Skip to content

Karsten Monrad Sunne, 92

Karsten Monrad Sunne was born in Kongsberg, Norway on November 24. 1919.  In 1920, he immigrated to America with his parents Kristian (Chris) Nilsen Sunne and Ragna Mathilda Sunne, and his older brother Joe, then 3.  The oldest boy, Nils, age 5, stayed in Norway and was to come later with Mathilda’s father—that day never came.  Monrad, as everyone called him, grew up with Joe, younger brother Roy, and two younger sisters Margit and Sonja.

         The family first settled in North Dakota, where Chris’s brother Joe and uncle Charlie lived.  When the bottom fell out of the grain market in the mid 1920’s, Chris moved his family to Detroit.  They lived there for a few years and then the crash of 1929 happened.  Monrad’s parents tried to make a go of things, but soon the family was on the move.  They spent a school year in Rock Island, Illinois, while Chris worked on the dams along the Mississippi River.  The family then spent a summer camped on the Mississippi while Chris worked on another dam in Iowa.

         The family moved briefly back to North Dakota, but when Chris’s brother Joe decided to move to Baudette, Minnesota, Monrad along with his parents and siblings followed in 1934.  Monrad started in grade 9 and graduated from Baudette High School in 1938.  In the winter of 1938-39, he worked for a logging company.  Temperatures that winter were well below zero so when Monrad smashed his finger between two logs he barely felt the pain–that crushed finger and deformed nail were a prop for many a logging story.

         In 1940, Monrad built a racer from the frame of his Model T.  He and his friend Laverne Dollarhide travelled west to Sisters, Oregon, where Monrad found a job working as a cowboy for a sheep rancher.  When he had earned enough money to continue his travels, he left Sisters, and rode the rails toward San Francisco, eating and sleeping in hobo camps along the way. (He would refer to this experience as being “on the bum”.)  When he reached San Francisco, he bought a suit of dress clothes from a Jewish tailor for $10 and headed for The World’s Fair Exposition on Treasure Island.  He returned to Baudette in the fall of 1940, and began working for his father, who had started a construction business.

         When the U.S. joined the fight in WWII, Monrad was drafted into the Army.  He was eventually assigned to the Army Corp of Engineers and was sent to Hanford, Washington, where war planes were being built and secret labs were developing the atomic bomb. 

         After the war, Monrad returned to Baudette, bought some farm land and machinery and began farming.   He became a local legend as the go-to-guy after purchasing his TD9 International bulldozer.  Monrad was called upon to help fight fires, dig foundations, and even launched Ted Rowell, Sr.’s new boat into Baudette Bay.

         In 1947, Monrad got his first big break in the construction industry when he was hired to supervise the expansion of the Blue Earth Power Plant, estimated cost $213,000.  Upon completion, Monrad returned to Baudette to farm and work on various construction projects in northern Minnesota.

         He married Ruth B. Larson, from the Hallock-Kennedy area, December 29, 1950.  In August 1951, his first child was born, followed by a second in May 1955.  Monrad farmed for a few years, growing flax, but by the mid 1950’s the yield was down and so was the price.  Tired of working construction jobs out of town and being a weekend father, Monrad packed up his family in 1958 and moved to Wisconsin, first to Prairie du Chen then 5 years in Madison.  It was there in 1963, out of work and yearning for a chance to go to college that Monrad enrolled full-time at the University of Wisconsin.  He attended one year, then moved to the Twin Cities, settling in Richfield, Minnesota, where a third child was born in 1965.

         Monrad first worked for Bor-son Construction then was hired by the University of Minnesota to oversee construction of several projects on both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.  He worked for the University of Minnesota for about ten years, then moved on to private construction companies, building K-mart stores, including one in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.  Then, at the age of 59, Monrad was hired by Target’s construction division to build Target stores.  Monrad’s first store in Minot, North Dakota, was completed on time and under budget.  This launched a 20 year career with Target.  He built stores in Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, and Missouri.  He also built the original Target warehouse in Fridley, Minnesota and was called back for a $24 million addition in 1989-1991, a three year project which Monrad completed in two years.

         In 2000, Monrad retired from Target and began farming.  He had purchased his parent’s farm and began rebuilding the home and other buildings.  The last 14 years of his life, he spent his summers in Baudette supervising the planting and harvesting of flax and soybeans, while his son Chris and family friend Ron Miller did the physical work.  He spent his winters down south, at his home in Richfield.  Monrad passed away peacefully on December 23, 2013.

         Monrad is survived by sisters Margit Spackman and Sonja (John) Naucler, children Elaine Sunne, Chris (Jody) Sunne, Elizabeth (Carlos) Sunne-Ojeda, and grandchildren Heidi, Kyle, Karsta Sunne, and Megan Conrad.  He was preceded in death by his wife Ruth, who died in January 1987, his parents, and brothers Nils, Joe, and Roy.

Leave a Comment