MOTT — Jill Kerzman said her husband wasn’t perfect — but he was close.
Now, as she prepares to say goodbye, she said she’ll forever remember how he tried to treat others with care and help those who were less fortunate.
James Kerzman, a state legislator of two decades who farmed near Mott for a half-century while raising 10 children, died Saturday in a farm accident involving one of his tractors. Details of the accident have not been released by the Hettinger County Sheriff’s Department.
“He was one of the kindest men I will ever know in my life,” Jill Kerzman said in a phone interview. “He was a humble, hard-working man who really got into his life and got dirty.”
Kerzman, 68, was a Democrat who represented District 31 from 1990 to 2010. After his political career ended, he stayed busy as a member of the Slope Elective Cooperative and the North Dakota Farmers Union boards, and was an active member of St. Vincent’s Catholic Church in Mott while also being heavily involved in the Knights of Columbus.
“His heart was as big as the prairies of North Dakota, but it was also as gentle as the little lambs he raised on his farm,” said Aaron Krauter, a former Democrat state senator from Regent.
Krauter, now the state’s Farm Service Agency executive director, said Kerzman excelled in crafting agriculture and human service legislation while also holding an unabashed pro-life and faith-based stance on abortion, despite it going against the overarching viewpoint of his party.
Jill Kerzman said the Benedictine monks at the Assumption Abbey in Richardton, where James attended high school, had a great influence on him.
“He lived his life according to the rules of social justice put down by the Catholic church,” she said. “He wanted to treat others — especially those who were less fortunate than him — with the utmost care. He loved teaching people how maybe they could do things a little more efficiently and he loved helping those less fortunate. That’s the one thing I will always remember about him.”
Krauter said Kerzman was “like a big brother” to him. He praised his family values, farming and humility.
“He didn’t have an easy life,” Krauter said.
Kerzman was a freshman in college when his both of his parents died in a tragic ambulance accident. He gave up a football scholarship from Dickinson State College in 1965 to keep the family farm going and to help raise his 14 siblings. He lost his first wife, Lila, to leukemia in 1986 and got remarried to Jill in 1987. Together, he and Jill raised 10 children, welcoming four of Jill’s children as his own.
“He had the family values that you model yourself after,” Krauter said. “Those things you look up to.
“I’m gonna miss Big Jim.”
Jill Kerzman said there has been an outpouring of condolences and support from the Mott community and beyond.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican who served across the aisle from Kerzman in the House for a decade, said in a statement Monday that both he and his wife, Betsy, were saddened to hear of Kerzman’s death.
“He was a true statesman who served many years in the House of Representatives with love and devotion for his state,” Dalrymple said. “It was nothing but a pleasure to serve with Jim in the House, and he will be greatly missed. Jim’s wife, children and his many friends are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Jill Kerzman said her husband’s funeral Mass, scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, had to be moved from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church to the Mott National Guard Armory as they anticipate a large number of mourners and those wishing to pay their respects.
“Even though it was so tragic, it was so filled with compassion and respect,” she said. “There was a whole peace about it, knowing that he was a good man.”
Kerzman’s burial at St. Placidus Cemetery north of Mott will follow the funeral Mass. Visitation will be held from 3-8 p.m. today at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, followed by a Rosary and wake.