Freeh Memoir Celebrates Prairie Upbringing, Lifetime Achievements

Jelsing, Catherine "Freeh Memoir Celebrates Prairie Upbringing, Lifetime Achievements." Bison Briefs, Fall 2005.

Born July 10, 1926, on the family farm seven miles south of Harvey, N.D., one would never guess LaVern Freeh, BS ’51, would someday influence international relations and serve the administrations of three U.S. Presidents. But he did, and he’s recorded memories of his modest beginnings and his exchanges with world leaders in a memoir published by NDSU Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.

Freeh wrote “Child of the Prairie, Man of the World: The Memoirs of LaVern ‘Vern’ Freeh” with his daughter Lori Freeh Tufte. While the memoir includes many stories of Freeh’s professional accomplishments, such as meeting with Fidel Castro in Cold War Cuba, it is also rich with colorful personal anecdotes, like an eventful television interview with a sheep.
Predicting Freeh’s experiences “will resonate with a broad spectrum of readers,” friend and colleague Ronald Roskens, former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, noted, “it is a unique person who can write about himself with such openness and gentle, often subtle, humor ….” Freeh leaves everything in his story, from crazy tricks he taught the farm dogs and driving Roman chariots at the county fair to what it was like living with a father who once struggled with alcoholism.

?Although Freeh eventually would travel to more than 60 countries, his roots are in the German-Russian community where he grew up. He first left home to serve in the Marines. He returned to North Dakota and taught in a one-room school before enrolling at NDSU.

At NDSU Freeh became captain of the football team; earned honors as an ag education student; was elected student body president; and met and married the girl of his dreams, Mable “Mabes” Moen.

Freeh tells how, as NDSU student body president, he was called into President Frederick Hultz’s office to discuss what Hultz labeled “three meaningless witch hunts.” The student council wanted faculty evaluations, fairer textbook prices and more resources for football. The students eventually won on the first two issues, but — to Freeh’s dismay — the football budget didn’t budge.

Freeh’s first job out of college was teaching vocational agriculture and coaching football at Linton, N.D. Six years later he enrolled in graduate school and became a football coaching student assistant at Michigan State University. He earned his doctorate in 1962 and began an 18-year career at the University of Minnesota. He was serving as the U of M’s director of international programs when he left academia to become vice president for public and international affairs at Land O'Lakes, Inc.

During his 12 years with Land O’Lakes, Freeh became increasingly involved with international affairs and represented his company in Washington, D.C. He also worked on international aid and development projects for the administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Freeh’s memoir is a “legacy” for all of who have known him, “especially his children, grandchildren, and all those who follow,” writes William “Bill” Hueg, Jr., one of Freeh’s former colleagues and past vice president for agriculture at the U of M.

This is the second Freeh book published by NDSU Libraries. Freeh’s first title, “Couldn't Be Better: The Russian Farm Community Project,” traced the history of the Russian Farm Community Project, a joint effort of U.S. and Russian people to create a model for privatizing and revitalizing rural Russia, which Freeh helped establish in 1991 and has been involved with ever since. That book was published in 2000.
To order “Child of the Prairie, Man of the World,” send a check for $25, plus $4 postage, payable to NDSU Library, to: Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Child of the Prairie Book, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599. To order online, go to:

At the request of the author, proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Freeh Family Football Scholarship, NDSU Athletics and NDSU Libraries Dakota Memories Oral History Project.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller