North Dakota lawmakers and employees of the Legislative Council are remembering former Director John Olsrud for his nonpartisan, ethical approach in decades of serving the Legislature.
Olsrud, 77, a Beach native and longtime Bismarck resident, died Wednesday morning at Sanford Health in Bismarck from complications following heart surgery.
He was the Legislature's top attorney for 25 years, retiring in 2007 after 40 years with the Legislature's fiscal and legal service agency, where he started as a staff researcher after graduation from the University of North Dakota and its School of Law. Olsrud also was a Vietnam War-era U.S. Army Reserve medic in Colorado, caring for injured servicepeople.
His wife of 25 years, Linda, said nonpartisanship was "very central" and important to his work. They met when she applied for a job at the Legislative Council.
"There was something on my resume that I thought would help me be hired, but it actually had a partisan tilt to it and he refused to hire me," Linda said, laughing.
Olsrud also taught ethics to lawmakers and had a vast knowledge of the Legislative Council, she added. He was a friend to Republicans and Democrats alike, and in retirement taught ethics and business law at Bismarck State College until last spring.
He also had "a wicked sense of humor," even cracking sarcastic comments in the hospital, Linda said.
"He was such an interesting and vibrant man," she said. "An absolutely upright and wonderful person."
Olsrud was "the epitome of professionalism," according to Jay Buringrud, a former assistant director at the Legislative Council who worked with Olsrud for 35 years.
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"He did everything in his power to make sure that the services provided to legislators were ethical, professional and nonpartisan in every manner, in every way," Buringrud said.
Olsrud cared about his staff and took an interest in their lives beyond the office, said Legislative Budget Analyst and Auditor Allen Knudson, who worked with Olsrud for 17 years.
"I think as a director he kind of always challenged us to try to continually improve our work and kind of gave us the flexibility to try new things," Knudson said. "He was a good director and a good person to work with."
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, knew Olsrud since he was elected in 1976. He called Olsrud "a strong leader" and "a nice man," and said his legacy will be his nonpartisan streak at the Legislative Council and for the Legislature.
"He really worked hard to make sure that the Legislature stayed on the straight and narrow when it came to politics," Holmberg said.
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, first elected in 1986, said Olsrud was astute and professional, attentive to his staff and the quality of their work.
"I think that's a wonderful trait," Mathern said.
Olsrud is survived by his wife, their six children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
His funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. Nov. 15 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bismarck, before burial at 3 p.m. at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery south of Mandan.