His father rose up the ranks of farmers’ cooperatives delivering insights into droughts and other topics, but Steven Kopperud vowed to have no part of a career related to agriculture.
He edited the school paper at Washburn High in Minneapolis, and then was a copy boy and summer reporting intern at the Minneapolis Star before taking a job as a general assignment reporter at the San Diego Tribune in 1973.
So few people were as surprised as Kopperud himself when he moved to Washington, D.C., to cover agribusiness and then shifted to “the dark side,” he joked later, by becoming an agricultural lobbyist. His expertise put him in high demand as a speaker, and he often flew across the country to present an insider’s view of Washington.
Kopperud, who helped win passage of a bill making it a federal crime to break into and damage farms and research labs, died unexpectedly of natural causes on Oct. 19. He was 69, and he was in Minneapolis for the wedding of his niece, whose father, Brian Kopperud, his brother, died suddenly two months earlier.
“It has been a very hard year for the family,” Ryan Kopperud, Brian’s son, said last week. Steven and Brian were “more than brothers,” he added. “They were friends.”
To his nephew and other family members, Steven was a quick wit and master storyteller. He was an avid reader, too, and a wordsmith capable of filling out crossword puzzles in ink, said his wife, Judith. The breadth of his interests came in handy during the summers of 1972 and 1973 when he interned for the Minneapolis Star.
He interviewed shoemakers and Buffalo Bob Smith of “Howdy Doody” fame, and hit the Minnesota State Fair to cover the arrival of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, which stood “between 17 and 19 hands high — almost 6 feet 6 inches at the shoulder,” he wrote. He also gave voice to gay men running a small information booth in the Grandstand.
This was the Watergate era, and after moving to Washington, D.C., he sensed things were getting too negative.
“There was no such thing as good news,” Kopperud recalled in a 2018 AgriPulse interview that can be viewed on YouTube. “If the crop report showed record production [it was,] ‘How did we get there? What’s the real reason it’s record production?’ Well, excuse me, you know, I was getting tired of it.”
As a lobbyist, he successfully fought to protect farmers and ranchers from activist attacks through passage of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, calling it a career highlight. Though no longer a reporter, he absorbed information from dozens of newsletters and multiple daily newspapers, Judith said. He still was writing Washington-insider columns twice a week at the time of his death.
“He wanted to use his writing talent as his life’s goal, and he never really gave it up,” she said.
The two loved to travel and often spent time in London with another couple, Henry Wray and Geoffrey Nesbitt. Wray said the group had a favorite London restaurant, Ffiona’s, and that when Wray and Nesbitt planned to go overseas, they’d make reservations for a certain date and ask the Kopperuds if it should be for four instead of two.
“The answer was nearly always in the affirmative,” Wray said.
Steven was so comfortable in London he often said he must have been an Englishman in a prior life, said Judith, who spoke of difficulties adjusting to his death. Some days, she said, it is hard to throw away the Washington Post crossword puzzle.
Kopperud also is survived by his brother Dean. A memorial will be held in 2021.
Staff librarian John Wareham contributed to this report.