By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
The Bigwood Event Center, on the west side of Fergus Falls, has been a huge benefit to Otter Tail County for 23 years. The center, used often by county residents, is named in honor of the late Bob Bigwood.
Bigwood was a community leader, former president of Otter Tail Power Company, one of the founders of Fergus Falls Community College in 1960 (now M State), and one of the incorporators of the Fergus Area College Foundation which raised money for scholarships awarded to area students attending the community college.
Bigwood loved the Boy Scouts of America, as did many residents of Otter Tail County.
“Bob, as a member of Grace United Methodist Church, was mentor of Boy Scout Troop 302 of which I was a member along with some of the Bigwood boys,” said John Runningen, today a resident of Atlanta, Georgia. “We had the best troop in town, led by the incredible scoutmaster Merle Atkinson.”
Bigwood, who died in 2006, is remembered by many county residents as a man who passionately served in a variety of volunteer organizations.
He came to Otter Tail County in the late 1940s and became active with the Fergus Falls Jaycees. Bigwood later became president of the local Kiwanis Club, served as president of the Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce and held many leadership positions with the local YMCA.
Bigwood was respected on a statewide basis. He served on the Minnesota State Advisory Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation and was a member of the Governor’s Commission on Drug Abuse under Gov. Harold LeVander.
As president of Otter Tail Power Company, which served many areas of Otter Tail County, he often shared words of wisdom. One time he talked about productivity and urged employees that that at times a person doesn’t need to work harder, but to work smarter when completing a task.
He and his wife, Barbara, raised five children.
Fergus Falls retiree Stuart Klovstad served on the Fergus Area College Foundation with Bob Bigwood for more than 20 years. Klovstad began his accounting career at Otter Tail Power Company in the early 1980s when Bigwood was in his final years as company president
“Bob, one of the original founders of the community college (now M State), knew of the tremendous and talented kids in Otter Tail County and the importance of giving them an opportunity for further education,” Klovstad said.
Bigwood did this through scholarships as an incorporator of the college foundation. He served many years as president of the foundation.
“Bob, even as a visionary, could not imagine what the alumni of the college has contributed not only to Otter Tail County but to the world as well,” Klovstad said. “Under his leadership the assets of the foundation grew 20-fold while still increasing the scholarship amounts yearly.”
Klovstad is like many people who say that Bigwood treated everyone with respect and as equals. He searched out and valued everyone’s opinions.
“Bob had a simple approach to decision making,” Klovstad said. “Whenever possible, do what is best for the organization. He used that approach for both the college foundation and for Otter Tail Power Company.”
Klovstad said that Bigwood created a successful culture at Otter Tail Power Company.
Bigwood’s growing up years in the small town of St. Thomas in northeastern North Dakota was similar to the youths of Otter Tail County.
“Perhaps that is why Bob worked tirelessly to give young people the opportunity to reach their full potential by being awarded scholarships through the college foundation,” Klovstad said.