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Former U.S. representative and Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland, photographed near Roseau, Minn., in 2003, died Sunday at age 90. Photo by Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Minnesota legislator, ag leader Bob Bergland dies

ROSEAU, Minn. -- Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and U.S. Rep. Bob Bergland died Sunday, Dec. 9, at LifeCare Roseau Manor in Roseau. He was 90.

The Roseau native served three terms in the U.S. House before being chosen by President Jimmy Carter to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bergland overcame four bouts of cancer throughout his life. Shortly before Thanksgiving, he had been hospitalized for sepsis, said his daughter Linda Vatnsdal.

“He was proud of helping others and disenfranchised people,” she said.

Bergland’s colleagues praised him for being an advocate for farmers and consumers.

“Bob served the Seventh District of Minnesota exceptionally before taking his farmer’s experience and work ethic to USDA to make sure that crop insurance, rural development, conservation and research programs worked better for farmers and ranchers across the country,” said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in a statement. “I was fortunate to have visited with him back in August and am proud to continue in his footsteps in serving the residents of the Seventh District.”

Bergland, who lost his farm to foreclosure as a young man, “dedicated his life to elevating the standard of living for hard-working family famers while at the same time safeguarding the interests of American consumers,” said Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin in a statement.

“Bob was a champion for farmers and a true advocate for consumers. He will be missed,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., tweeted Monday, Dec. 10.

A hockey goalie in high school, Bergland studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota. In 1950, he married his wife, Helen, with whom he had seven children.

He represented northwestern Minnesota in the House from 1971 to 1977. Bergland also served on the House Agriculture Committee, the Select Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Science.

He served as secretary of agriculture under President Carter from 1977 to 1981.

From 1981 to 1983, he was president of Farmland World Trade. He then worked as a general manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Washington, D.C. In 1993, he returned to Roseau..

The Minnesota Legislature in 1997 elected Bergland to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. During his time on the board, he focused on making the university more accessible and taking “the ivory out of the tower,” he said in 1997.

But more than anything, Bergland was proud of his family, Vatnsdal said, noting he had 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

In the early 2000s, Bergland was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated with a radioactive seeding. A year later, he developed sarcoma in his left arm.

Bergland is survived by his wife, Helen; two daughters; and three sons.

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