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Published January 23, 2013, 03:24 PM

Norsk Hostfest Founder Chester Reiten Dies

North Dakota broadcaster, politician and entrepreneur Chester Reiten has died. He served as a state senator for 16 years and as Minot mayor for 14 years.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Chester Reiten, a North Dakota broadcast pioneer who became a city and state leader and eventually founded a Scandinavian heritage festival that draws people from around the world, has died. He was 89.

Reiten, known to most as Chet, died late Tuesday afternoon at a care facility in Minot, his son David Reiten told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Chet Reiten's wife of 65 years, Joy, was at his side.

David Reiten said his father did not have a specific illness but died simply of “old age.”

“He had been in failing health but only really up to the last two, four weeks,” he said.

Reiten was born in Hastings, N.D., in 1923 and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo with a degree in agriculture and worked as a county agent until entering the broadcast field in 1951. His company, Reiten Broadcasting Co., eventually owned four TV stations and several radio stations in North Dakota. He eventually sold the radio stations and turned over control of the KX Television Network in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson and Williston to his five children.

Reiten served as a mayor of Minot for 14 years — during which he led the city's recovery from the 1969 Souris River flood — and as a state senator for 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s. He is perhaps best known for founding the annual Norsk Hostfest Scandinavian heritage festival in the late 1970s. The event draws about 60,000 people each fall. He stepped down as president and board chairman in 2011 and festival directors elected David Reiten to take his place.

“He always wanted to make things better, and he found people that shared his vision,” David Reiten said. “He led them to a better Minot, a better state of North Dakota, and making the Hostfest better from year to year. He made his TV stations better, he made his radio stations better. That was his professional legacy.”

Chet Reiten was a family man, his son said.

“He was a loving man to his wife of 65 years, and a loving father to his children,” David Reiten said. “Those were the two most important entities in his life, and it all came from a strong faith in God. He was a very religious man.”

In 2002, Reiten was given the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, North Dakota's highest honor. He is a member of the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame, and is one of only a handful of Americans to receive the St. Olav Medal from the king of Norway, because of his work with the Hostfest.

“He loved to talk with other people,” David Reiten said. “He liked to get their ideas. He was actually very open to other ideas, but when he made a decision, he made a decision.”

Reiten is survived by his wife and his five children: David, of Minot; Steven Reiten, of Fargo; Kathleen Reiten-Hruby and Tim Reiten, both of Bismarck; and Melanie Reiten-Shonkwiler, of San Diego. David Reiten said a funeral likely will be scheduled for next week.

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