Obituary: Helen Bergerud, 90, WCA leader, teacher, pianist

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2002 - 11:00 PM

Helen Bergerud, one of the longest serving members of one of Minnesota's oldest charities, the WCA, died Wednesday. She was 90.

Bergerud, widow of Alf L. Bergerud, a former state legislator for 32 years and president of Red Owl Stores, helped the WCA redefine itself 20 years ago from an organization that ran dormitories and provided services for young women and men to one that provides grants for human services.

"She was such a presence," said Karen Reamer, WCA executive director. Bergerud was a 40-year member of the organization, formerly known as the Women's Christian Association, and served as president from 1984 to 1987. "She was greatly admired and greatly respected. She was charming and beloved. She was warm and genuine. She was humble."

Bergerud was born and raised in Williston, N.D., where her father was a cigar maker and then a grocery-store owner. She attended the University of North Dakota and then the University of Minnesota, where she studied piano and received a bachelor's degree in music.

"She was an excellent classical pianist, but there wasn't much market for that," said her son Jon Bergerud of Edina. She taught high school music and English in rural Kindred and Zahl, N.D. In 1937, she married Morris Erickson, a high school principal. He died in 1940 in an automobile accident, and she and her young son, Jon, moved to Minneapolis to live with her mother and father.

Bergerud attended the Minnesota School of Business to become a court reporter. "She became so proficient that she became a faculty member there," Jon Bergerud said.

A longtime Republican, she met Alf Bergerud, then general counsel for Red Owl Stores, at a political meeting. They married in 1946. Alf Bergerud served in the Minnesota House and later the state Senate.

"Dad died in 1977, and her children were grown. Mother needed an outlet," Jon Bergerud said. "She liked to contribute to the community. . . . She was very kind, very giving. She was generous to a fault."

She was a 56-year member of Plymouth Congregational Church, where she served as a trustee. She also was active in the AA Chapter of PEO and in the alumni affairs of Pi Beta Phi.

In addition to her son, survivors include another son, Lee of Edina; daughter Mary Bergerud Perkins of Minnetonka; and three grandchildren.

A memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Av. in Minneapolis.

-- Mary Lynn Smith is at mlsmith@startribune.com.

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