Conrad Røyksund, born Conrad Simonson Dec. 5, 1931, died Feb. 1, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. He was 86 years old.

After the death of his father in 1984, born Gustav Røyksund in Norway, Conrad took back the family name to honor his Norwegian heritage. He was born into poverty and raised on a small farm near Graham, Wash. The oldest of seven children, he and his brothers slept in a chicken coop from primary school age until he graduated high school. He was the first member of his family to attend college, paying his way by fishing with his father in Alaska. Conrad then graduated from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and served Christ the King Lutheran Church in Fremont, Calif. for over a decade. He eventually earned a PhD from the University of Chicago and began teaching at Luther College in 1969, retiring in 1998.

Conrad was a philosopher, a poet, a fisherman, a wonderful cook and carpenter. Most of all, he loved writing. Cultivating succinct ideas was his passion, and people often responded to his blog ( with such comments as, “That’s what I was trying to say.” He once had business cards that read, “Conrad Simonson: WOODSMITH & WORDSMITH.” Always the writer, he despised injustice, as can be seen in his blog, his books and his poetry. Despite all of his professional achievements, he believed that academic rank and intellect were not well correlated. Though his doctorate was in religion, he had small tolerance for religious zealotry. Among the people whom he found dangerous were those with closed views of the world. He used to say the University of Chicago was a place “where people went after ideas with knives.” Conrad’s closest relationships were with friends and family who would not let ideas rest until they were hammered of all possible fallacy. He greatly admired the gifts and talents of his lifelong friends in Decorah: their pottery, poems, music, books, jokes and dinner table debates. Conrad was a “coffee shop guy”; the Café Deluxe in Decorah and the Nokomis Beach Coffee Café in Minneapolis became his favorite spots to meet friends, to read and argue opinions from The New York Times.
Conrad “the Woodsmith” built, among other things, a log house at Saetre in Winneshiek County; a two-story Sun House (Sol Huset) on the back of his home in Decorah; two boats, including a 26’ cabin boat named “Second Mate” (named after his second mate, Mari); and furniture pieces too numerous to mention. Most important to him, he built a family consisting of seven children, a dozen grandchildren, and friends from all races, religions, places of birth, and sexual orientations. One of his proudest achievements was being made an “honorary lesbian” by two of his favorite neighbors.

Mari and Conrad’s home on West Broadway in Decorah was a favorite gathering place for their children’s friends over three decades (“Mi casa, su casa”) and continues to be so now for the friends of his grandchildren. Conrad and Margaret Simonson had four children: Paul Simonson; Kathryn (Steve) Nichols (Ian and Colin); Gail (Marty) Weis (Spencer and Sophie); Heidi Simonson (partner Jack and children Nicole, Dylan and Kaia). Mari Heltne and Conrad were married at the Saetre log house in 1982, adding Mari’s sons Michael Hubbard (son Jao), and Daniel (Ellie Chen) Hubbard (Elliot and Laura). Conrad and Mari adopted Marcia Miller McIntyre in 1991 (Walter, children Makaila and Dominick). His past five years were spent in Jao’s neighborhood in Tucson, where he and his “grampa” spent wonderful days together. Conrad played old timers’ baseball with the TOTs (Tucson Old Timers) from 1998-2002, and became their unofficial photographer in 2012, when his multiple eye surgeries kept him from joining them on the field. He loved those players and kept a blog of captioned pictures (

The “Wordsmith” Conrad wrote (literally) thousands of poems. Some were self-published into lovely little books. In them he marked not only world events, but small happenings seemingly insignificant until seen through his eyes. While living in Norway, he translated a book written by Pal Johnson titled “For Love of Norway.” Conrad’s stepson says, “He was intimidatingly smart, funny as hell, and worked his tail off his entire 86 years. He taught me to meet people with kindness and decency until I was certain they could not be trusted. He taught me to meet ideas with carving knives until I was certain they could be trusted.”

The gathering for family and friends to remember, toast, and roast Conrad is in Decorah May 19, at the Carriage House behind First Lutheran Church, 609 West Main Street, from 2 to 5 p.m., with tributes starting at 3 p.m. (Note: Please no parking in the smaller parking lot just north of the church.) Memorials can be sent to the International Rescue Committee (, Conrad’s favorite charity helping the world’s neediest people, to the Pima County Animal Care Center where he found his little dog Cooper (, or to any animal care facility.

Conrad’s family and friends will remember him as one of the most grounded, bravest, most curious and funniest people we have ever met. He left this world with a satisfied mind. We are so grateful.