98.

The man many called Mr. Bison died Wednesday under hospice care in Arbor Park Living Center in Moorhead.

No services are planned, according to Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home.

Pedersen started working at WDAY in the late 1930s as a radio personality, then later became a promoter who helped turn WDAY into a television power in the region.

"He was one of the classics of that era," said Larry Gauper, a former colleague at WDAY.


And he was an unvarnished straight-shooter.

"Without the big bucks, he was kind of the Donald Trump of WDAY back in those days," Gauper said Thursday. "He said what he felt and didn't mince any words. People knew him and we all loved him just the same."

Former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren recalls serving on the City Commission with his old friend and sometimes sparring with him.

"He was a character and a force in the community, that's for sure," Lindgren said.

A spat over the 12th Avenue bridge was one example, Lindgren said..

"We had a particularly bitter meeting once, where he was on one side and I was on the other. I think, in general, things had not gone the way he wanted them for his side," Lindgren said.

The next day, Lindgren started the morning in his office and "the first person who showed up was Roy. And he walked in with a big smile and shakes hands and said, 'Wasn't that something we did last night? I'm afraid you outsmarted us.' No one else did that. It was unique to Roy to follow things and move on. And that was delightful about him."

"He was a good friend for a long time," said Pat Simmers, an NDSU senior associate athletic director and Team Makers' executive director.


"He (Pedersen) was an avid fan. When I played in the '70s, when I coached in the '80s, and when my kids played in the '90s, he was just an avid fan," Simmers said.
"I think we enjoy today what we do because of their vision and their insight and their commitment" to NDSU athletics, Simmers said.

Pedersen was the son of immigrants Edith and Emil Pedersen of Buffalo, N.D. He was born Jan. 24, 1917, in a room above a cream separator store.

Pedersen's father died in 1918. His mother was penniless, and for a time Roy and his sisters were put in the Lutheran Children's Home in Lake Park, Minn. Later, as his mother became better-established, the siblings returned home, but life was still hard. The family's church helped by finding three families to take Pedersen and his sisters on as foster children.

In one interview, he recalled his mother as "the happiest, most gregarious person I've known. ... She did as well as she humanly could."

Pedersen credited the YMCA for helping keep him on the straight and narrow.

"They literally grabbed me off the street when I was a youngster," Pedersen told The Forum. "I had been running all over the streets, swiping milk bottles and like that. The 'Y' channeled my energy. I became a camp leader and all that stuff."

In 1933, at age 16, he came down with polio and suffered some paralysis. It took two years of therapy before he could resume normal activities.

He graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1936.


Pedersen enrolled in North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) that fall, tackling the challenge of paying the tuition of $17.50 a quarter. His solution? Join the headquarters company of the 164th Infantry of the National Guard. He earned a dollar a drill as a private.

To make up the difference, he turned to WDAY, starting out as an audience "plant" for radio performances, then being taken on part time in 1938, working 20 hours a week as an announcer.

He also became part of the "WDAY Hayloft Jamboree," an Upper Midwest road show that helped the station keep the talent it had attracted working.

He majored in English and minored in speech and drama at NDAC, graduating in 1941. He then started working full time at WDAY.

He tried to join the Army at the start of World War II, but was initially rejected because of poor eyesight. But in 1942, the Army did an about-face and he was accepted.

Pedersen went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Monmouth, N.J., earning a commission in the signal corps and going to England to serve in the 143rd Armored Signal Company, part of the Third Armored Division. His unit moved into France in the latter part of June 1944.

He served in five campaigns during the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of captain, commanding a company.

After the war, he returned to Fargo, where he was named promotion manager for WDAY in 1946.


Pedersen married Joyce DeLoures Rudh of Rothsay, Minn., on Jan. 16, 1947, in First Lutheran Church in Fargo, according to a notice in The Forum.

They had one child, Karen.

WDAY went into the television business in 1953. Pedersen had to promote the sales of TV sets to build a market. By 1955, 80 percent of homes in Fargo-Moorhead had televisions. In those early years, he would also go on the air as a substitute sportscaster when needed.

He was well-respected.

In 1952, he was chosen man of the year by the Fargo Junior Chamber of Commerce and in 1962 was named advertising man of the year by the Fargo-Moorhead Advertising Club.

In 1950, Pedersen helped found the Team Makers Club at NDSU.

"He was just a huge force in promoting NDSU athletics," Lindgren said.

Ed Kolpack, a longtime sportswriter and columnist for The Forum, wrote that, "If he isn't at a Bison football game, it's because he is in a hospital or in jail."


In October 1977, Pedersen was added to the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame as an honorary inductee.

In 1969. he was selected as an honored alumnus of NDSU. He was also involved with the Fargo YMCA, Children's Village, NDSU Alumni Association, and helped local Kiwanians get their hugely successful annual pancake carnival off the ground, lining up donations of food and setting up the promotional program.

In April 1974, he was elected to the Fargo City Commission. The political novice ousted 16-year incumbent John Markey. He held the police and fire portfolios.

"He enjoyed the contact with the police chief and fire chief," Lindgren said. "He liked to be in on the emergencies that came through there. That was the kind of drama he enjoyed being involved in."

Pedersen lost his commission seat in 1986 to Mort Mazaheri in a runoff election, but he ran again in 1988, earning a term. His time on the commission ended in 1992, when he and another incumbent lost their seats to Bruce Furness and Arlette Preston.

Pedersen retired from WDAY in 1982.

His wife died in 1988 and his daughter lives in South Carolina, Gauper said.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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