Irwin Kenneth Smemo, 86, a long-serving faculty member at MSUM, passed away June 29, 2017.
Ken was born on Nov. 23, 1930 in Brookings, S.D., to Alfred and Elisabeth Smemo. His parents, both newly arrived immigrants from Norway, soon moved the family to Eau Claire, Wis. In 1951, he married Suzanne Sherman, with whom he had three children—Eric, Elizabeth, and Margaret. In 1981, he married Nancy O’Brien, and had two children, Kristoffer and Molly. Together, Ken and Nancy built a lakeside cabin, a place they loved.
Drafted into the army, Ken fought in the Korean War. After the war he managed a men’s clothing store for several years before returning to college to complete a teaching degree at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He then taught high school in Osseo, Wisc. He went on to the University of Minnesota to complete his master’s and Ph.D. in history. In 1961, he joined the faculty at Minnesota State University Moorhead and became one of the longest-serving professors in the university’s history. He served as principal of the Campus High School before joining the university’s history department. He helped establish MSUM’s Scandinavian Studies Program and the Northwest Minnesota Historical Society. A winner of the Burlington Northern Award for Teaching Excellence, Ken thrived in the classroom, teaching upwards of 7,000 students over the course his career. He retired in 2007, but continued to teach well into his 80s.