Willard Burk, longtime resident of the Williston, ND, area and later of Fargo/Moorhead, passed away February 6, 2024, at Bethany on 42nd in Fargo, ND.
Willard Deane Burk was born on September 19, 1930, the oldest of four sons, to Caroline (Kennedy) and Walter O. Burk at Williston, ND, where his father was a lawyer, and his mother was a homemaker.
Willard was active in track in high school and participated in the state meet. He graduated from Williston High School in 1948 and attended Augsburg College in Minneapolis where he met Celia Hanson, who came from a family of five daughters. They married on July 12, 1952, in First Lutheran Church, Aitkin, MN.
After they were married, Willard and Celia moved to the family ranch east of Williston. Willard devoted his life to farming and ranching. He enjoyed the freedom of being his own boss. Favorite memories of him often include singing cowboy songs and various recitations around a campfire with family and friends.
Willard enjoyed singing and was in the choir in high school and college, later recruited to join the choirs in his Lutheran churches. Celia would joke that they asked them both but what they really wanted was him. At Celia’s funeral in 2013, Willard spoke of their marriage of 61 years, two months and 12 days and proceeded to sing one of her favorite hymns. There wasn’t likely a dry eye in the church.
During the Korean War, Willard was drafted into the army and Celia joined him in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. While there, she got a job working for the Army special services. When Willard received orders to leave for Germany, the orders were soon changed because losing Willard meant losing Celia. Willard was promoted to sergeant of the supply room at Ft. Leonard Wood where he completed his enlistment, later serving five years in the Army Reserve.
At the age of 29, Willard opened Williston’s first federally inspected meat packing plant, on the outskirts of the city.
Willard became actively involved in the Lewis and Clark Irrigation Project. He testified before a US Congressional committee that the only food for the millions of mosquitos that would be hatched by flooding would be the residents of nearby Williston. Willard started a weekly group for farmers, promoting irrigation, and was influential in facilitating an increase in the use of irrigation in the MonDak region.
The Burks raised four children: Dru ranches in eastern Montana; Dawn is involved with women’s economic empowerment in Zambia, Africa; Dee Lia Baldwin farms with her husband near Hope, ND; and Deirdre works as a pharmacy technician in the Netherlands.
In 1997 the Burks moved to Fargo/Moorhead.
Willard is survived by his children, Dru (Audrey) Burk, Ismay, MT; Dawn Close, Lusaka, Zambia; Dee Lia (Kerry) Baldwin, Hope, ND; and Deirdre Burk, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; his grandchildren, Sheana Rose, Aubry (James) Bailey, Spencer (Katie) Burk, Ariana Eaton, Jordan Close, Allison Graham, James (Susan) Baldwin, Carissa (Josh) Morman, Daniel Baldwin, John (Laura) Baldwin; 17 great-grandchildren; and his brother, Daniel Burk, Tulsa, OK.
Willard was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers David and Richard, one grandson, Joshua Vink.
Burial will take place at Saron Cemetery, Glen Township, MN on Monday, February 12th at 2 pm. A celebration of Willard’s life for family and friends will take place in Thor, MN on approximately June 8th, 2024. Further details will be announced.
(Korsmo Funeral and Cremation Service, Moorhead, MN)