My Friend Dave Durenberger


Celebrating a life of service and a love of Saint Paul 

By Andy Rorvig

Having myself grown up in Stearns County, Dave Durenberger was a household name. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate a few weeks before I was born in 1978. Dave’s parents and my grandparents were friends. My grandfather was a newspaper photographer and spent time at St. John’s University documenting the sports teams when Dave’s dad was the Athletic Director. I would see Dave every summer at community parades in and around Saint Cloud where I was always reminded that Dave was a “friend” and a good U.S. Senator. 

When I moved to Saint Paul in 2002, my wife and I became involved in community and civic issues impacting our neighborhood. It was through that involvement that I got to know Dave and we became friends. His legacy is one of great joy in serving others and a deep love for Saint Paul. 

Dave’s Saint Paul origin story started with his maternal grandfather, Fred (Ferdinand) Cebulla, who came to Minnesota from Poland as a teenager in the 1890s. He worked for the Great Northern Railroad his entire life. In the 1940s, Dave’s grandparents moved to the capital city. Young Dave would come from Collegeville to Saint Paul on the train to visit them. During the 1940s, Dave had many adventures riding the street cars and exploring the city and its many parks. Those experiences shaped him and ignited a never-ending love for Saint Paul. 

In 1959, Dave Durenberger started his legal career and joined the Ramsey County Bar Association. With the election of his law partner Harold Levander as Governor, Dave left the practice to serve as Levander’s Chief of Staff. Dave later returned to the practice of law, working in Saint Paul as in-house counsel for the HB Fuller Company. His commitment to his practice and the capital city continued. 

Durenberger served as a U.S. Senator from 1978-1995. His work there speaks for itself. Among many other accomplishments, he was the original sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), made important contributions to the Water Control Act and the Clear Air Act of 1990, and championed health care reform. I learned that one of his favorite accomplishments centered on Saint Paul: his work on getting the “High Bridge” (Smith Avenue) re-built. The old High Bridge had become dilapidated and was set to be demolished in 1985. Due to Dave’s Amendment to the 1984 Highway Act, the replacement bridge that still stands today was built on time, under budget, and acclaimed by architectural historian Larry Millet as a “beauty of a bridge.” 

Where did Dave go after retiring from the Senate? Saint Paul, of course! Dave was a Saint Paul resident from 1999 until his passing in 2023. He lived with his wife Susan Foote in the Crocus Hill and Summit Hill neighborhoods.

I first met Dave at a breakfast meeting where a civic group was discussing local city issues of the day. Dave introduced himself, and I explained I grew up in Saint Cloud and was born at the same hospital as him. We chatted and exchanged names of people we knew from back home. Once Dave learned the identity of my grandfather, he asked if I could find a specific picture taken of him by my grandpa when he was a small boy living in Collegeville. I agreed and made a trip to the Stearns County Historical Society. I found and traded the photo Dave wanted over dessert and coffee at our house, since we only lived a few blocks apart. It was the beginning of a special friendship. 

I learned a lot from Dave, whether we were at an event or sitting in his garden talking about how we could improve Saint Paul. Repeatedly he imparted how important it is to serve one’s community. He would use hand quotations when discussing “community” because we are part of many different social and societal groups without realizing it. Community can be our places of worship, our child’s school, or the people with whom we share an alley. Each of those groups has value, and it’s our obligation to serve those communities, encourage progressive reforms, and improve the lives of those around us. Dave was quick to remind me that you do not need an election certificate to serve. Instead, community and civic engagement is a responsibility we all share. 

With a new year beginning, in a city that many of us love, work in, and call home, let’s all pause for a minute and reflect on how we can better serve by volunteering, being present, or lending a voice to the voiceless. In doing so, we improve the lives of all we encounter. 

There is great joy in serving others. Take it from my friend Dave, whom I miss very much. 

Andy Rorvig is a certified trial specialist who represents injured plaintiffs. He has been teaching at the University of St. Thomas School of Law as an adjunct professor since 2008. He is President-elect of the Ramsey County Bar Association and will serve as President from 2024-2025.