Ryan Johnson, Published March 24 2013
Former Moorhead mayor Richard 'Ray' Stordahl dies at age 87
A McIntosh, Minn., farm boy who volunteered for the draft in 1944 fresh out of high school and served two years in the Army.
A longtime staple of civic life in Moorhead who served four terms as the city’s mayor from 1964 to 1972 during a period marked by the purchasing and bulldozing of the entire downtown as part of an urban renewal effort that led to the Moorhead Center Mall.
A lauded business leader on both sides of the Red River, receiving the North Dakota Business Foundation Leaders Award and being elected to the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame.
But Erma Stordahl said she knew long before the accolades and Election Day victories that there was something special about him.
The two first met in the late 1940s when Erma, then a teenager, was working at Kost Brothers in Moorhead. Ray, a Concordia College student who was four years older, started to come in regularly to buy concrete and supplies for the construction company he ran with his roommate.
“He was just really such a great guy,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone else like him.”
Erma said she had no idea at the time just how far her interest in this new acquaintance would take her – and definitely didn’t realize that he would soon steal her heart and marry her June 30, 1949.
“I guess I wasn’t that farsighted then, but I’m sure glad I did,” she said.
After more than 63 years of marriage, making their home in Moorhead, raising three sons and watching their grandchildren and great-grandchildren start their lives, the Stordahls were separated Friday with Ray’s loss to a battle with bladder cancer at the age of 87. He was able to die comfortably at home under the care of Hospice of the Red River Valley, she said.
A visitation is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, with a 7 p.m. prayer service, at Korsmo Funeral Chapel in Moorhead. His memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
Erma said it’s hard to put into words what she’ll miss the most about her husband, who seemed to have his hands in every part of Moorhead and was a regular sight at Moorhead Spuds and Concordia College games when he wasn’t busy fixing things around the house or reading.
But she said she had lost the “kind, loving person” who enjoyed spending time with his grandkids, especially at the lake; the active church member who continuously found ways to give to charity; the member of the so-called “think tank” of retired men who met up for coffee each day at the Fry’n Pan.
“He really was a unique guy,” she said.
After his retirement about 20 years ago, Erma said they frequently were traveling the globe, visiting Europe, several Eastern European countries, Israel, Jordan and Russia, among others.
“He was so interested in world affairs,” she said. “I always said he’d come home, wash clothes and go again.”
He also was an “even keel” man who never was angry with anyone – even if they deserved it, his son Tom Stordahl said.
“I don’t ever remember being yelled at, not that I didn’t give him a cause,” he said. “But I think you knew when he was disappointed, and I think that was worse.”
Tom said his father “dabbled” in politics – a summary that could have come from Ray himself, despite serving for 12 years as Moorhead’s mayor.
“I think he looked at it as a civic duty,” he said. “It really wasn’t a job for him.”
Tom said Ray was a “very supportive” father who never pressured his kids, or anyone for that matter, to live up to preconceived expectations. But in his own way, he said his father was able to instill in the people around him the value of a healthy work ethic and a sense of responsibility to the community.
“He’s an extraordinary man,” he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587