Conrad Solberg, 87, of White Bear Lake, died December 11th, 2023 of complications from a heart attack.
Born in Clear Lake, SD in July of 1936 in a record heatwave, he and his family scratched out a living on a small farm with no electricity or running water. With his father's passing when Conrad was only two years old, and with his mother's struggle to make ends meet as a one-room schoolhouse teacher, the remaining family in 1944 moved to "town" in Brookings, South Dakota. Conrad loved the farm and was said to have jumped out of the car to run back as they were slowly leaving. Conrad wanted so much to bring his pet calf with him to Brookings.
In Brookings, Conrad started earning money at fourteen making picture frames for a local photography studio. At a young age, Conrad began his lifelong interest in fine woodworking, making furniture that his family could not afford. Life in Brookings was good. He made many friends that he kept for his entire life. In 1954, he graduated from high school and made the easy transition to South Dakota State University in Brookings for his pursuit of Mechanical Engineering. The college was literally in his mother's backyard. At SDSU he excelled in managing the yearbook photography but also found time to start his own business pouring cement curbs for the expanding city street system in Brookings.
In 1956 he met his future wife at a dance when her boyfriend, his friend, asked Conrad to look after her as he stepped away for a while. Conrad indeed kept his word to his friend 67 years later. She became the subject of his photography pursuits for the yearbook. In 1958, he graduated in engineering and accepted a position with General Mills in their military division out of Dayton, OH. There, he flew on militarized Boeing 707 aircraft that used computers to monitor Soviet military maneuvers at the peak of the Cold War. In 1960, he married Mary and moved to Birchwood, MN where they started a new life together closer to family back in South Dakota. Conrad and Mary had 3 children in the 1960s and twice moved to finally settle on the west side of Bald Eagle Lake in 1967. Conrad by now worked in the burgeoning computer industry for Control Data, a regional powerhouse in the Printed Circuit Division.
Tragedy struck Conrad in 1975. His mother, two sisters, a niece, and a nephew were all killed in a horrific collision at a remote intersection just a few miles from his childhood farm while they were enroute to a family get-together. With his father gone from age two, Conrad would spend the rest of his life as the sole survivor of his five-person family.
The high point of his career arrived somewhat by chance in 1985 after a brief period of unemployment. After having a conversation with an entrepreneurial neighbor, he agreed to come aboard as a consultant for Smarte Carte Inc., a White Bear Lake based company that was just coming into its own after the typical early years of challenges. Here, he rose to the position of Vice President, participating in two acquisitions of Smarte Carte by investors.
In 1999, Conrad went back to his first love, fine woodworking. He and his son-in-law took over an existing specialty wood business, Forest Products Supply. It was here that Conrad returned to his early passion for working with wood, just like the picture frame days. Conrad was adept at acquiring whole trees for cutting into hardwood lumber or prized wood slabs. Some 2,000 slabs accumulated under his direction. Conrad believed in repurposing urban trees into magnificent lumber rather than see storied trees chewed to bits in the chipper.
Much of Conrad's work in wood slabs in the past 25 years took place at a small farm in Lake Elmo. Right up until his passing, Conrad was operating the forklift, moving inventory, and filling orders. It was at this location that the remembrances of the family farm were particularly vivid. The neighboring property had cattle grazing nearby, and the wide open spaces there afforded a vista like that of his early childhood in rural South Dakota.
Conrad overcame the setbacks of personal tragedy and three strokes to show those around him the therapeutic aspects of hard work. He remained productive and engaged to the end. Just a day before his heart attack, he worked the usual Saturday shift at Forest Products, waiting on customers. He "died with his boots on" as they say.
Conrad leaves behind his wife Mary of 63 years, his daughter Sally Mueller, and two sons, Paul and Ryan Solberg, and five grandchildren, Karl Solberg, Andrew Mueller, Peder Conrad Solberg, Mary Mueller, and Tryg Solberg; nieces Kris Thelander, Kari Coco, Shannon Rye, Shaun Gunderson, Susan Urban, Pam Johnson, and Molly Hurda; nephews John Wolsky, Luke Wolsky, and Matt Meyers.
Conrad’s funeral service will be held at North Heights Church, 1700 Hwy 96 West, Arden Hills, MN (Door B) at 11:00 on Wednesday, December 27th. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service at North Heights Church. His funeral can be viewed live at: https://northheights.church/messages/watch-live-arden-hills/