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An honor befitting a 'great lady'

Proclamations aren't doled out arbitrarily. They are reserved for very special occasions and Monday night's recognition of former Mayor Florenz Bjornson was one of those.

Bjornson celebrates her 90th birthday this Friday and friends thought it appropriate to mark that milestone by recognizing her for her years of dedication to the community she has personally called home for well over 60 years.

The proclamation referenced Bjornson as 'West Fargo's greatest lady' - a perfectly fitting title as the true champion of causes that have benefited both the public and private sectors in very dynamic ways as a regular citizen striving to make the community a better place for her own family and as a public servant caring for the entire community family.

Humble in her acceptance, Bjornson said she was amazingly surprised and overwhelmed by the recognition. Her son, Scott, was proudly on hand for the ceremony to offer personal congratulations to his mother.

Family has always been the stabilizing influence in Bjornson's life, all the way back to her growing up years in Aberdeen, S.D. Whenever she talks of her late husband, Sid, and her four grown children and grandchildren, her eyes light up, beaming with pride.

Speaking openly and candidly has also been a signature trademark. Bjornson said in a recent interview that growing up during the depression years, she quickly developed "a mind of her own. I was never a very quiet person. I was always very outspoken. They taught me in Aberdeen that you have to be an individual and I have never forgotten that through the years. I have always tried to be my own person and do my own thing."

Lucky thing for West Fargo.

As a result of her tenacity, she was instrumental in molding policies and programs in key areas beginning with the school board where she devoted endless hours during four three-year terms from 1965 to 1977, focusing her time on developing the curriculum and financing for the School District.

Through it all, she also served in the State House of Representatives, on the State Water Commission, on the West Fargo Public Library Board, and as an active member of Amita Club.

Even after all this, Florenz was resolved to take on more.

Not many individuals at the age of 70 would be willing to start a new chapter in their life as Bjornson did in 1986 as mayor, following in the footsteps of her illustrious predecessor Clayton Lodoen. She went on to serve two four-year terms before retiring from the position in 1994.

One of the high points of this tenure was the realization and dedication of the Sheyenne Diversion flood protection for the community, which Florenz described as one of the biggest happenings to positively affect West Fargo. It was also during this service that the neighboring community of Riverside merged with West Fargo.

Both areas of accomplishment that Florenz has remained extremely proud of, and rightfully so, because of the enormous impact.

Nobody recognizes that more than Mayor Rich Mattern, who reinforced the importance of Bjornson's efforts. "It is an honor for us to be able to do this (announce the proclamation) for everything that she has done. The Sheyenne Diversion has made our job so much easier. There are no Sheyenne River flood issues to deal with. It's truly incredible what she did."

It was this resolve and commitment to several areas that have earned her other accolades, including acknowledgments by both North Dakota Governors John Hoeven and Ed Schafer for her work in the Legislature and with the State Water Commission; and recognition as the recipient of the West Fargo Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds Award, and the West Fargo Chamber of Commerce 2005 Civic Excellence Award.

At almost 90, Florenz is just as gracious and profound as ever - petite in stature, but big on conversation and still a firm believer in 'telling it like it is.' She anticipates each day with a grant sense of optimism, driven by a deep sense of love for her family, a sincere appreciation for all her wonderful friends, and a glowing pride for the community that she has been able to help personally shape and mold into the growing, thriving entity it has become.

Monday night's proclamation was indeed an honor befitting a former mayor and a true community advocate.

Happy Birthday 'great lady' and best wishes for many more.