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Hugoson remembered for work ethic, service

Leighton Hugoson

EAST CHAIN — The name “Hugoson” is iconic in eastern Martin County, thanks in large part to patriarchs such as Leighton Hugoson.

His family and others are remembering him these days as someone with a strong commitment to work, family, church and the community. Hugoson passed away recently at age 97 at Goldfinch Estates in Fairmont.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that his work ethic and lifestyle was something I sought to emulate,” says his son, Gene, one of three children born to Leighton and Ardis Hugoson. “That’s something that kind of stuck with me up until now. I definitely saw an example there.”

Leighton Hugoson was born May 7, 1923, in East Chain Township to Henry and Mabel (Engstrom) Hugoson. He attended East Chain School and, at an early age, worked on the family farm, which dates back to his grandfather, who established it in the 1880s.

At age 20, Leighton found himself in charge of the operation, providing for his mother and three older sisters, after his father died in a farm accident. Gene says his dad basically grew up with his nose to the grindstone, so there was not a lot of leisure time or family getaways.

Leighton married Ardis Smith on Nov. 25, 1944, at East Chain Evangelical Free Church. He would remain active in the church, serving on its board of directors. And he and his wife would share 70-plus years together before her death, something that devastated her husband.

When Gene was a child, life on the farm was similar to what it had been for his father. The family saw farming as a hands-on endeavor, on a traditional farm that raised beef and dairy cattle, hogs and chickens, as well as crops. The animals did not take vacations, so it was difficult for the family to do so.

That’s not to say there was no joy.

“He loved to harvest … when he had an opportunity to be in a combine, he was happy,” Gene said of his dad.

Leighton Hugoson saw tremendous changes in farming during his lifetime. Gene notes that his father personally planted corn utilizing horses, then later with tractors equipped with GPS and auto-steer. He said his dad embraced technology, probably seeing more change in agriculture than any other generation ever will. It’s a topic Gene knows something about, having served three Minnesota governors as the state commissioner of agriculture.

While the farm was the source of sustenance, family mattered most to Leighton, Gene said. It made him happiest to see his children and grandchildren getting involved in agriculture.

Leighton also had an interest in community affairs, beginning by serving as an East Chain School Board member. His experiences grew with service on the Guckeen Farmers Elevator Board and Martin County Fair Board. A natural next step became election, in 1986, to the Martin County Commission, where he served until 2001.

Gene said his dad enjoyed going to meetings, interacting with people and seeing new places, things his farm life did not entail.

Char Kahler served on the county board with Leighton in the 1990s. She noted he was not a man of many words, and perhaps even, at first, looked askance at a woman on the board, but she also saw him soften up over the years, changing his perspective.

The county board at the time dealt with at least two controversial issues: a feedlot ordinance and rural addressing, topics which have since simmered down.

Kahler credits Hugoson as being instrumental in bringing the CHS soybean-processing plant to Fairmont, after he followed up a lead on the company. She describes the CHS decision to build in Fairmont as “huge” for the community.

“He had a wealth of experience, and I had a great deal of respect for him for that,” she said, noting in particular his connection to rural issues.

Former Martin County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Katzenberger, who served the county for decades, recalls Hugoson fondly.

“I knew Leighton pretty well,” he said. “He was a good commissioner. He worked hard. He was always good to his constituents and the employees also.”

A funeral service for Hugoson has been held.

Survivors include his children, Gene (Pat) Hugoson, Sheri Stromberg, Kevin (Mary) Hugoson; grandchildren, Jon (Jamie) Hugoson, Peter Stromberg, Sarah (Mark) Halbert, James (Heather) Stromberg, Angie (Cody) Toothaker, Eric (Sara) Hugoson; and 13 great-grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife, Ardis; infant grandson, Timothy Stromberg; and sisters, Margaret Jensen, Eileen Larson and Doris Brockman.

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