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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published July 28 2013

Did You Know That: Never too late to return a favor

For some people, returning a favor may take a long time. I am one of those people. Nearly 40 years ago, in 1974, Wayne Lubenow wrote an article about me.

He was a journalist for more than 40 years, working at times for both The Bismarck Tribune and The Forum. For the last 20 years of his life, he wrote a syndicated column that appeared in 41 newspapers in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.

One newspaper publisher called Lubenow “North Dakota’s most popular columnist in the state’s history.”

Wayne Wilson Lubenow was born April 6, 1926, in Great Bend to Alfred and Helen (Hoist) Lubenow. Alfred was a clerk at a general store in Great Bend, which is in the extreme southeast corner of North Dakota.

Lubenow graduated from high school in 1944 during World War II and enlisted in the Navy on July 3. He was sent to Bremerton, Wash., near Seattle, for training and assigned to the USS Commencement Bay, a newly launched escort carrier. The ship was commissioned on November 27, and while Lubenow was aboard, he later told a reporter, “The enemy sunk an aircraft carrier out from under me.”

The incident had a tremendous psychological impact on him, leaving him with a severe stuttering problem.

With the aid of the G.I. Bill, he enrolled at the University of North Dakota and majored in journalism. Another journalism student was Don Gackle, from Garrison, N.D., and the two became close friends.

Lubenow graduated in 1950 and was hired as a wire editor for The Bismarck Tribune. Three years later, he was hired by The Forum to work at the night editing desk. In 1955, Forum Publishing purchased the Moorhead Daily News and assigned Lubenow to be news editor. The next year, he became sports editor, but after the Daily News folded in 1957, he was assigned to cover Moorhead, Clay County, and Minnesota news for The Forum.

It was at this time that Lubenow began to write his own featured column, which was very popular since he covered “everything from the lighter side of life to the unusual.”

Lubenow was not afraid to tackle controversy, and because of his editorial candor, he was twice sued for libel, though both lawsuits were later dropped.

In December 1970, the Greater North Dakota Association launched a new magazine, North Dakota Horizons. The publicity director for GNDA was Don Gackle, Lubenow’s old friend from UND who also published the newspaper in Garrison. It was agreed that Lubenow would be paid for an article in each edition. Gackle also indicated that he would help his friend get his column printed in other newspapers across the state.

However, there was one problem: Lubenow was still on The Forum’s payroll. In 1971, Lubenow and The Forum went their separate ways.

During the 1970s, readership of Lubenow’s column grew as more and more papers began carrying his articles. I became one of his fans who enjoyed the way he could bring wit and wisdom to the individuals and events he wrote about.

Little did I suspect that soon I would be the subject of one of his columns.

On March 27, 1974, I introduced a trivia show that I created called “Think and Drink” to the Westward Ho in Grand Forks. It was the first electronic trivia show for bars and lounges in the country, and it quickly became a hit.

Within a couple of months, customers could not get in if they did not arrive at least 45 minutes before the show began. One Monday evening as I was going on stage at 7 p.m., I noticed a new participant sitting at the front table. I knew that he had been there at least one hour prior to the show, and he appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

On Mondays, I did two 90-minute shows, so I did not get off-stage until 10 p.m. The new participant introduced himself as Wayne Lubenow and said that he wanted to do a story about me and “Think and Drink.”

I did not know Lubenow suffered from a serious speech impediment. When he had difficulty speaking, my impression was he was in a drunken stupor, and I dreaded the publication of his upcoming article.

When it appeared a few days later, I was stunned. Lubenow’s column was well-written and accurate. I felt gratitude for the extremely flattering way he portrayed me and the trivia show and remorse for the impression of him I had.

Through the years, Lubenow’s column became an institution, faithfully read by thousands of individuals across the state.

In 1988, Lubenow published his first book, “The Days of Wayne and Rosie.” Rosie was his wife, Rosemary (Wald) Lubenow, who he married in 1958. In 1990, he published his second book, “More Days of Wayne and Rosie.”

In his later years, Lubenow suffered from emphysema, and on March 5, 1991, he fell down the basement steps in his Fargo home, suffering a fractured skull and broken neck. He died the next day.

His passing and contributions were best summed up by Jack Zaleski, opinion editor of The Forum: “There are no Wayne Lubenows writing in North Dakota today. He was unique. His work helped us see the uncommon in the common.”

Following Lubenow’s death, his family, friends and colleagues established the “Wayne W. Lubenow Scholarship” at UND, his alma mater.

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“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.