Carleton Emeritus Professor of Government Ralph Fjelstad Dies

Ralph Fjelstad, emeritus professor of government at Carleton College, died on Tuesday, March 2, 1999. He was 83.

3 March 1999 Posted In:

Ralph Fjelstad, emeritus professor of government at Carleton College, died on Tuesday, March 2, 1999. He was 83.

Fjelstad was born on Nov. 12, 1915, in Emmons, Minn., the son of Rudolf and Gena Fjelstad. In 1937, he graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. degree in economics and history from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. He was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the late 1930s and from 1939 to 1941 was a Norman Wake Harris Fellow at Northwestern University, where he earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1948. He married Margaret Haugseth in 1941. They had three children, Mary, Carol and Paul.

Fjelstad joined the Carleton faculty in 1948 as assistant professor of government on the Edward C. Congdon Foundation. He was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 1953 and to full professor in 1956, serving as co-chair of the department of government and international relations for over two decades. He retired from Carleton in 1981.

“Ralph was a very warm and loyal colleague and was very much loved by his students,” said W. Hartley Clark, emeritus professor of international relations, and a former student and colleague of Fjelstad. “His genuine interest in politics came through in his lectures, which were always illustrated with stories. He was a peacemaker who always kept the trains running on time and he received quite an outpouring of glowing letters from former students upon his retirement.”

Fjelstad taught courses in American government, state government and politics, legislatures and legislation, principles of public administration, and party and pressure politics. He was an expert on Minnesota state government and in 1952-53 took a leave of absence from Carleton to study Minnesota’s legislative practices and procedures. His findings were published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune and received an overwhelming amount of attention in the media.

Fjelstad also served as chair of the Carleton Faculty Committee on Teacher Education, which examined specialized teacher education and ways to improve it. The committee published two reports, “The Carleton Faculty Study of Teacher Education” in 1955, and “Carleton Continues to Study Teacher Education,” which was authored by Fjelstad in 1957. Both reports outlined Carleton’s role in preparing its graduates to teach at the secondary level.

A frequent public speaker, Fjelstad was well known in his field. He served as a consultant to the U.S. Small Business Administration and was a member of the Minnesota Governor’s Tax Advisor Commission. In addition, he chaired the State Constitutional Revision Committee and was a member of the Commission on Higher Education for the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities. Fjelstad was elected third vice-chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party in 1963.

Locally, he served as secretary of the Northfield City Charter Commission and was a longtime member of the school board. He also chaired the United Fund and was a deacon of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Prior to coming to Carleton, Fjelstad served a director of personnel for the War Department at the Illinois Ordinance Plant in Carbondale, Ill., and was a classification specialist with the U.S. Army Air Force.

Fjelstad was preceded in death by his daughter Mary, a 1971 graduate of Carleton. He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and children, Carol and Paul.
Services will be held Friday, March 5, at 1:30 p.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield.