Obituary: Win Borden; ex-state senator, farmer, writer from Brainerd area

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2014 - 8:14 PM

Win Borden, a state senator, farmer, writer and historian, has died.

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Win Borden held Marcus the cat as he talked about his wood stove, made famous in his Facebook postings. The stove has been in its place since 1931. File photo from November 2012.

Photo: Vickie Kettlewell, Special to the Star Tribune

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Winston “Win” Borden, a state senator in the late 1970s from Brainerd and also every bit a farmer, lawyer, and writer, has died.

Borden died Monday night after beating cancer last fall but succumbing to infections in his liver and a kidney, said farming partner J.R. Duncan. Borden was 70.

Borden’s final years were spent farming organic vegetables, flowers and herbs near Merrifield, Minn., on land that has been in the family since the 1880s. He kept his political and contemplative fires burning late in life through a dialogue on his Facebook page with the old wood-fueled stove in the farm’s kitchen.

“Yesterday his mind was totally clear,” Duncan said Tuesday. “One of his sons, Chris, said yesterday, ‘Dad, can you recite the whole Gettysburg Address?’ He opened his eyes and said, ‘Of course.’ He said the whole the Gettysburg Address while his son Googled it on the Internet and read it along with him.”

Duncan said Borden recently finished two books and was working to have them published in the spring.

One, “Cancel My Funeral, I’m Staying,” draws on quotes from various writers about growing older, “loving and living and cherishing each day that you have,” Duncan said.

The other, “Stovetop Cooking,” draws on his love of cooking on his mother’s old wood stove, which he used as a storytelling device to kick around the political topics of the day and whatever else came to mind.

In his final Facebook dispatch from the farm, posted Dec. 11, Borden held one of his typical revealing back-and-forths with the old wood stove, which was ignited by Borden singing, “To dream the impossible dream …” and shifting to “That’s life, that’s what the people say …”

“Well there you go again, from happiness, to tragedy and back to happiness,” the old stove observed. “That seems to be the way life often unfolds. Uncertain and unpredictable it is. You have demonstrated that life is kind of like riding a roller coaster — you’re not in control — and life has its up and down. You have been to the edge of the cliff more than a few times in life, but you have hung on and you need to continue to do that.”

To which Borden responded, “Oh, my, I guess she’s right. I’ll hang on and hopefully do the best I can with what I am handed in life. I trust on this day your goal is the same. The best to you from the farm.”

The Facebook page became the place where many in recent years were introduced to Borden. All day Tuesday it was overwhelmed with people expressing their sorrow and sharing memories.

“I join many on Facebook today in celebrating the life, but mourning the loss, of Win Borden,” wrote Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor and U.S. senator. “He cared enough about the world around him to open up his life — the good, the bad and the ugly.

“He took all that was terrible and difficult and planted it into the ground and grew it into a life that was beautiful and covered with color. You’ve planted well, Win Borden. The seeds you’ve sown will be harvested forever.”

Borden was a highly visible figure, first as a DFL state senator with a reputation as an environmentalist throughout the 1970s. After re-election in 1976, he became assistant majority leader.

He surprised many political observers when he resigned in December 1978 to become president of the Minnesota Association of Commerce and Industry, which later became the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce — considered to be the largest, most influential business organization in the state.

In 1990, Borden went into private practice as an attorney, was a lobbyist at the State Capitol and then switched to the fish farming business.

In 2004 he made headlines again, when he was convicted of failing to pay about $300,000 in federal taxes. He served about a year in a federal prison camp. “The blame is wholly mine,” he said at the time, pointing to the fishing farm’s collapse and alcohol addiction as factors that led to his tax misdeeds. His farm’s website even listed the conviction in his bio.

“I hope others can learn from my problems so they don’t travel down the same troubled road I did,” he said.

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