Former Sen. Milton Young, 85, Dies By Richard Pearson Washington Post Staff Writer
Former Sen. Milton R. Young (R-N.D.), who was known on Capitol Hill as "Mr. Wheat" for his tireless advocacy of his state's farm products during 36 years in the Senate, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Sun City, Ariz. He was 85.
Sen. Young had lived in Sun City since retiring from the Senate in January 1981. At that time, he held the record for longest continuous service by any Republican senator and had held elective office continuously since 1924.
Shortly before he retired, he told The Washington Post that his proudest accomplishments included having obtained funds for seven major water projects and seven federal research laboratories for North Dakota. He also was a proud supporter of defense spending and supported the war in Vietnam. He also was a strong supporter of North Dakota's Garrison Diversion project.
If Sen. Young's career seemed to lack glamor and diversity, it was because he wanted it that way. As he said, "I have always tried to stay close to the people. In North Dakota to be elected and to stay on, you have to know the farmers and stay close to them. They are loyal to a fault."
His name did not become a household word, but he amassed power on the Hill. As the longtime ranking Republican on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee and ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, he was an effective leader of the Senate's farm bloc and was in a position to campaign for high price supports for agricultural products.
He also had held party policy posts in the Senate and was courted by the White House, regardless of the occupant, for his views and support on farm matters.
He was the chief architect of the 1973 Farm Bill, designed to help the consumer, taxpayer and farmer. Throughout his career, he was a champion of the wheat farmers and ranchers of North Dakota.
He sponsored the legislation that led to restoration of Ford's Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth. He began the campaign in 1946 after discovering that the playhouse had been stripped of its original furnishings. Congress passed the necessary legislation in May 1954.
A tall, laconic man with a leathery face, he was a picture of dignity. He was quiet and even at the peak of his power on his committees was more listener than talker. One committee assistant remembered him as a tenacious fighter for what he believed in who was devoted to his state and attended committee hearings faithfully.
North Dakota is a plains state with a quarter of its people living on farmland and ranches, the highest percentage of any state. It is the second largest wheat-producing state in the union. As one moves westward across the state, sprawling livestock ranches replace farms.
Sen. Young was born near Berlin, N.D., and was reared on his family's farm. He attended North Dakota State University and Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. He was a grain farmer and landowner. He won his first race in 1924 when he was elected to the school board. He was elected to the North Dakota House in 1932, and to the state senate two years later. He was the senate's president pro tem in 1941 and floor leader in 1943.
On March 12, 1945, he was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Fred Aandahl to fill the unexpired term caused by the death of Sen. John Moses. He won a special election in 1946, and five subsequent re-election races.
His last race, in 1974, was his roughest. His Democratic opponent, Gov. Bill Guy, made an issue of Sen. Young's age. The senator went on television and smashed an inch-thick board with a karate chop to provide proof of his vigor. He won that election by fewer than 200 votes.
Earlier, in 1968, North Dakota had been swept by a rumor that television commentator Eric Sevareid was going to return to his native state and challenge Sen. Young for the Senate. The senator's reaction was, "What does Eric Sevareid know about wheat?" His first wife, the former Malinda V. Benson, whom he married in 1919, died in June 1969. In December 1969, he married the former Patricia M. Burne. She survives him. He had three children by his first marriage.