Isabel “Izzi” Jorgensen Paulson of Fargo, N.D., left the party on February 10, 2022 at the age of 72, after a series of ailments began to cascade following her arrival at the hospital for an infection in October 2021.
Izzi entered our world May 23, 1949 at St. John’s Hospital in Fargo. The sixth child of Ruby and Haakon Lund, Izzi grew up on her parents’ farm west of Nome, N.D., graduating from Enderlin High School in 1967 before moving to Fargo to attend NDSU. She‘d made up her mind she wanted a government job after observing that one of the wealthiest men in Nome was the mailman. She’d always had an interest in working for the FBI, doing fingerprint analysis and such, but that line of work was unlikely to be available in Fargo, and she was eager to leave the state.
It was at NDSU while working in the USDA research labs doing something with fruit flies, that she met Harris Jorgensen, whose job with the purchasing department of the USDA had him frequently moving around the country. He was set to be transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, and Izzi was thrilled to be going with him. However, Izzi’s brother H. Roald Lund, who worked at NDSU as a professor of plant science, mentioned to Harris that there was a job opening with the NDSU purchasing department. Harris applied for, and got the job, firmly planting him, and his new life with Izzi, in Fargo.
Izzi became a Jorgensen May 16, 1971 when the two were married at First United Methodist Church in North Fargo, and they moved into a small house across from campus.
Harris had recently begun to smoke, a habit he likely picked up while bowling with his buddies. Izzi saw him standing on their lawn, cigarette in hand, and walked to him, calling through the screen door, “If you want to have three children with me you can’t die of lung cancer.” He quit smoking on the spot.
By 1979 they would be in their new home in North Fargo with their three boys, Justin, Tim, and Jon. Izzi had a truly happy, perfect family. She enjoyed spending summers refinishing furniture in the garage, entering sweepstakes (many of which she won), putting on (and shopping) garage sales, and taking road trips across the U.S. with Harris and her boys in their tan van. Izzi was active with the Fargo El Zagal Shrine, and the charitable service organization Order of Eastern Star, as well as volunteering with local elections as a poll worker, among many other interests.
Once her children were in elementary school, she enrolled in classes at NDSU studying criminal justice, fulfilling a lifelong interest. It was around this time she noticed something wrong with her leg while going through the drive through at Mc Donald’s. Her leg didn’t want to move. She drove herself to the emergency room, the first step of many that would eventually leave her with the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease of the nervous system, with no known cause. As MS affects everyone differently, it was unknown how quickly the disease would progress, if at all, or how it would affect her.
Only months after her diagnosis, her husband Harris collapsed at work and was taken to the emergency room. X-rays revealed a tumor on his lung that required immediate surgery. The following day he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
It was Izzi who did not accept that his lung cancer was the result of his brief time smoking, he was still in his 30s after all. She recalled that when visiting his parents’ home in North East Minneapolis, the house he grew up in, that it was located directly across the street from a dusty gravel pile beside a factory labeled “WR Grace Zonolite Insulation.
Against her husband’s requests, she began to investigate, gathering samples of this “waste rock” that Harris had played in as a child, and hired a lawyer. It would take years, but eventually the connection would be made between her husband’s lung cancer and the asbestos-containing material he was surrounded by as a child. Under microscopes, the unique, deadly crystalline fibers in his lungs matched those from the WR Grace Zonolite facility.
Izzi pushed for a trial and settled out of court with several of the companies responsible. Two claims did make it to federal court, where in a shocking disappointment, she lost her case, likely due to the highly technical (and extremely boring) testimony regarding different asbestos fiber structures. The judge nearly declared a mistrial, considering at least one juror’s snoring was repeatedly heard during testimony.
However, the settlements she arranged from the other companies ensured her family would be financially stable after her husband passed in 1991, just weeks shy of five years from when he was diagnosed. Izzi never had the chance to solve crimes with the FBI, but she didn’t need to. One can’t imagine a more important case for her to have solved, and sought justice for, than the cause of her husband’s death.
During the trial, the prosecution presented the jury with a photo Izzi had taken in the late 1970s of her sons Justin and Tim playing atop the same asbestos-filled gravel pile that her husband had played in as a child, with the crude wooden sign behind them labeling the pile “FREE CRUSHED ROCK”. That photo would later appear in the 2003 book “Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos Is Killing America,” by Michael Bowker. In 2004 U.S. Senator Patty Murray displayed Izzi’s photo on the senate floor as the Senator made her case for the U.S. to finally ban asbestos based on its well-documented lethality. (As of today, The U.S. still does not have an asbestos ban in place. Asbestos continues to be imported, and appears in a variety of everyday products from brake pads to cement. In 1980, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced, “All levels of asbestos exposure studied to date have demonstrated asbestos-related disease…there is no level of exposure below which clinical effects do not occur.”)
In the years following the death of her husband, Izzi raised her three teenage boys alone, and was thrilled to see them all graduate college. Although her MS was progressing slowly, mostly affecting her balance, she remained able to walk and drive. After briefly moving to a suburb of Minneapolis, Izzi returned to Fargo, and a new home on the north side which she began filling with pieces of Norwegian rosemåling, and a massive collection of works by North Dakota artist Ida Bisek Prokop who used dried prairie grasses and native bird feathers to create floral still lifes.
On July 9th, 2009 she married Michael Paulson, a clinical psychologist whom many people incorrectly assumed was her therapist. After living together for more than a decade, they were finally wed in a tiny room in the Cass County Courthouse, with her now-adult children in attendance.
As her strength and mobility decreased, Michael would provide for her, ensuring she always had a healthy supply of books and needlework projects she was so fond of. When she was a youngster, she desperately wanted out of North Dakota, as so many young people want to get far away from where they grew up, but in her adult years it became obvious she developed a love of the prairie, and North Dakota. Anytime someone suggested she move to a warmer climate she’d let you know it wasn’t happening. “Mountains get in the way, block my view,” she’d say.
Izzi was a wonderful mother, beloved sister, and friend to many. Her sparkling blue eyes, quick smile, and silly sense of humor will be missed but long remembered. Her departure was preceded by her parents, her brother David A. (with whom she shared a birthday, 16 years her senior), and her first husband and father of her children, Harris Jorgensen. Izzi’s four remaining siblings Joan, H. Roald, Gordon, Daniel, three adult children, three grandchildren, her husband Michael Paulson, and her dog Susie will continue on without her, comforted in the knowledge Izzi is no longer in pain, nor limited to the confines of her physical body. – Justin J. May 2022
• Fri, May 13, 5-7pm
• Sat, May 14, 11am-1:00pm
Wright Funeral Home
605 Second Ave South, Moorhead, MN 56560 Phone (218) 233-1321
• Sat, May 14, 1-1:30pm (Livestream to begin at 1:00 here on Izzi’s page)
Wright Funeral Home
Family & friends, please join us for sharing fond memories and Izzi’s favorite foods.
• Sat, May 14, 1:30-5pm
Plains Art Museum, 3rd Floor
704 First Ave N Fargo, ND 58102
Parking is available behind the building.
Phone (701) 551-6100