Melford C. "Mel" Haugstad, 82, of Preston, died Monday morning, Sept. 16, 2013, at Rochester Methodist Hospital.
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Mel Haugstad was born Nov. 15, 1930, to Martin and Clara (Ike) Haugstad and grew up on a farm south of Spring Grove, first attending a small rural elementary school. Following the poverty of the Depression years and the rationing of the war years, his father fell into poor health such that Mel and his older brother, Howard, became even more responsible for the farm work. Mel graduated from Spring Grove High School in 1948. To obtain funding for later college, he worked on local farms from 1948-1951, especially that of his uncle, Melvin Ike (who was like a second father), until enlisting in the U.S. Naval Air Corps in November 1951 during the Korean War (knowing his farm deferment from the draft would expire). During those summers of 1948-1951, he played center fielder for Blackhammer in the Houston County men's league. In the Navy, he became plane captain on P2V bombers, operating out of Oak Harbor near Seattle, Wash., but including two six-month overseas stints based in Okinawa and Japan, and a final "good will" tour of U.S. forces across Australia. He was honorably discharged in November 1955, then served in the Navy Reserves for another 12 years based out of the military airport adjacent to MSP International.
In his early adult life, Mel also was venerated in pool and bowling circles. In January 1956, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in the Fish and Wildlife Program, continuing through October 1957, whereupon he was hired by the Minnesota Conservation Department (which later became the DNR) as a fisheries biologist. He initially operated out of sites in St. Paul, but conducted studies on streams and lakes throughout the state. From this work, he became known as the author of a heavily cited Minnesota fisheries guide of that era. On Sept. 27, 1958, Mel was married to Lavonne "Vonnie" Stenberg at Arndahl Lutheran Church in rural Grove City (near Litchfield), having dated as college students, Vonnie attending Augsburg. After several years of rental living and the birth of three sons, their first house was in Cottage Grove (1963-1969) where Mel coached PeeWee league baseball for his eldest son's team. In September 1969, he was assigned the fisheries manager position for seven counties in southeastern Minnesota, operating out of Lanesboro, while establishing a new home in Preston (motivated by its exceptional schools). He remained in that position until retiring from the DNR in 1990. After many years of participation in Trout Unlimited, Mel formed the Minnesota Trout Association (MTA) in 1997 and wrote its newsletter until spring of 2013.
Beginning in his teens and lasting throughout life, Mel was above all an avid outdoor sportsman, and statistician thereof, meticulously logging many thousands of hours of fishing. This included trout while walking the streams of southeastern Minnesota; walleye, crappie and sunfish from his motorboat, primarily on Many Point Lake (Whaley's resort near Park Rapids, a family vacation site for 37 years); and, beginning in 2001, redfish and flounder (and an occasional shark) in the Gulf of Mexico from pier or shore during winter stays as a "visiting angler," by which he also became known as a frequent poster to the Gulf Shores (Alabama) Forum.
Mel was moreover an accomplished hunter of duck, pheasant, grouse and deer over a period of several decades. Keeping with the theme of sport, Mel closely followed Minnesota professional, collegiate and high school teams (football, baseball, basketball). He was active in the Republican Party caucus for many years, and was a member of the American Legion. He belonged to Christ Lutheran Church in Preston, and sang in church choirs most of his adult life. When young, he played the trombone; music continued to be prominent in each period of his life, including performances by his wife (organist), sons and extended family.
Mel is survived by his wife, Vonnie; three sons and daughters-in-law, Jeffrey (Julie), Kevin (Jami) and Greg (Laurie); seven grandchildren, Emma, Chad, Ashley (Brandon), Kyle, Alex, Nicholas and Zachary Haugstad; two step-grandchildren, Emily and Jacob Snyder; one great-grandchild, Ethan; sister-in-law, Janice Haugstad; and a niece and two nephews.
Mel was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Howard; and sister, Catherine Afseth.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at Christ Lutheran Church in Preston, with the Rev. David Jore officiating. Burial of his ashes will be in Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Friends may call at Thauwald Funeral Home in Preston from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, and an hour before the services on Saturday.
The family prefers memorials be given to the National Trout Center in Preston or Christ Lutheran Church.
Online condolences may be made at thauwaldfuneralhomes.com.
Thauwald Funeral Home
157 West Fillmore Street
Preston, MN 55965
Published in The Post-Bulletin on Sept. 30, 2013