Remembering Ralph J. Erickstad

Gerald VandeWalle, Chief Justice:

Ralph Erickstad was a true North Dakota son. His integrity and work ethic were exemplary. His contributions to the governmental structure of the State are legion. I consider him the leading architect of our current judicial system. We have lost a remarkable man and a good friend.

Larry Spears, attorney:

I want to express to you my appreciation for the life of CJE. It was a great gift that he passed at a peak.

My last memory: I saw him from afar last week with his wife and partner Lois, climbing together the steep green hill behind their house toward Bismarck State College, without the assistance of a cane, in animated conversation, in vigorous step, with his funny hat firmly on his head.

I am delighted that he was present for the dedication of the Supreme Courtroom in his honor. Chief Justice VandeWalle and the Supreme Court were gracious in making this happen and CJE was deeply appreciative of this gesture by the court which he served with so much of his energy and commitment.

It was a good death, ending a vigorous life in dedicated service to the judicial system of North Dakota, with good final memories.

Gail Hagerty, District Judge:

Since I learned of former Chief Justice Ralph Erickstad's death, I've been remembering his life and all his contributions. He made the world a better place. Of course, he was a leader in development of the state court system in North Dakota. He was willing to make difficult decisions and carry through with them. He contributed on a national level through his work to make state courts better. The State Bar Association has recognized his dedicated service to the profession. He had a superior legal ability.

But, even more than his professional contributions, I've been remembering his kind and caring manner of relating to the people around him. The first time I remember speaking with him personally was in 1974, when I was a student at the University of North Dakota and attended a conference he was attending. He sought me out because he had heard I was involved with a national Lutheran student group. He told me about his and Lois's involvement with campus ministry and never forgot we shared that common experience.

When I was Burleigh County State's Attorney, Chief Justice Erickstad appointed me to a Supreme Court committee. He met with me and explained that when he appointed someone to a committee, he hoped they would plan their schedule so they could attend regularly. And, of course, preparation would be required. He was a model of good work habits and expected the same of others.

Chief Justice Erickstad liked to recognize and greet people. He was absolutely sincere in his wish to show others he appreciated them and valued them. He made the Supreme Court staff a "family." Because he was universally held in such high regard, his kindness carried a special meaning.

I will miss Ralph Erickstad.

R. James Maxson, attorney and former legislator:

In addition to his distinguished contributions to the judicial system as a jurist and a man with impeccable manners, I recall Justice Erickstad as a consummate statesman whose knowledge of not only political mechanics, but also which buttons to push with individual legislators made him uniquely effective in relentlessly forwarding the judicial agenda through the North Dakota legislature. As a former legislative leader, Judge Erickstad as a judicial leader, was without peer within his milieu. I had the honor of observing his effectiveness between 1986 and 1994 during which time I was first the vice chair and then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee of the North Dakota legislature. During that period of time, my youthful cynicism was gradually transfigured into optimistic admiration of what can be accomplished by a gentleman who does his homework and is relentless. His family can temper their personal loss with the pride of knowing Justice Erickstad's imprints upon the judicial landscape of North Dakota are indelible.

Roger J. Minch, attorney:

In the mid 80s, I took my mother with my client to hear an appeal argument I had in the Supreme Court because she helped me get through law school and because her father was an attorney who graduated from UND law school in 1907 (Anton Thompson). I thought I'd have a little fun so I began "May it please the court, counsel and I'd like to introduce my mother in the audience who helped me through law school". Well, I thought she'd about die but that would be the end of it and I quickly began my argument. But Judge Erickstad interrupted me right away to specifically address my mother and give her a special welcome to the court. Neither of us has ever forgotten this. And Judge Erickstad never forgot about it either. He kidded me about it just a few years ago after he had retired when I ran into him at the YMCA in Bismarck. What a fine man!

John Olson, attorney and former state senator:

As one who frequented the capital hallways during Chief Justice Erickstad's tenure, I remember his gracious friendly greetings to all who encountered him. He always took time from his busy schedule to be personally present with people. He displayed the same dignity and respect to all of us who appeared before him in his courtroom. His many achievements did not separate him from the people he valiantly served. He will be deeply missed.

Brad Burgum, attorney:

I especially remember his annual visits and remarks at North Dakota Boys State where I served as a counselor for many years. He was always willing to take time out of his busy schedule to address these future leaders of our state. His opening acknowledgement of the other platform guests and attendees always concluded with .... and friends, friends all.

DeNae H. Kautzmann, attorney:

It was a privilege for me to work at the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Erickstad. Personally, the two things that come to mind when I think of the Chief are: His annual law clerk picnic with the infamous croquet game and his statement "Let us show our appreciation." That was his MO, warmly welcoming new employees and valuing the Court family. He not only impacted the structure of our judicial system, he impacted the players within it. He will be greatly missed by all who had the honor of knowing him.

Paul Kloster, attorney:

Gaye and I offer our sympathies to Lois and her family at the time of their great loss of the Chief. He was the embodiment of sincerity in every aspect of his life and career. The Chief Justice was persistent in pursuit of the Unified Court System, which may be the cornerstone of his illustrious career. Standing out in memory are his cheerful greetings, always with a personal comment that showed he cared.

Calvin N. Rolfson, attorney & former State Court Administrator:

I had the distinct privilege of working with Chief Justice Erickstad while serving as the state's first State Court Administrator. He was remarkable as an empathetic listener, a learned jurist, and a humble leader of North Dakota public policy. He was intuitively inquisitive as good leaders are and he was very instructive to those seeking his knowledge.

I have fond memories of Saturday morning planning meetings with the Court and enjoying the most delicious caramel and cinnamon rolls that Lois Erickstad would bake and personally deliver to us from time to time. Those were pioneering times and the Chief Justice was an integral part of the Court's movement toward modernization of the state's judicial system.

I count it a personal honor to have worked with him in those historic times, not to mention the luck of savoring the best baking around.

North Dakota enjoys national recognition of its judicial system due to his love of the law, which continues to this day.

James Bekken, District Judge:

What an impact Chief Justice Erickstad has had on both the North Dakota judicial system and those he touched. To me he was always "The Chief" - a judicial colleague, mentor, and role-model. But most importantly, he was my friend and fellow service provider. We had many wonderful conversations about the meaning and importance of service-both to the judiciary and our communities. He truly understood the meaning of service and his life exemplified his commitment to excellent service. It was a privilege and honor for me to serve with him in the North Dakota Judiciary and Kiwanis International. Life is an opportunity to make a difference....to make the world a better place than before you came......What a DIFFERENCE you made "Chief" !......Thanks for all your sharing ,caring, and being a part of my life. You will be missed but never forgotten.

Diane Melbye, attorney

I remember the Chief Justice as an excellent jurist as well as a compassionate person. When one of our local Kiwanis members was diagnosed with melanoma, our club decided to fund his trips to and from his treatment center in California. Our club contacted other Kiwanis clubs and asked for frequent flyer miles or donations. The Chief Justice and Lois sent a generous donation. The ill Kiwanis member was then able to fly to and from his monthly treatments instead of spending six days cramped in a motor vehicle. The Chief Justice's life embodied a life of servanthood and service to others.

Michael L. Wagner, attorney:

One of the best years of my life was the year I spent clerking for the North Dakota Supreme Court (1988). Chief Justice Erickstad was a large part of that. He treated everyone with respect and compassion. I recall one of the first research projects I had while working for the court under Justice VandeWalle was to research a statute. In going through the legislative history, I came across the comments of then Senator Ralph Erickstad. As I continued to research, I came across numerous opinions authored by Chief Justice Ralph Erickstad. I can recall thinking what legacy this man has left the legal community. As I grew to know him personally, I was so impressed by his entire character. He was full of integrity, had a brilliant legal mind, a wonderful family, and a great personality. I pray that Lois and the rest of her family will be comforted in knowing the man they loved was loved by many, many others, and his life was a gift to all that knew him.

Anna Frissell, attorney:

I had the good fortune to "clerk" for the Court. During my clerkship, the Chief was a friendly force, a helpful mentor, a shining example of civility and a lawyer/judge who inspired respect for the law. I will miss my occasional meetings with him since my clerkship and the opportunity to bask in his friendly presence...but I will always be grateful to have been a member of his "Court family".

Edith (Edie) Markhouse, friend:

I first met the Chief in 1976, when my Mother, Alice Fisk, started working for him as his secretary. Over the years, he impressed me with his kindness and his ability to treat all people with dignity and compassion, both in his professional and personal life. He always encouraged me to do my best and to pursue my dreams. The Chief was a great friend. I particularly remember the warmth of his handshake, the gentle hand on my shoulder, and the joy in his smile whenever we met. I will miss him greatly. My thoughts and prayers go to those he touched, especially to his family.

Joel Medd, District Judge:

I have know "the Chief" for over 25 years. He was the most gracious and humble man I have ever worked with. The Chief was very high ranking as the Chair of I believe the National Center for State Courts and was due to be the chair of the board of the State Justice Institute. He always introduced me when I was at receptions and meetings with him.

The Chief was a great runner, and I used to try to get him into tennis. Once in Grand Forks he and Lois actually were playing on the court next to us, but the Chief was wearing a baseball cap and was rather incognito.

His leadership was legendary. By his presence and perseverance he was able to accomplish much. He continued to work as the Chair of the Tribal-State Liaison Committee up to the time of his death and did a marvelous job in that capacity.

He touched the lives of many and the people of the state are be much better off with his great contributions.

Burt Riskedahl, District Judge:

I will remember Chief Justice Erickstad as a relentless force in achieving the goals he had set for court modernization in North Dakota. His ability to work effectively with the legislature was vital to achieving those goals, and he was a master at knowing when to push forward and where. To his credit, he will be remembered equally as well, by people within and outside of the legal community, as a true gentleman, a kind man, and someone who was always dignified in the way he dealt with other people.

James S. Hill, attorney

The profession has lost a leader. What always amazed me about Ralph Erickstad was his devotion to his family and community in addition to his commitment to the law. There were many "non lawyers" touched by his generous commitment of time whether it was the scouting program or his many years on various boards at the YMCA. He loved his family and was was immensely proud of his sons. The greatest joys in his life, however, were his grand children. He spent many days at the Y with them and he had the look of a contented and fulfilled person as he followed them off to the pool. He was an excellent jurist and a fine person.

Jack Traynor, Senate Judiciary Chairman:

I became acquainted with Ralph J. Erickstad when I began to practice law in Devils Lake in 1951. Ralph was a very careful and competent trial lawyer and prosecutor. Our community recognized his abilities by electing him as States Attorney and State Senator. We fully supported his aspirations to become a member of the North Dakota Supreme Court.

Ralph never neglected his home community, returning here frequently with his lovely wife, Lois. He was proud to claim Starkweather and Devils Lake as his home and we were equally proud to claim Ralph as our home town boy.

His service to the judiciary was outstanding and will be forever remembered by the beautiful Supreme Court Chamber named for him.

Ralph appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on many occasions after his retirement from the bench. He argued for causes to improve the judicial system and he was eminently successful in these endeavors.

Kirk Smith, Surrogate Judge:

Former Chief Justice Ralph J. Erickstad was a good man, a good friend and a good judge. It was my privilege and an honor to work at Grand Forks as a County and District Judge under Chief Justice Erickstad's leadership during his entire career on the North Dakota Supreme Court.

He will be well remembered by all citizens, lawyers, judges and justices who knew him. Farewell to a good and faithful servant to the law; husband to Lois and father to his family.

