Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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Life Story: Art Gunderson's motto was serve community, do good

Pleasantville businessman devoted to friends, family, faith, hard work

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    Art Gunderson (center) pictured from left to right with his grandson Bernt holding his great-grandson Jaxon, a close family friend Brian Melsness and his son Nels Gunderson aboard a steam engine restored in memory of his father Alfred Gunderson. Art died Saturday at age 93.

    Submitted photo

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Art Gunderson lived through a lot in his 93 years. 

Born in 1925, he grew up one of six children during the Great Depression. After graduating from Whitehall High School, he served as a sailor in the Navy during World War II, then came home, got married and started a family that eventually grew to eight children. He grew a car dealership, withstanding both good and bad economic times.

But what always prevailed above all else was Gunderson’s dedication to his family and friends, his faith and serving the community — and that is how he will be remembered by his family, friends and all the community members who knew him.

“It doesn’t matter what life threw at him — he always got up and went back to work the next day and kept doing the right thing,” Nels Gunderson said of his father, who died Saturday in Osseo. “If you did things the right way and worked hard, to him, you were living right. He lived to serve his community and do good, and that’s exactly how he raised us.” 

“If you look at the hills and valleys throughout his life, it’s just incredible,” echoed his son and former Republican Congressman Steve Gunderson. 

Born and raised in Pleasantville, Art Gunderson was known and celebrated among locals and the region for a love for that small Wisconsin town where he spent 86 of his 93 years.

“He thought everybody should move to Pleasantville, and they would just have a better life automatically,” Nels Gunderson recalled. “He never thought there was a better place to live, and he traveled all over. ... That was his love.” 

Gunderson served as a charter member of both the Hale Township Volunteer Fire Department in Whitehall and the Pleasantville Lions Club, receiving both of their Citizen of the Year awards, as well as the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award for Distinguished Service. 

In addition, Gunderson served as president of the Whitehall school board for several years, which is what Steve Gunderson said inspired him to run for political office in the first place. 

“He was so proud of my effort to run and serve in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress,” Steve Gunderson said. “He loved to campaign for me, and he loved to speak on my behalf.” 

When Gunderson was elected to U.S. Congress in 1980, his father gave him an aerial photograph of their family’s beloved Pleasantville, telling his son: “Never forget where you come from. Never forget where home is.” 

In the 16 years he served on Congress, Gunderson kept the photo hanging in his office. To this day, though he’s no longer in politics, the photo hangs in his office in Washington.

“That,” Gunderson said, “is my dad.” 

Art Gunderson was also active at his lifelong church, Grace Lutheran in Pleasantville, teaching high school Sunday school and serving in several leadership positions on its board.

Car dealership

But Gunderson will also be remembered as a car dealer who stood the test of time as owner of Gunderson Chevrolet of Osseo and Pleasantville, Nels Gunderson said.

Born in a “car family,” Nels Gunderson said the Gunderson family has been in the automobile business since 1927. But it was Art Gunderson who transformed the business into one of the region’s largest heavy-duty truck and Chevrolet dealerships through the 1970s and 80s, Nels Gunderson said. In 1978, the dealership was a national Time Magazine finalist for the National Truck Dealer of the Year award.

And his love for cars didn’t stop at his profession. To his family, Art Gunderson will be remembered for his love for road trips and his natural navigational abilities. If anyone needed to go on a road trip, any time, anywhere, he was happy to accompany them, Nels Gunderson said.

Into his retirement, Art Gunderson took the song “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” seriously and traveled all over the country, East to West coasts, in his truck.

“He could drive around the United States of America without a GPS or usually even a map, and he’d get you there within five blocks,” Nels Gunderson recalled with a chuckle. “He had this innate sense of direction that was just unbelievable.”

Art Gunderson and his wife of  50 years, Adeline, also ran the general store in Pleasantville for about 15 years — a local gathering place where farmers and locals would stop in for coffee in the morning and perhaps a sandwich at lunchtime. 

“That was a highlight of who he was — he believed everything in life could be settled over a cup of coffee at that general store,” Nels Gunderson said. “The local people remember him for that.”

Although Art Gunderson’s death is a great loss to his eight children, 22 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren, Nels Gunderson said his father lived a great, long life. 

“He told me last week: ‘You’ve got about 48 hours to mourn about this, and then you better get back to work,’” Gunderson said, chuckling. “So, that’s what we’re doing.”

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace Lutheran Church in Pleasantville. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church. Burial will follow with military honors.

Contact: 714-833-9206,, on Twitter @SamanthaWest196

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