Kelvin R. (Kelly) Herstad
Long Time Businessman and Political Activist
Kelvin R. (Kelly) Herstad passed away on Friday, June 14, 2019.
Kelly described his life as following Yogi Berra’s advice, “When you come to the “Y” in the road, take it.” Kelly walked into his first business “Y” to pay a bill. The owner was trying to persuade his son-in-law to quit his job and buy the owner out. He wasn’t interested. When the owner saw Kelly he pointed at Kelly with a cane and shouted, “I bet he would buy me out.” Kelly said, “You bet” and the rest is history. This business was United Truck Body in Hermantown.
Kelly’s second “Y” in the business road came when the Reach-All partnership closed Reach-All. Kelly joined with three others by chance to submit a bid to purchase the aerial basket portion of the closed company. They were successful. Kelly was proud of the fact that he and the others were successful and sold the business to ALTEC Industries that operates the business in Duluth today at a much higher level of employment and production.
When Barry Goldwater ran for President and lost, Kelly kidded one of the Goldwater backers in Duluth about the loss. Kelly called himself an “independent” at the time. He got even with Kelly by getting Kelly named to convene the Republican Caucus in Canosia Township in which Kelly was one of the Township Supervisors. He had been appointed to the position to fill an unexpired term as an independent. Kelly was heckled by some of the Canosia residents for being a Republican. (First “Y” in political road.) Kelly convened the Caucus. He often said, “The Republicans met in the phone booth, the Democrats in the gym.” (Both caucuses were held in the Pike Lake School.) Since there were so few participants everyone became a delegate. Many of the Goldwater backers left the party leaving vacancies in the party structure. Kelly was asked to fill one of the district leadership positions. (Second “Y” in the political road.)
Harold LeVander ran for Governor. A couple of Kelly’s Jaycee friends from South St. Paul (Dave Durenberger who became a US Senator and Paul Magnuson who became a Federal Judge) came to Duluth to get support for LeVander. They persuaded Kelly to back LeVander. (Third “Y” in the political road.) He was elected and Kelly became a point person for the Governor. Fast forward to 1978. Kelly’s Jaycee friend, Dave Durenberger, wanted to run for governor. He came to Duluth to solicit Kelly’s assistance. (Fourth “Y” in the political road) Kelly said “yes” but a funny thing happened on the road to the capital. Dave was talked into running for senate instead and won. Suddenly Kelly was a confidante to a US Senator. If Dave was going to be in Northeast Minnesota, Kelly would review the itinerary, make suggestions, and probably be his driver. Kelly was the Senator’s delegate to two white house conferences on small business. The first- Kelly headed the Product Liability Taskforce. The second conference- Kelly was Chair of the Minnesota Delegation. Kelly learned the power of influence working with the Senator. On one or two occasions he wished he hadn’t said he thought he could help or do something that couldn’t get done.
Kelly was interviewed for the first issue of The Source which is the last page of the Duluth Chamber’s Duluthian Magazine. He was asked what accomplishments he was most proud of. He stated several: First, being able to say he survived in business for over 40 years (over 50 now) in Northeast Minnesota where the population has declined by 15 percent while the rest of the nation’s population has almost doubled. Second, the Reach-All acquisition. Third, to work with Minnesota Power to influence Senator Durenberger to author legislation which made it economically feasible to build a paper mill in West Duluth. Fourth, to have had the opportunity to testify before four committees of Congress (three times on the Super Fund issue of Arrowhead Refinery and once on paperwork reduction legislation.) Finally, to persuade former State Senator Ulland and former State Representative Berkelman to author legislation to continue employer group coverage for divorced spouses until they remarry or are covered elsewhere. It passed into law and is still in force. Some say it is the precursor to what is called COBRA today.
Kelly was born in Duluth, December 13, 1935, in the middle of the depression, the year Congress enacted Social Security and one of the coldest years on record in Duluth. When Kelly was three his parents, Elsie L. Herstad and Ingwald (Inke) Herstad moved in with his maternal grandmother on Observation Hill. He grew up in a multigenerational home with aunts, uncles, and cousins moving in and out as the need arose. He attended public schools: Emerson, Washington, Central, graduating in the class of 1953. He enrolled at UMD in the fall of 1953. Kelly’s mother had encouraged him to apply to Principia College, a liberal arts college, owned by Christian Scientists. He was accepted and put on a waiting list. At the end of first quarter at UMD, Kelly planned on enlisting in the Air Force. Christmas Eve he received a cable accepting him for winter quarter at Principia College. He accepted. (The first “Y” in the personal road.) Kelly was not much of a student. He said that Principia “spoon fed” him an education. It is also where he embraced the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy and became a Christian Scientist. Upon graduation with a BA in Economics he went to Colorado and worked as a councilor at Outward Bound, an eight week camp for boys. Kelly spent the winter season of 1957-1958 at Toklat Lodge in Ashcroft Colorado (11 miles south of Aspen) driving a dog team for Stuart Mace, a noted naturalist and environmentalist. He drove teams of 12 to 18 dogs to 11,000 plus feet in the Rockies on one, two, or three day trips hosting paid guest who wanted a “wilderness experience”.
During the time at Ashcroft, Kelly applied for and was accepted to Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. However, before he could attend he was notified of his being drafted into the armed services. (Second “Y” in the personal road) He chose to enlist in the Minnesota Army National Guard and served on active duty from May to November of 1958 followed by six years of active reserve.
Kelly was employed by Remington-Rand, a division of Unisys Corporation, in January 1959 as a sales representative in Duluth and withdrew his application to law school. (Third “Y” in the personal road.) In 1961 he left Remington-Rand and went to work for The Travelers Insurance Company as a Field Supervisor. Kelly married Elcey M. Swanstrom in 1960 by whom he had four children. They divorced 16 years later. In 1980 he married Phyllis A. Anderson. Phyllis joined Kelly in his business, United Truck Body Co., in Hermantown, shortly after their marriage.
Kelly was a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, National Truck Equipment Association, Charter member of Skyline Rotary, Kitchi Gammi Club, Palestine Lodge No. 79, Scottish Rite of Free Masonry 32 , Shriner’s International, First Church Christ Scientist, Duluth MN, The First Church Scientist, Boston, MA.
Kelly was preceded in death by his parents, Ingwald (Inke) and Elsie Herstad and his cousin Ronnie Nelsen. Beside his wife, Phyllis Herstad, he leaves behind his daughters: Heidi Herstad, Holly Herstad, Amy (Jim) Einbu, his son Timothy (Suzanne) Herstad, and stepson Morgan Anderson. Kelly has nine grandchildren: Aunna Herstad, Russell Rogers Jr., Sara Anderson, Katelyn Rogers, Hunter Herstad (USMC stationed Okinawa, Japan), Dylan Einbu, Sophie Einbu, Alex Herstad, Jaden Herstad, and his great grandsons: Matthew Herstad and Koltin Solem. Most live in the Duluth area.
Visitation will be held at Sunrise Funeral Home and Cemetery in Hermantown from 4pm to 8pm on Friday June 21, 2019. Private family service will be held at a later date. Donations can be made to AAD Shrine Building Fund 5152 Miller Trunk Hwy Hermantown, MN 55811 or Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation 222 E Superior St Ste 302 Duluth, MN 55802.