FARGO – It rankled Andrea Hunter Halgrimson to think that the news story announcing her death is destined to be archived electronically and not tucked away in the clipping files she lovingly tended.
She came to oversee the newsroom library of The Forum in 1972 and remained the custodian of the newspaper’s institutional memory until 2004, when she retired.
But her association with the paper, and with her loyal readers, continued until recently in her roles as a food columnist and chronicler of local history in her “As I Recall” columns, love letters to the Fargo she’d known as a lifelong resident.
After recently being diagnosed with lung cancer, Halgrimson died Tuesday at her home in north Fargo at the age of 74. It was a condominium that once belonged to her parents.
It pleased her that her last home was within blocks of the other homes her family had occupied on the north side, and a stroll away from the former St. Luke’s Hospital, now Sanford Medical Center, where she was born and where her physician-father and nurse-grandmother once worked.
“It’s good to travel,” she would say, “but it’s always good to come home.”
Often her travels would take her to study under accomplished chefs, including two culinary pilgrimages to France’s Provence region, as well as trips to Mexico, New York City and Minneapolis.
Her love of cooking began in the kitchen of her favorite childhood home, the former Hector home at 1103 Broadway. There she learned how to make traditional Norwegian dishes from her grandmother and an authentic Italian spaghetti from a recipe wheedled from one of her father’s patients.
The family home was a salon, as her parents hosted dinner parties and gatherings. Musicians would play, including performances by a string quartet and Peter Schickele, a Fargo native who became famous as composer and parodist P.D.Q. Bach.
One of the Hunter family’s most memorable guests was a dashing young senator who was running for president, John F. Kennedy, who came to town during the 1960 campaign to celebrate the birthday of Sen. Quentin Burdick, D-N.D.
Afterward, Kennedy and William O. Douglas, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, stopped by at the Hunter residence. Halgrimson has family photos of the occasion, including snapshots of her meeting Kennedy.
Her family also was involved in a local group called the Open Forum, benefactors who brought in noteworthy speakers to enrich the area’s cultural life.
“My mother always said she wished she’d kept a guestbook,” Halgrimson said. “I’ve had such a good life. Such a good life.”
Her father’s politics were stridently liberal, a point of view she believed he acquired from the barnstorming Non-Partisan League and Socialist politicians who stayed at his family’s boarding house in Golden Valley.
Gerald Wilson Hunter had come to Fargo at the age of 15 and attended what then was North Dakota Agricultural College before going on to study medicine. He met Phyllis Krantz; they married and had four children, two girls and two boys. One of Andrea’s grandmothers, Petra Krantz, joined the household after she retired from nursing in 1948.
“It was wonderful having three generations in the house,” she said.
Halgrimson graduated from Fargo Central High School in 1958 and for many years was involved in organizing school reunions.
Her higher education was marked, as she once wrote, by “25 years of off-and-on attendance” at North Dakota State University, where she graduated in 1984. When she received her degree from President Laurel Loftsgard, he remarked that she was “one of the few tenured students” at the university.
She had studied library science with the original intent of becoming a school librarian, but was terrified that the program came with a required classroom teaching practicum.
Her professed classroom trepidation was surprising from a woman who relished teaching her cooking classes and who never was shy in expressing an opinion, always delivered with certitude and made authoritative by a voice that was a huskier version of Lauren Bacall’s.
But the prospect of being a school librarian was less than alluring. So, when Lloyd Sveen, a family friend who was an editor at The Forum, told her the newsroom librarian’s position was open, she was quick to take the job.
She was dismayed to find that she’d inherited an archival disaster.
“I thought it was a wonderful place, and it was a complete mess,” she said. “The files were terrible. They were a complete mess.”
Files were not organized in chronological order. Biography files were mixed with subject files. Sticky zinc “cuts” – half-column plates for mug shots – were jumbled with clippings.
Halgrimson imposed order on chaos, and added byline files to make it easier for writers to find articles they’d written. Her presence in the library was so long-lasting and so pervasive that the two blurred together.
“Like the newsroom library she ran for so many years, Andrea served as the less-formal-but-no-less-valuable institutional memory of our community and our newspaper,” said Forum Editor Matthew Von Pinnon. “It seemed she knew everybody in town, and also how they were connected.
“She was smart, funny, mischievous and brutally frank. Andrea told it like it was, and if you weren’t prepared for that kind of honesty, well, then you probably weren’t ready for the tough business we’re in. But she loved all of us like her children, and we loved her like our mother.”
A history buff, she was delighted to find tidbits of family heritage in The Forum archives, including an account of her maternal great-grandparents, Charles and Christine Krantz, crossing the prairie in a snowstorm to their Enderlin homestead. Her 6-month-old grandfather was buttoned inside his father’s buffalo coat.
June 30, 1995, was a dark day on Halgrimson’s calendar. That was the day The Forum retired its clipping files – the “morgue,” in newspaper parlance – and switched to an electronic archive.
“It’s still a hell of a lot easier to find things in the old clip file than in the electronic archive,” she said.
The frown soon lifted, however, when she returned to more pleasant reminiscences. She was grateful that she had been able to reconnect with so many old friends in her last weeks, some of whom she’d been introduced to through writing her columns.
“I feel lucky,” she said. “I’ve always felt lucky. Mostly.”
Maybe she would regard it as a bit of luck that an exception will be made in her case.
Along with the version that will be stored in the electronic archive, the clipping of her obituary also will reside in one of the five-by-seven manila envelopes in The Forum newsroom library she leaves as one of her legacies.