Roger J. Nierengarten, 88
Nov. 19, 1925 - Dec. 22, 2013
Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 2:00 PM Saturday, January 4th, 2014 at St. John's Abbey Church in Collegeville for Roger J. Nierengarten. Rev. Al Stangl will officiate and burial will be in St. John's cemetery, Collegeville at a later date. Visitation will be from 1:00 - 2:00 on Saturday, January 4th at the church.
Within days of landing in Okinawa in preparation for the final assault on the Japanese mainland, paratroopers from the 11th Airborne Division were redeployed to the mainland to secure the arrival of General MacArthur following Emperor Hirohito's surrender. Among this first group of US soldiers to land at Atsugi Air Base was Roger J. Nierengarten from Chaska, Minnesota. Months later, Roger received an unusual set of orders from Washington to return to the States to begin an Army appointment to West Point. He was given $50 and told to make his way to the US Military Academy Preparatory School for West Point appointees in Amherst College, Massachusetts.
He was 19. In later years when retelling this story he would often end by saying "that's quite something for a young kid from Chaska."
Roger Nierengarten died at home in hospice care on Sunday, December 22.
Born on November 19, 1925 in St. Cloud, Minnesota to Henry C. and Rose J. (Wimmer) Nierengarten, Roger and his twin sister, Ruth, were the youngest of eight children. He lived in St. Cloud until 1933 when the family moved to Winthrop, MN where his dad owned and operated a poultry hatchery and produce. In 1938, the family moved to Chaska, MN where he attended high school. Following graduation in 1943, he attended the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology for that summer and then enlisted in the US Army where he was assigned to the Army A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program) and was sent to the University of Kansas to study for six months. He then was assigned to basic infantry training at Camp Roberts, California, and upon completion, transferred to the Army Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division in Leyte, Philippines, making his first jump into combat in Luzon, Philippines on February 3, 1945. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Presidential Unit Citation.
In the end, he rejected the West Point appointment after six months in Amherst deciding to pursue academic studies at St. John's University in Collegeville, MN where he graduated in June 1948. He then received his law degree in 1951 from Marquette Law School. He was recalled to active duty in the US Army, assigned to provide legal assistance in the Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratories at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was discharged from the Army in 1952 and began law practice with his older brother, William, in Austin, MN.
While at St. John's, he met his future wife, Dolores Lehman, a student at the College of St. Benedict, and daughter of Edward and Irene Lehman of Breckenridge, MN. They married in October 1954.
In December of that year, he was appointed administrative assistant to St. Cloud Mayor George Byers. He opened his own law office in St. Cloud in 1956 and continued in private practice until 2010. Within this time period, he was elected Stearns County Attorney (from 1962 to 1966) and Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota and legal counsel for St. Cloud State University (from 1966-1970) He took a leave from private practice in 1984 when he was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and remained on the court until 1989. He returned to private practice and after retiring in 2010, remained active serving as an arbitrator even during his days in hospice.
Judge Nierengarten was recognized as one of Minnesota's outstanding trial lawyers and he belonged to various professional associations including the Minnesota State Bar Association, Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association, and the Federal Bar Association. He was licensed to practice law before the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Federal District Court, the United States Court of Claims, and the United States Supreme Court.
He also served on many boards and commissions including the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Minnesota Public Radio Board of Trustees, St. Cloud Diocesan Board of Education, and the Minnesota Catholic Conference Board of Education. In 1992, he received the St. John's University Alumni Achievement Award and in 2000, the Walter F. Rogesheske Outstanding Service Award from the Stearns-Benton Bar Association. He was also very active in the DFL party, serving as Co-Chairman of Lawyers for the Kennedy-Johnson Presidential ticket in 1962. In his later years, he became actively involved in Pax Christi, an international peace organization.
He was a voracious reader and enjoyed writing. He published several articles, wrote a column for the St. Cloud Visitor for a number of years, and contributed an essay to the St. John's University publication, A Sense of Place. He was an ardent fan of the St. John's "U" football team and the New York Yankees. He enjoyed sharp debate on any number of subjects.
His greatest love was and is his wife, Dolores, and their four daughters - Therese Nierengarten (Mark Conway), Catherine Nierengarten, Mary Beth Nierengarten (Michael Rosenfeld), and Carolyn Nierengarten Highfield (Matthew Highfield). They remember him most for his unconditional love, steadfast loyalty, sense of justice, generosity, ever present wit and laughter, and for the three virtues that he espoused often and lived always - endurance, acceptance, and hope.
He is survived by his wife, daughters, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers (Jerome, Richard, Robert, and William Nierengarten) and sisters (Louise DeMarais, Joan Salden, and Sister Ruth Nierengarten, OSB).
Memorials are preferred to St. Benedict's Monastary, St. John's Abbey, or Centra Care Hospice.
Published in the St. Cloud Times on Dec. 30, 2013
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