Peter Harstad, 1935-2017

Published 1:00 am Friday, June 9, 2017

Peter T. Harstad, 81, died on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, in Lakeville after a courageous 12-year battle with multiple myeloma. 

He was born Nov. 13, 1935, in Madison, Wisconsin, the third of 10 children of the Rev. A.M. and Martha (Tjernagel) Harstad.

He married Carolyn Schneider Harstad, daughter of Walter and Emma Schneider and Albert Lea High School 1954 graduate, in August 1957.

Peter Harstad

Email newsletter signup

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Heritage Lutheran Church, 13401 Johnny Cake Ridge Road in Apple Valley. Visitation will be one hour before the service. There will also be visitation from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at White Funeral Home, 14560 Pennock in Apple Valley.

Peter graduated from Bethany Lutheran High School in Mankato in 1953 and received an Associate of Arts degree from Bethany Lutheran College in 1955. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957, a Masters of Arts degree in 1959 and a doctorate degree in 1963, all from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He had a long and distinguished teaching career, beginning as a high school history teacher in Flint, Michigan, from 1957 to 1958. After earning his doctorate he became a history professor at Idaho State University in Pocatello from 1963 to 1972, University of Washington in Seattle during the summer 1970, and University of Iowa from 1970 to 1971.  He left for a year of postdoctoral work in historical editing at the University of Kentucky in Lexington in 1967. He became director of the State Historical Society of Iowa from 1972 to 1981. From 1981 to 1984 he was a development officer at Bethany Lutheran College and then in 1984, became CEO of the Indiana Historical Society until his retirement in 2001.

Peter was the author of many articles in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, The Palimpsest in Iowa City and Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. His fall 2014 issue of the latter was about Vice President Thomas R. Marshall’s quip, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar: A Historical Puzzle.” In the years before his death he was writing a book-length biography of Marshall. He co-authored “Gilbert N. Haugen, Norwegian-American Farm Politician” with Bonnie Lindemann in 1992.

In retirement, Peter published a 2006 book about Nehemias Tjernagel and his music, “We Saw the Elephant: Overland Diaries from the Lander Trail” in 2010; “Store Per: Norwegian-American Paul Bunyan of the Prairie” in 2011; and, in conjunction with the Story City Historical Society and his sister, Margaret Matzke, as editor, the publication of “The Passing of the Prairie by a Fossil: Biographical Sketches of Central Iowa Pioneers and Civil War Veterans” in 2009. He also has entries in several recent Iowa and Indiana biographical volumes.

He is survived by his wife and five children: Linda Becker (Vance Becker) of Mankato, Karen Scislow (Jim) of Lakeville, Mark (Tiffany) of Stuart, Florida, Kristen (Tim) of San Jose, California, and David (Chris) of Bloomington, Indiana; plus 10 grandchildren, Carol, Eric, Kristen, Jonathan, Kathryn, Jennie, Jake, Alex, Elisabeth and Annika; and one great-grandson, Mark Joseph.

Peter was preceded in death by his parents; two sisters, Mary Moldstad and Lydia Wiggs; a brother, Mark; in-laws Robert Moldstad, John Schmidt and Dick Wiggs; and a great-grandson, Peter Matthias Yenish.

Peter believed firmly in salvation through grace with faith in his Savior, Jesus Christ and looked forward to eternal life in heaven.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Peter and Carolyn Harstad Scholarship fund at Bethany Lutheran College, 700 Luther Drive, Mankato, MN 56001; or to Heritage Lutheran Church.