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Bob Lind, Published December 12 2013

Prominent pastor who was at Concordia College for 38 years dies at age 95

FARGO – He was a man who had a deep understanding of biblical truths, who was a friend of evangelist Billy Graham, who loved seeing people grow spiritually and, incidentally, who loved cheese on his soup.

This was the Rev. Arthur Grimstad, who just wanted to be called Art, and who died Saturday at age 95.

His prayer service will be at 6 p.m. today in the Korsmo Funeral Chapel, Moorhead, while his funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Atonement Lutheran Church, Fargo, with the Rev. Tod Olson officiating.

Olson, senior pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Maplewood, Minn., says Grimstad was one of his mentors at Concordia College “and really a lifelong mentor.”

Grimstad was with Concordia for 38 years. He taught in the religion department, helped raise funds for the college and was adviser to the students’ Christian evangelistic outreach teams that traveled throughout the area and far beyond. Olson was one of the team leaders.

He says Grimstad’s teaching went beyond the classroom. He held two weekly Bible studies, one on campus and one in his and his wife, Esther’s, home, “and they always were packed out.” As one student noted, guys would skip watching Monday Night Football in order to attend Grimstad’s Bible study.

Paul Dovre had a double-barreled relationship with Grimstad, first as a student in Grimstad’s class at Concordia in the 1950s, then as Dovre’s colleague when Dovre was Concordia president starting in 1975.

Dovre, of Moorhead, says Grimstad was a “very dynamic man” who had “a significant influence on students for a long period of time.”

‘Tremendous passion’

Grimstad was a key player in getting Billy Graham to hold a crusade in Fargo in 1987. The Rev. Jim Bjorge, Moorhead, retired pastor of First Lutheran Church, Fargo, headed that crusade’s committee, “but Art did a lot of the work,” he says. “He was the force behind it.

“Art had a tremendous passion to have people have a right relationship with the Lord,” Bjorge says.

That passion carried through to the men’s Monday morning Bible studies at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Fargo, which Grimstad launched in the 1980s, and which will continue despite his death.

“His goal was to have you grow into a mature relationship with Jesus Christ,” says Jack Zaleski, The Forum’s opinion page editor and a member of the Bible study.

But that term was incorrect, in Grimstad’s view. “Art told us, ‘This isn’t a Bible study; it’s a Bible discussion,’” says attorney Rod McLarnan of Moorhead, who also is in the Monday morning group.

“We got to be an intimate group,” McLarnan says. “We’d go around the table, ask for prayer requests and open up to one another about people we loved and issues in our lives.”

Grimstad was one of the founders of the Fargo-Moorhead Christian Businessmen’s Association, said former Fargoan Gary Rutherford, now of Phoenix.

Rutherford and his wife are driving back to Fargo to attend Grimstad’s funeral.

“Art was the consummate teacher,” Rutherford says. “He loved the Lord, and he couldn’t help himself; he had to teach about Him.”

“Art was a wonderful spiritual leader,” says Norman Jones, Fargo, the former CEO and chairman of the Metropolitan Land Bank, Fargo, and a member of the Monday discussions.

Grimstad, Jones and others often attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. “Art was the contact person for those wanting to attend,” Jones says.

“What an institution he has been,” former Minnesota legislator, Moorhead mayor and Concordia vice president and dean of students Morrie Lanning says of Grimstad. “He was my colleague at Concordia for many years, and for years after. A lot of people in the community were influenced through his Bible studies. He was a giant in giving witness to his faith and in helping and guiding others to have that faith. He was a very gentle, kind, impressive guy.”

Helping others

Grimstad’s biblical knowledge was amazing, Zaleski says. “Give him a verse, and out of his head, he knew other Scripture that related to it.”

But Zaleski had respect for him because, at times, he’d say he didn’t know the answer to a certain question. “You don’t often hear people admit that,” he says.

Through all this, “I saw him deal with problems that come along as they do for all people,” Rutherford says. “But he’d always ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ and act accordingly.”

Two huge problems occurred in recent years. Esther, his wife of 68 years died, in 2012. Later, he had a stroke, which cost him his independence because he could no longer drive.

To give him a morale boost, McLarnan would give him a ride to the Olive Garden in Fargo where he’d have Italian soup.

“He’d let the waitress grind cheese onto it until it was about three inches deep,” McLarnan says, perhaps slightly exaggerating. “I’d tell him he was the only guy I knew who had soup with his cheese.”

But then, while they ate, they’d discuss the Bible “and we probably irritated nearby customers, because we both have loud voices,” McLarnan says.

But that was Art Grimstad, doing what he loved no matter where he was: helping others understand Scripture and grow in Christian faith.