Robert Wefald, District Judge:

I clerked for the Supreme Court from July 1970 through June 1971, the first six months for Chief Justice Obert Teigen and the second six months for Justice Erickstad. I had met Justice Erickstad at North Dakota Boys State through former Chief Justice James Morris. One case I remember I worked on for Justice Erickstad was a double murder opinion. We worked and worked on that opinion. He taught me a thoroughness I never learned in law school. And he and Lois were very nice to Susan and me as new comers to Bismarck.

Chief Justice Erickstad through determination and persistedness largely created our current court system. But although I remember him and honor him for what he has done for our system of justice, I truly do appreciate his remarkable record of community service. He gave freely of his time to Boys State, Boys Scouts, the YMCA, his church and others. He was not just a remote Supreme Court Justice, but he was involved in our community.

I was also privileged to know him as a fellow veteran. He was proud of his service in the Army Air Force in World War II, and like all veterans, he was conscious of what could have been an all too short life. He was a member of the American Legion and the VFW,. As a patriot he spoke at many Memorial Day and Veterans' Day observances, not to mention many Eagle Scout Courts of Honor.

Chief Justice Erickstad is a perfect example of a life well lived, and we are all the better for it.

Rodney K. Smith, law professor, Univ. of Memphis

I remember Chief Justice Erickstad well. In 1982, I started teaching at the law school at the University of North Dakota. During my three years at UND, I had numerous occasions to interact with Chief Justice Erickstad. Each time I spoke with him, I left feeling better about the profession and a bit more dedicated to the highest standards of professionalism. I recall his relating experiences from his practice and those experiences were so very similar to ones my own father experienced in his small town general practice. Ralph will be missed, but he will not be forgottten. I, for one, am deeply grateful for the part of him that I still carry in a special place in my heart.

My own father passed away last July, so I empathize with Ralph's family. There is a certain grief -- a deep feeling of absence -- that comes with the passing of a loved one. Of course, that longing is compensated for by a sense of peace, a sense of assurance that all is well. I pray that each member of Ralph's family may feel such peace in this difficult time.

Dann Greenwood, attorney:

Notwithstanding that most in the legal profession may remember Chief Justice Erickstad for his innumerable contributions to the law, my most meaningful "connection" with him was based upon his involvement with the Boy Scouts. Justice Erickstad presented the keynote address at the Eagle Scout Ceremony for me and my brother, Mark Greenwood, in Dickinson in 1968 (and likely many others before and since). Thereafter, on almost every occasion we had to meet apart from official Court proceedings, some discussion of Scouts was included. In that context, it was particularly nice to see that, of only three among the numerous recognitions he had received over the years, one to which he chose to refer in the program for his retirement/recognition dinner was a Boy Scout award.

Chief Justice Erickstad's enduring contribution to the law certainly was matched by his contribution to humanity. I always appreciated, and will certainly miss, Chief Justice Erickstad's warm and sincere greetings and our talks about Scouting.

Mary Hoberg, attorney:

In oral argument, Chief Justice Erickstad would occasionally throw out a helpful question, a life preserver to floundering counsel and to a train of thought in danger of sinking. More than once I was the grateful recipient of such a question. It was one of his gracious ways. Of course, that didn't mean he agreed with one's position. He could also make known his utter rejection of counsel's argument in the nicest possible way. I also picture him walking in his topcoat with his hefty briefcase, the picture of dedication.

Michael J. Maus, attorney:

I first met Chief Justice Erikstad in 1971 when he came to UND for a conference on intergovernmental affairs. I met and escorted him to his meeting. Years later, I was so totally impressed that he remembered me. He reminised about if he had to do it over again, going into politics. He would have gone far and done well. I have a lot of respect for this man and I hope his family can find some solace in the fact that he was so well respected.

Patrick J. Maddock, attorney

Justice Erickstad always asked about and remembered my mother, Sophie Maddock, from his days as a lawyer in Devils Lake. While I had the impression that my mom was not in need of many legal services, Justice Erickstad would help her, pro bono. Justice Erickstad set an example for me that you should share your talents as a lawyer with those who can least afford it.

Justice Erickstad will always be remembered as a kind and fair person, who set the standard for others to follow.