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Erik Burgess, Published November 07 2013

New Moorhead council member's inspiration was his mom, who died a day before election

MOORHEAD – Chuck Hendrickson’s mom was the one who pushed him to run for public office, convinced that her son had everything it takes to win.

The 80-year-old political junkie was right – Hendrickson won, but she didn’t get to see it happen.

Claire Hendrickson died Monday at 9:30 p.m., almost exactly 24 hours before Chuck Hendrickson would win his first-ever seat in public office, as city councilman representing Moorhead’s 4th Ward.

Hendrickson said Thursday he wishes his mom could have been there to cast a vote for him.

“She was a strong woman, strong-willed, very smart. I find that I get a lot of my strength from her,” he said. “And I’ve had to be strong in the last week.”

Even after suffering a major stroke Oct. 17, the one that would eventually lead to her death, Claire Hendrickson kept pushing her son from her bed in the intensive care unit, softly asking why he was by her side and not out knocking on doors.

Giving up on the race was never an option.

“It would’ve broken her heart. So I stuck with it,” Hendrickson said. “I couldn’t do that to her.”

Politics in the family

Sitting at his kitchen table Thursday, Hendrickson, 41, and Renae, his wife of 19 years, apologize more than once for their unkempt home. It’s been a tumultuous month.

Their sleep-deprived brains also become more apparent when they discuss dates – constantly correcting each other and not able to remember exactly when certain events took place.

But they remember the stroke. It was three weeks ago, and the funeral is Saturday.

Hendrickson remembers his mother as a loving but commanding woman who said it like it is.

“If she didn’t like something, she told you,” he said. “She didn’t beat around the bush.”

With the laugh of a knowing daughter-in-law, his wife agreed.

Hendrickson recalls that his mother used to walk by, slap his protruding tummy and remind him he needed to lose weight. With the campaign over, Hendrickson said he’s finally going to make that up to his mom.

Claire Hendrickson was also smart as a whip. She could finish a New York Times crossword in 10 minutes flat, her son said.

“Which, to me, just still blows my mind,” he said.

She also loved politics with a fiery passion, a passion that burns in her son’s stomach, too.

With a smile, Hendrickson recalled that it was his mom, while she was chairwoman of the Roseau County DFL, who stole a kiss from the late Minnesota DFLer Paul Wellstone when he visited her neck of the woods years ago.

Claire Hendrickson’s mental capacity diminished a bit after her second stroke in 2008, but she remained engaged in politics, her son said.

She was an intensely proud mother once Chuck finally filed for this year’s election. She always chatted up her hairdresser, beaming that her son was running for office.

That’s a trick Hendrickson may have learned from Mom. Local hairdressers were some of the first people he talked to as a candidate.

“Because they talk to everybody,” he said.

He may have also learned that trick from his dad. Gary Hendrickson, who lives at Eventide at Fairmont, was mayor of Warroad for 10 years, from 1980 to 1990.

As a boy, Chuck Hendrickson saw the way his dad talked about serving the people and making the town a better place. It stuck with him 23 years later.

“Politics has always been in my gut,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve always had a burning (for politics), and I found out real quick with this election, if you don’t have a burning in your gut to do this, you’re going to be out real quick.”

‘Everybody was happy’

With the election bearing down at the same time his mother was getting worse in palliative care, the fire in Hendrickson’s gut was being used to burn the candle at both ends.

On Election Night, one night after his mother died, Hendrickson’s 4-year-old son, Max, asked him if they could just sit down and watch TV together.

The exhausted candidate fell asleep only to be wakened by his 13-year-old son, Marty, who had helped him campaign and was monitoring election results. Three of four precincts were reporting, and Hendrickson was up by a slim margin.

“We’re waiting for that fourth one to come in, and that was really agonizing,” he said. “But I hit refresh on my computer one more time, and it showed that I had won.”

Embattled, but victorious, Hendrickson walked into the living room where his family was waiting and declared: “Meet your new councilman from Ward 4.

“Then, there was a big scream. Everybody was happy,” he said. “We had diet ginger ale for celebration because that’s all we had; we hadn’t bought groceries.”

It was the first time the family had a pure moment of happiness in at least a month, Renae Hendrickson said.

And Chuck Hendrickson said you can bet his mom, proud as ever, was there in spirit celebrating, too.

“She would’ve been ecstatic,” he said. “It would’ve made her really proud.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518