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Walt Scott, former peace activist and pastor, dies

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Sometime in the mid-1970s, the Rev. Walter Scott walked into the federal building in downtown Grand Forks, sat down and refused to leave.

The Herald’s Ryan Bakken, then a junior sports writer, was tapped to go find out why. Forty-some years later, he doesn’t remember what sparked Scott’s protest, but he recalls clearly how it ended.

“No official tried to remove him,” Bakken said. “So, at the end of the work day, a Friday, he stayed. However, a few hours later, he walked out. I asked why.”

The janitor on duty that day had told Scott that he had to stay as long as the sit-in continued.

“I didn’t want to keep him from his family,” Scott told the reporter.

A gently passionate man who joined in many Grand Forks peace and justice campaigns during the 1960s and beyond, Scott died Tuesday in Bemidji, where he had lived the past 22 years. He was 87.

Some years after the abbreviated federal building sit-in, Bakken met and married one of Walter and Rachel Scott’s daughters, Chris. (Rachel Scott, who taught nursing at UND for 18 years, died Sept. 4, 2009, in Bemidji. She was 83.)

“Grandpa Walt fought many battles against what he thought were injustices, such as Vietnam, racism, inequality and poverty,” Bakken said Tuesday. “But he wasn’t going to inconvenience that working man and his family.”

That was the essence of the man’s nature, he said. “He fought for causes big and small.”

Many causes

And he often did that in tandem with Rachel, who accompanied him on a Witness for Peace visit to Nicaragua in 1984. He went back to the war-ravaged Central American country in 1988 as part of a Canadian-organized Habitat for Humanity project.

“When I came back (from Nicaragua) the last time, I knew I’d have to return as a participant, not as an observer,” Scott said in an interview before his departure in 1988. “I found myself getting more and more tense, more and more grieving, more and more angry” because of the conditions he saw there.

He later was a leader in starting a Habitat for Humanity program in Grand Forks.

A native of Wisconsin, he had started his social justice work with campus ministries at the University of Michigan in the 1940s. He was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and was proud of having marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala. During the 1980s, while ministering at the Federated Church in Grand Forks, he worked with local and regional groups against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In October 1988, Scott received the North Dakota Prairie Peacemaker Award “for outstanding efforts on peace, disarmament and social justice issues.”

Brian Palecek, director of the North Dakota Peace Coalition, presented the award.

“It’s our view that some of the most significant peace work is done very often at the grassroots levels in communities,” he said then. “Walt Scott has made a long-term commitment, and he has taken great risks. He has combined leadership with work on the nuts-and-bolts aspects of peace work such as putting out a newsletter.

“There is a kind of passion and intensity, too, in Walt’s style that deserves attention.”

In addition to daughter Chris, of Thompson, N.D., Scott is survived by daughters Kathy Fliflet, Fargo, and Carol Scott, Moorhead. He was preceded in death by a son, Steve.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

This article was written by Chuck Haga of Forum News Service.

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