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Freeman remembered at Capitol service
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A crowd of mostly-DFLers honored the memory of Orville Freeman during a service in the Capitol rotunda. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Former Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman was remembered Thursday night at a memorial at the state Capitol in St. Paul. Freeman died from Alzheimer's disease. He was 84.

St. Paul, Minn. — Orville Freeman was the state's first Democrat-Farmer-Labor governor, serving three two-year terms, from 1954 to 1960. He later served as Secretary of Agriculture under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Freeman's son, Mike, himself a former state legislator and one-time gubernatorial candidate, welcomed the hundreds of people, including friends, family, dignitaries, and politicians who filled the Capitol rotunda.

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Image Mondale's eulogy

"This building was always very special to Orville. He loved its majesty and how it symbolized the strength and decency of the people of Minnesota. Dad believed there could be no higher calling than to do the people's business. Something he reminded the people he worked with everyday. So for dad this event represents a homecoming. There could be no more fitting place for it than here," Freeman said.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke to the crowd of mostly DFL politicians. He praised Orville Freeman as a great leader, manager, and a generator of ideas.

Pawlenty says he will ask the Legislature to approve naming the yet-to-be-built structure housing the agriculture and health departments after the former governor.

"It's a modest but fitting tribute to his work, and to his life and his committment and his service," he said.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale delivered the eulogy. Mondale called Freeman "one of the great public men in Minnesota's history."

"He believed in public service. He loved public life. He nurtured our sense of Minnesota as a community and he always stood for social justice," Mondale said.

At a reception following the service, many shared memories of Freeman. Business leader George Pillsbury says he and his wife Sally's first date took place at a meeting with Freeman.

"Right after the war, I joined the American Veteran's Committee. And, Orville Freeman was chairman of the committee. We had a meeting in the mayor's chambers -- Mayor Hubert Humphrey -- and I took Sally down there between two parties. That night, she went out of town. The next day, and a week later, we got engaged, on our second date," Pillsbury said.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of St.Paul remembered Freeman as a generous person who taught him about why Minnesota is a great state. "One of the things that he taught me is how well you can trust Minnesotans. And he talked about how he literally used to just drive across the state with Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. And they would stop in cafes and visit and try and recruit people to run for office. And I'd say, 'Well how could you find the right people when you just stop in cafes?' He'd say, 'You just talk to folks, and you could find out in communities who the leaders were, who was helping,' and it worked. And they developed many of the people who became the political leaders for generations following," Entenza said.

Freeman is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jane, their son Michael, daughter Constance, and three grandchildren.

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