By Mike Martin
Long-time Enderlin resident and attorney Berentje "Brench" Pohlman, 93, died Tuesday, December 25 - Christmas! - at CHI Lisbon Health Clinic. For the last several years Berentje had been a contented resident at Lisbon's Parkside Lutheran Home and had been admitted to CHI just several hours before her 7:05 a.m. death.
Berentje was born November 1, 1925 in New Rockford, North Dakota. Her parents were Jacob and Hilda Pohlman and the family farm was in Silver Lake Township, Wells County, North Dakota - a few miles south of present day Chaseley.
Her father had immigrated from northern Germany in 1906 and went from Iowa to Sturgis, South Dakota where he homesteaded. A drought forced him to pull stakes. He came to Wells County as a harvest hand but immediately started farming on his own. Mother Hilda was born in Wisconsin and was Norwegian descent. The Pohlmans had 3 boys, Dolphy, Fred and Max and daughter Berentje who was the youngest.
The Pohlman family farm produced grain and cattle and was regionally reknown for tree plantings. By actual family count, the Pohlmans were proud of 50,000 hand planted trees that took root. Berentje graduated from Fessenden, North Dakota High School in 1943 and received her Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks in 1948 and her UND law degree in 1950.
She was not the first female UND law school graduate but she was the only woman in her law school class. She was admitted to the North Dakota Bar in 1951 and, in her words "there were many young lawyers in ND because of the returned veterans. An employment agency in Fargo told me about a Minneapolis law firm seeking a Girl Friday and so I went to Minneapolis. I worked as an assistant for nearly 3 years and the experience was what every law school graduate should have before opening a practice. In the fall of 1954 I learned by chance about a lawyer named Charlie Bangert in a place called Enderlin who was looking for an employee. I took the Soo Line passenger train to Enderlin in early December 1954. I started on my own in late 1955."
Besides providing legal advice and tax preparation (and eventually realtor services), Berentje embedded herself in the community and became fast friends with all layers of a small town. Her community involvement is apparent with her being City Attorney for years and being elected City Mayor in the early 1970's.
Berentje enjoyed many passions and hobbies. Her fondest memories include her many dogs (7 poodles, and several St. Bernards) and, especially her beloved lab "Sadie". She was a self-annointed "fisherman" and loved the gear buying probably more than the sport. Considering her farm background and Depression upbringing Berentje distinguished herself as a "techno freak" and was never happier than reading a new operator's manual while inserting batteries in the back of her latest "got-to-have-it" electronic gadget. She was also a reader and was a student of history and politics.
She bought books on tape by the shopping cart and many were eventually donated to the local library.
And we can't forget Berentje's love for caps and hats and birdhouses and impractical impulse purchases like little, shiny blue Ford tractors.
Pohlman Law Office was on the corner of Enderlin's 3rd Avenue and Railway and was a city landmark. Berentje's long-time friend, Alice Schwandt, more often than not was the receptionist and did her darndest trying to manage Berentje's appointments and time: and time to an attorney is their lifeblood and being. In fact, one of Berentje's friends notes: "if you could bill out and collect all the money for all the free legal advice Berentje gave out over the decades you could run the State of North Dakota for a year".
Berentje and Alice were the ying and yang of Railway Street. In December, 1993 Fargo's WDAY-TV did a feature on this duo. It was such a mutual devotion that Berentje visited Alice at least once a day during Alice's 14 month Hillcrest Manor stay (with 1 exception). Such loyalty is what Norseman Sagas are about.
In 2012 Berentje sold her office building to neighboring TraXside Cafe/Cre8tive Tz's and her law office retreated to her Enderlin home on Hillcrest Avenue.
In July 2016 declining health saw her in Lisbon's Parkside Lutheran Home and her stay there produced a resurgence in energy and purpose. Much work had to be done as office equipment and files had to be organized and cleaned out and tons (literally) of paper and records had to be sent to clients or destroyed.
Yet Berentje rejumped her gardening love and became Parkside's Tomato Expert. Sometimes visitors would wheel Berentje down to the most ripe (carefully watched for days) for a quick harvest and an even quicker supper table debut.
Enderlin's Karen Mondor was an invaluable partner and Karen became Berentje's driver, legs and confidant. Berentje's last years would have been immeasurably more difficult without Karen's efficiency, loyalty and friendship. Some years ago Berentje had also made arrangements with Fargo Attorney Jonothan Garaas to be her proxy in case of disability. Mr. Garaas rose to the occasion and managed the closing of Berentje's office and served as her administrator in her later years.
Parkside has a visiting grade school program whereas young students "adopt" a resident. "Brynn, Jack and Abby" took up the challenge and they co-authored and illustrated a limited edition (1 produced) of "Berentje Pohlman's Story". It is a concise and spot-on biography and they concluded with "Berentje is a really good Parkside buddy because she's really nice and funny." From the mouths of babes...
Berentje Pohlman is not survived by any immediate family and she had requested any memorials be directed to: Humane Society of Fargo-Moorhead, 1201 28th Ave. North, Fargo, North Dakota 58102. An Enderlin Cemetery graveside remembrance will be held later in 2019.January 8, 2019