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Carlson's life, career, recovery celebrated

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

Mike Tilleman, left, shares a laugh with his friend Northern Agricultural Research Center agronomist and Superintendent Gregg Carlson during his retirement party at the facility Tuesday evening.

Several hundred farmers and ranchers, friends, family and co-workers from across the Golden Triangle and around the state gathered south of Havre Tuesday to roast and celebrate the retirement — and remarkable recovery — of a man who has spent decades helping people and researching amazing advances in agriculture.

Northern Agricultural Research Center Superintendent Gregg Carlson retired Tuesday, and an open house was held at the center, about six miles southwest of Havre, from 3 to 7 p. m.

A special celebration was held at 5 p. m. in the meeting room of the new office and laboratory building at the center, one of the buildings which Carlson spearheaded constructing.

"I keep saying roast because, after 40 years, he's got a lot of skeletons in the closet, " acting Superintendent Darrin Boss said at the beginning of the celebration.

Boss and several dozen other friends, family members and co-workers spoke during the roast of their experiences with Carlson, poking gentle fun at him and praising him — with most choking up as they spoke of their admiration of the man.

A lengthy career, a tragic fall — and incredible recovery

Carlson started his 42-year career with Montana State University in 1969, after receiving his bachelor's degree in animal science from the university, working as an assistant Sanders County Extension agent in Thompson Falls before taking leave to serve in the U. S. Army Reserve for six months in Fort Ord, Calif.

Carlson came back to MSU to serve as a Liberty County Extension agent in Chester, then as a Hill County Extension agent in Havre starting in 1973.

He then started his more-than 31-year career at NARC as a research agronomist in 1981, one year before receiving his master's in agronomy from MSU, and took over as superintendent of the station in 2004.

His career was disrupted Nov. 29, 2010, less than two years before his retirement and while the new buildings that were his dream were being constructed at NARC, when he slipped and fell in an icy parking lot in Havre, suffering traumatic brain injury.

Carlson looked fully recovered at the celebration, greeting guests at the office building, although he still has trouble speaking.

His wife, Ruth Carlson, said before the celebration that a Billings doctor told her in January 2011 he expected the researcher to never walk again, and that he likely would have to spend the rest of his life in a nursing home.

But, after spending months in hospitals in Great Falls, Billings and Denver, including seven weeks of rehabilitation at Craig Hospital in Denver, Gregg Carlson proved that prediction wrong.

"To see him now, it's a miracle, " his wife said, adding that he continues to work with a speech therapist.

"Time will tell, " she said.

An outpouring of support

The number of people who came to the open house Tuesday was indicative of the respect, admiration and support Carlson has in the region, state and across the country.

In April of last year, some 600 people attended or contributed to a benefit held to help with Carlson's medical expenses.

At his CaringBridge web page, people visited the page more than 14,700 times, with more than 1,000 messages left at the page.

Carlson made a PowerPoint the day before the open house, which Ruth Carlson introduced at the end of the roast.

She thanked everyone for their support.

"As you can see, Gregg has met his expectations, he has exceeded his expectations … our God is very powerful, and we thank you for your prayers and how you have upheld us in every way, " she said.

Gregg Carlson's presentation also was a thank you, thanking the people for their support of the construction at the new facilities at NARC, including their contacting legislators to lobby for the construction and their contributions to help fund that construction; thanking them for their support of the station over the years; and thanking them for their support, contributions and prayers during his injury, and closing with a single slide: "Thank You! "

Carlson received a standing ovation at the end of his PowerPoint.

Humor and admiration

The people who spoke during the roast — and who watched a slide show of photographs depicting Carlson from his youth to present day, with the soundtrack using lines from songs, classic films to modern movie hits, television programs to "Looney Tunes" episodes — all spoke of humorous times they spent with Carlson, along with commendations of his precise, dedicated work.

Retired professor Gerald Bekker, who could not attend the celebration, noted one of the most famous stories about Carlson in a letter he sent.

"Please remind those in attendance of the story that was told about Gregg at another gathering, where the speaker said Gregg would work all day to put lights on some machinery so he could work all night, " he said in the letter.

Bekker, and numerous others, commented on Carlson's meticulous precision in his work in the fields.

At one point during the roast, Boss said it was time for Carlson to get up and make sure all of the chairs in the meeting room were in precise rows — it was driving Carlson crazy, he said.

Jim Rowlatt said that precision extended to packing — he and other friends regularly went hunting with Carlson at his family property south of Great Falls, Rowlatt said.

When it came time to leave, Carlson would take two hours to pack his suitcase, Rowlatt said, carefully rolling and folding each item and placing it the suitcase in precise rows, just like his rows in the fields.

And all commended Carlson for his work and the help he has given farmers and ranchers, co-workers, family and friends.

"I always say I learned a lot from every job, " Chouteau County Extension Agent Tom Allen said. "This one was the one where I learned the most, here with Gregg. "

Boss closed the event with a thank-you to the people who came, and to Carlson.

"Thank you all, thank you all for the stories, " he said. "Gregg, what do you say? Forty years. "


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