A music man and much, much more
BEMIDJI—Most people knew Ted Thorson as an enthusiastic music educator and band director. But close friends are remembering the 96-year-old Bemidji man who died this week for so much more.
He was an avid golfer. He served one term in the Minnesota House of Representatives and eight years on the Bemidji School Board. And he was a Marine Corps pilot during World War II.
"Ted is one of the most unforgettable characters I've ever known," said friend Tom Swanson, who worked with Thorson in the BSU music department. "I love him a lot."
Memorial services will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Lutheran Church. Inurnment will be in Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, Little Falls.
Thorson and his wife, Margaret, moved their family to Bemidji in 1966 when Ted joined the Bemidji State College faculty as band director. In addition to conducting marching and concert bands, he was instrumental in the success of the school's summer band camp that attracted musicians from throughout the region and state.
"Ted had a very strong connection with band directors in the area, especially in northern Minnesota," said Fulton Gallagher, who chaired the music department when Thorson arrived. "Since he was a doctoral student and received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University, I'd say 60 to 70 percent at least of the faculty at band camp were from Northwestern. It was fantastic. We had as many as 1,000 students at the camp. Band camp was quite influential in attracting music students here from the high schools in the area and throughout Minnesota. It was a big deal.
"He was one of the most likeable guys you'd ever want to meet," Gallagher added. "He was very pleasant, he never engaged in arguments. He was a heck of a good band director. Back in those days we had a marching band that would participate in homecoming and at halftime of the football games. He was quite good at that, a very gifted conductor."
Golf also was a passion for Thorson. He was an accomplished player who also cherished the friendships he made on the course.
"The first thing he did after we got kind of acquainted, is he needed people to play golf," Swanson recalled. "He talked me into going out there with him. I kind of half imitated his swing. He was really my mentor on the golf course."
As Swanson and other golfers in the group grew older, they tried to talk Thorson into moving up to the forward tees. "He wouldn't do it," Swanson said. "He continued to use the white tees until he was in his late 70s. Finally he would go to the gold tees and then, of course, he'd overshoot the second shot. He was serious about his game. He could be 25 over par and he was still hitting that last putt on the 18th green like it mattered."
After his retirement from BSU in 1984, Thorson was elected to serve District 4A in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
When Gallagher conducted a Bemidji Area Community Band concert a few years ago, he asked Thorson to stand and be recognized for his contributions to the music scene. "Everyone in attendance just applauded and applauded," Gallagher said. "He was extremely well respected. I never heard Ted to say anything negative about anyone."