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'He made people smile': ALS claims businessman, amateur artist ‘Bo’ Setterquist

Bardon "Bo" Setterquist News Tribune file1 / 2
Bo Setterquist used his mouth to continue painting as his ALS progressed last year. He's shown working in his room at the Fond du Lac Assisted Living Building in August. News Tribune file 2 / 2

Friends are remembering Bardon "Bo" Setterquist for his upbeat attitude, his sense of humor and his honesty.

"People always knew that he was being a truthful, honest person," said Joan Friedrich, a longtime colleague and friend. "He was very raw and simple."

Setterquist, a Cloquet native who had a successful business career and returned to his hometown last year after being diagnosed with ALS, died on Jan. 2 at North Shore Estates in Duluth. He was 57. A memorial service is taking place today.

Setterquist made his mark in business with Nordstrom, the luxury department store chain, starting as a shoe salesman at the Mall of America store and rising to manage stores in New York, Seattle, Boston and San Francisco.

But it was Setterquist's after-hours passion as an artist and his continuation in that craft even after his debilitating illness left him unable to use his hands that led the News Tribune to introduce him to readers in an Aug. 8 story.

ALS, the acronym for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive, incurable disease that attacks the nervous system and weakens muscles. Although Setterquist had been experiencing symptoms as early as 2014, the diagnosis wasn't confirmed until last year at the University of California, San Francisco. He then relocated to the Fond du Lac Assisted Living Building near Cloquet to be closer to family.

Inspired by the work of modern artist Jean-Paul Basquiat, Setterquist began painting when he was living in New York in his early 30s, he told the News Tribune in August. With ALS limiting his ability to use his hands, his sister, Sue Gonzales, suggested he try painting with his mouth.

He initially dismissed the idea. "But then I thought, 'Well, why the heck not?' " he said.

During the interview, Setterquist demonstrated how he would use his clenched hand to dip a brush into paint and then transfer the brush to his mouth to apply the paint to the canvas.

He continued to do that for about another six weeks after the story ran, said Gonzales, who lives in Seattle. "I quit hearing so much about it, and I quit asking."

Another sister, Ahnna Dudley of Boise, Idaho, recalled her older brother as a "glass-half-full guy" who liked practical jokes and laughed at silly things. She also remembered his generosity.

"He did not die a rich man, but it wasn't because he didn't make a ton of money," Dudley said. "It was because he would — if somebody needed something — he was always there ... to provide whatever they needed."

Friedrich said Setterquist hired her as his assistant manager at a New York store in 1995. "What I've grown to like about Bo was the store manager walking around in a suit was the same guy you'd meet on the street," she said.

A native New Yorker who now lives in Seattle, Friedrich said Setterquist had a "Minnesota way" of saying things to people without offending them.

Gonzales said she'll remember her brother as a "fun guy" who was sensitive and caring.

"People around him always seemed happy," she said. "He made people smile."

Setterquist was survived by his mother, six siblings and two daughters. A complete obituary appeared Jan. 9 in the News Tribune.

Memorial service

The memorial service for Bardon "Bo" Allen Setterquist will take place at noon today at Nelson Funeral Care in Cloquet. Visitation will begin one hour before the service.

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