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Chris Murphy, Published August 29 2013

Darwin Gorder, 'Mr. Oak Grove,' dies at age 73

FARGO – It didn’t matter what the event was at Fargo’s Oak Grove Lutheran High School, Darwin Gorder was the first one there and the last one to leave.

Gorder was Oak Grove, former colleagues say.

“Even the events he wasn’t necessarily a part of he’d be there longer than anyone,” said Oak Grove math teacher Marc Langseth, who was taught and coached by Gorder in 1963 before becoming a colleague in 1973. “Even though he wasn’t a singer, he was so proud of our choir. He was always telling us to come to get out to the singing events. He was legendary.”

And now the Oak Grove choir will sing at Gorder’s funeral Tuesday, after Gorder passed away Wednesday at the age of 73.

A 1957 graduate from Oak Grove, a private Lutheran school on the banks of the Red River in north Fargo, Gorder returned in 1962 to do every job imaginable until 2007. He was a teacher, interim president, academic dean, dean of students and principal.

Gorder was a longtime track coach and basketball coach, leading Oak Grove to a basketball state championship in 1969. He was an athletic director, assistant football coach and even coached wrestling for a year, despite claiming to have no clue about the sport. He is in the North Dakota Amateur Softball Hall of Fame, and helped teach Oak Grove softball pitchers how to throw his patented heat.

After leaving the education side, Gorder moved to the development office for another five years.

Last year, he was selling tickets at the beginning of football games and turning lights off at the end of them.

There was no leaving Oak Grove for Gorder. There was only doing what needed to be done next.

“He wore a lot of hats,” said Steve Carnal, who met Gorder in 1980 when he began teaching at Oak Grove. “He was such a dynamic multi-talented person, he was able to do all these things.”

At 6-foot-5 and nearly 250 pounds, Gorder, a former basketball player at Concordia College, was a large man, but there was nothing larger to him than Oak Grove.

“He was a leader,” Langseth said. “When Darwin came in a room, you knew he came in the room. He was a mentor to so many of us as to how you should carry yourself.”

Carnal called Gorder the most respected man on the Oak Grove campus, but that didn’t stop him from sweeping the floor at basketball games or setting up sprinklers and striping the football field.

“His heart and soul was with Oak Grove,” Carnal said. “He spent hours on campus because he wanted this place to be high quality and he set the standard for quality here.”

After Gorder announced in 2002 that he was leaving his education and administrative posts at Oak Grove, school leaders named the gymnasium after him and Fargo’s mayor declared April 15, 2002, to be Darwin Gorder Day as nearly 1,000 people gathered to celebrate his tenure at the school.

“He was retired when I came in, but Darwin is the kind of guy that never really leaves,” Oak Grove president Mike Slette said. “We would have done anything the family asked to remember him.”

Slette said some have described Gorder as “Mr. Oak Grove,” which he said was “the perfect name for him.”

“People look at him as a mentor, a friend, just a man with a huge heart and he lived for Oak Grove,” Slette said. “He loved kids, he loved education.”

The school will observe a moment of silence for Gorder before a home football game 11 a.m. Saturday against Wyndmere-Lidgerwood.

There will be a visitation from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at Korsmo Funeral Chapel in Moorhead and a funeral service at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Hope Lutheran Church’s north campus in Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548