News photographer Charles "Chuck" Bjorgen plied his craft for 32 years for the afternoon Minneapolis Star and later for the Star Tribune — taking pictures of demonstrations, fires and explosions, plane crashes, major athletic events, famous writers and actors, presidents and other politicians.
But he shot his favorite photograph during a snowstorm in 1992, when he spotted two horses frolicking in a field off Hwy. 41 in Chaska. The photo of the dancing horses graced the Star Tribune's front page and also became a favorite of readers, who continue to order prints of it to this day.
Bjorgen, 85, of New Brighton, died April 23 of heart failure — just three weeks after his wife of 59 years, Sonia, died of a heart-related condition.
Bjorgen, who started working at the Star in 1966, rose to become the paper's chief photographer. He retired in 1998.
"He was a very caring photographer," said Mike Zerby, a retired Star Tribune photographer who got to know Bjorgen when both were students at the University of Minnesota's journalism school. "He was a people person and a gentle man and a gentleman, both. He was technically very skilled."
Bjorgen was born in Grand Forks, N.D., before his parents, Engval and Inga Bjorgen, moved to Minneapolis. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany, where he watched a soldier-photographer develop a picture.
"It was like an aha moment," said his son, Carl, of New Brighton. "He could see a piece of paper that was white turn into a photo. It was magic. He thought, 'I am going to do that.' "
Following his Army stint, Bjorgen enrolled at the U, where he met Sonia, who later became communications director for Mounds View Public Schools.
After college he worked for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department as a media person and photographer. But the couple decided to trade small town life for the Twin Cities, where Bjorgen worked at an advertising agency before joining the Star.
Carl Bjorgen said his father brought him and his brother, Eric, to the newspaper on the weekends. They explored the newsroom while he developed pictures.
"He loved his job, he loved being a photographer," Carl said.
David Nimmer, a former Star managing editor and investigative reporter, recalled a series of articles he wrote about St. Paul power brokers and the photos Bjorgen took of the key figures.
"I was amazed at the quality of the photos and how much you could tell by looking at them," said Nimmer. "They were extraordinarily evocative."
Bjorgen won a number of awards for his work. In 1989 he took a memorable photograph of former President Ronald Reagan, about to board an airplane after brain surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, smiling and doffing his Twins cap to reveal his half-shaved scalp much to his wife's evident dismay. The photo circulated worldwide.
"He was quiet and intuitive," said retired Star Tribune photographer Stormi Greener. "He saw things beyond the normal and he shot that way as well." She added that Bjorgen "was one of the kindest men I have ever known."
In retirement Bjorgen pursued various hobbies, including car engine repair and wood-turning — shaping wood into objects like bowls. "He never slowed down," said Steve Tiedman, a friend who served with Bjorgen on the board of the Minnesota Woodturners Association.
Besides his sons Carl and Eric, of Blaine, Bjorgen is survived by four grandchildren. Services have been held.
Staff librarian John Wareham contributed to this report.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224