The first time Dallas Bohnsack tried to win a seat on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, things didn’t go as planned.
When state lawmakers cast their votes in 1993, Bohnsack was narrowly defeated after some last-minute maneuvering tipped the scales toward his Democratic opponent.
Republican legislators were so irate that they walked out in protest, with one comparing the Legislature to a “den of thieves.”
The next time, in 1999, was a calmer affair, and the votes went Bohnsack’s way. For the next 12 years, he brought a “quiet thoughtfulness,” in the words of fellow regent Clyde Allen, to the volunteer governing board that oversees Minnesota’s largest academic institution. “He was totally devoted to serving the university,” said Allen.
Bohnsack, who was also a former Scott County commissioner, died Dec. 23 of pulmonary disease. He was 78.
One of Bohnsack’s strengths, say friends and admirers, was that as a lifelong farmer, he brought a down-to-earth perspective to an increasingly cosmopolitan university.
“If I needed to somehow capture the pulse of what was going on outside the metro area on any particular issue facing the university, he was one of my first calls,” said former U President Robert Bruininks. “Particularly in the midst of some fairly severe budget crises ... he wanted to make sure that we didn’t turn our back on Greater Minnesota.”
Bohnsack, who grew up on a dairy farm in New Prague, always knew he wanted to be a farmer, says his daughter, Deb Hastings. At his parents’ urging, he studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota, and after graduating in 1960, promptly went to work beside his father on the family land.
In his spare time, Bohnsack served as clerk of Helena Township, and was elected Scott County commissioner in 1988.
“He was always active with political groups,” recalled his daughter, who noted that he would drag her to party caucuses as a teenager “as a learning experience.”
But serving on the Board of Regents was a labor of love, friends and family agree. He had an abiding affection for everything maroon-and-gold, said David Metzen, a fellow regent and close friend. “I’ve never known a guy that loved the university so much in all respects,” he said.
And it showed, he said, in the way he approached his role as a regent. “Sometimes these jobs can go to your head,” said Metzen. “But he treated everybody with dignity and respect.”
When the regents started talking about building a new Gophers football stadium, Bohnsack, who had been in the marching band, insisted that they include rehearsal space and locker rooms for the musicians. “He kept pushing … ‘What are we going to do for the band?’ ” remembered Metzen. When TCF Bank Stadium opened, with state-of-the-art facilities for the band, Metzen joked that they should name it “the Bohnsack band room.”
After retiring from the board in 2011, Bohnsack continued to volunteer for the university, serving as a trustee for the U’s Landscape Arboretum. When he fell ill with pulmonary fibrosis, and was increasingly homebound, he turned his home into “a museum to the university,” said Metzen, surrounded by mementos.
At the end, Bohnsack donated his body to the U medical school for research and education. As his family put it, “his allegiance to the University even followed him in death.”
In addition to his daughter, Bohnsack is survived by his wife, Joan; his son, Brian; sisters June Kohout, Lavonne Garoutte and Liz Kragthorpe, and four grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 20, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New Prague.