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Obituary – Wayne Thorson




Wayne Thorson 93 of Bemidji departed peacefully on New Years Eve, 2019 at Neilson Place in Bemidji, MN. He was a gifted man with numerous dear friends and accomplishments. He was a devoted family man, an exceptional businessman, a community leader, and a philanthropist.

Funeral services for Wayne will be held at 10:30 Tuesday morning, January 7th at First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. Visitation will be held on Monday evening from 5:00 to 7:00 at Olson Schwartz Funeral Home, and one hour prior to service at the church.

He was born Wayne Thomas Thorson on March 12, 1926 to Emil and Calma Thorson in Hendrum, MN. In his youth, Wayne was blessed with talent and filled with ambition. He became a standout athlete, leading his high school basketball team, the Hendrum Huskies from a town of 300, all the way to the region 8 finals -- where they battled and fell in a close contest to the goliath team of Bemidji. On the day of his high school graduation, he departed on the train to serve his country in World War II -- serving in the south Pacific under Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. Upon his return from the war, Wayne met Beverly Ness from Mahnomen who, unbeknownst to Wayne had been a follower of his during his high school basketball days. They were united in marriage on June 19, 1949, a marriage that would last for 68 years until Bev’s passing in 2017.

In the late 40’s Wayne had gone to work for his future father in law, Bert Ness where he learned road construction and finance. In 1958 Wayne ventured on his own, forming WT Thorson Construction, and in 1962 he bought out Ritchie & Tell which moved the company to Bemidji. The company would later become Thorson Inc., a major highway contractor -- which would eventually sell to MDU in 2002 and become what is today, Knife River Materials.

As a result of his strong business and financial acumen, Wayne served on several boards throughout his life, including First National Bank of Bemidji, the Concordia College Board of Regents, and the Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association. He was even involved during the Dot Com era -- serving on the board of Buy.com where he was seated alongside current and former CEO’s from Pepsi, Apple and Prudential Life.

For many years, Wayne was also a charitable philanthropist -- both locally and regionally -- supporting several institutions, foundations and scholarships, mostly in the areas of education and health. Additionally, he was generous to many individuals -- however when it came to one on one assistance, Wayne was more inclined to teach others “how to fish,” rather than merely handing out fish. And as a result, there have been many businesses, groups and individuals over many years who have credited much of their success to Wayne’s guidance and mentorship.

Throughout his life, Wayne was the recipient of numerous awards and accolades -- Honorary awards, Lifetime Achievement, and Hall of Fame awards. He was also a founding member of PGA West in La Quinta, CA, where he and Bev wintered for 34 years.

Wayne is survived by his brother Ron (Delayne) of Fargo, ND, his sister Karen (Darrel) Kaldor of Lake Nebagamon, WI, three sons, Scott (Pam) Thorson of Bemidji, Mark Thorson of Bemidji, and Duke (Rhonda) Thorson of Huron, OH, and one daughter, Kari (Jim) Bishop of Solway, MN, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Catherine, his brother Lowell, and three children, Mark Ness Thorson, Baby Ness Thorson, and an infant unresponsive at birth.

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