February 26, 2004 by

Paul Gruchow


Categories: Media, Writers/Editors

pgruchow.jpgPaul Gruchow, a conservationist and author who recently completed the first draft of a book about depression, died on Feb. 22 from a drug overdose at the age of 56. A sufferer of depression, Gruchow spent several years in and out of hospitals for psychiatric treatment, and had attempted suicide four times since 2001.

As a child growing up on a Minnesota farm, Gruchow dreamed of living a religious life. He attended the University of Minnesota and served as editor of the Minnesota Daily newspaper, but dropped out of school to take a job as an aide to Rep. Don Fraser (D-Minn.) in Washington D.C. When he returned to his home state, Gruchow became a news and public affairs director for Minnesota Public Radio, and worked as a reporter and managing editor at the Worthington Daily Globe newspaper.

Gruchow’s final years were spent teaching creative writing classes at St. Olaf College and Concordia College, and writing books that championed the rural, Minnesota landscape. He penned “Journal of a Prairie Year,” “The Necessity of Empty Places,” “Travels in Canoe Country,” “Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild,” “Worlds Within a World” and “Grass Roots: The Universe of Home,” which won the Minnesota Book Award. Gruchow also contributed articles to the Utne Reader, The New York Times and The Star Tribune.

16 Responses to Paul Gruchow

  1. Valerie

    Depression is such an awful illness, as we learn over and over. There are so many degress of depression, they should all be named. May you find peace at last.

  2. Mikkel Pates

    I remember Paul as a couragous editor. I worked at the Worthington Daily Globe from 1979 to 1983 as a farm writer. In one story, I’d quoted a farmer who lived next to a state park near Jackson, Minn. The farmer didn’t like it that the young, enthusiastic park manager was offering neighbors information about how their land could be sold to the park, voluntarily. The farmer I interviewed said his land would never be sold to the state. He bragged about his own history with the Ku Klux Klan in Jackson County in the early part of the century. He believed his words were off the record, which they weren’t. When the story was published, the large farmer came in to the office to complain to Paul. Although far smaller than the farmer, Paul declared to the man that he was a bigot and needed to “get out of my newspaper office.” Paul helped the man up by his collar and literally marched him through the office and out the front door. The man was totally surprised and nonplused. I’ll never forget it.

  3. Ronald Currie

    I had just finished re-reading “Travels in
    Canoe Country” probably for the third or forth
    time and decided to see what more I could find out about Paul on the internet. It saddened me to learn that such an insightful person has passed away.

  4. Debra Ortolan

    I just returned from my second trip to Isle Royale. Paul’s book, “Boundary Waters”, promted my first visit. I hike alone and people ask why; I wonder, haven’t they read Paul’s books. I had no idea he had passed away two years ago. My daughter is starting college in one week; leaving for Minneapolis. I looked up Paul on line to see if maybe he would be lecturing there some time. I hoped Raven might study with him. How incomprhensible that he is gone. He thought like I thought, observed how I saw, but put pen to paper like no one else. Thank you Paul and family for working so hard to put your art into a context that the everyman could appreciate. My condolences to all.

  5. James McNamara

    Is Paul’s book describing his depresion ever going to be published? An old newspaper account at the time of his death says it may never be. What a loss if that is true.

  6. Sarah Shefferly

    I was a fortunate student of Paul at St. Olaf College, now more than a decade and a half ago. He taught me to write with purpose, clarity, and above all, truth. His encouragement literally changed my life and what he taught continues to motivate me. He will be greatly missed.

  7. bill keitel

    Tonight, I’m missing my friend Paul. I entered his name and found this site.
    Paul and I (and my wife) Hiked a lot together. We explored the deep south of Minnesota together. When the leaves were the size of squirrels ears we would go canoing the mighty Rock River (Rivere Du Rochere) more wildlife per square mile than any where in Mn.
    We made an adventure out of what was around us. Scarlet tanagers, arrow head hunting, spotting the beaver dams on the small tributaries of the Rock.
    The last we spoke.. I sensed his distance. Many of us will continue to miss him.

  8. tom motl

    When I first read Pauls’ book “Grass Roots” I couldn’t believe how he was so closely describing my own growing up on a prairie farm. I could not put the book down. What a great and passionate writer. He is surely missed.

  9. William Barillas

    I met Mr. Gruchow once, at the 1999 conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, held in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I spoke with him after his lecture and had the honor of driving him to the place where he was spending the night. He struck me as a gentle soul, deeply intelligent and keenly interested in the world and in other people. He was an empathetic man who really listened to other people and wanted to know what they thought.
    News of his death came as a shock to me, as I was finishing my book, The Midwestern Pastoral: Place and Landscape in Literature of the American Heartland, which concludes with a discussion of how his writing synthesizes all the best attributes of the tradition I describe.
    Mr. Gruchow’s wisdom and spirit live on in his writings. I recommend his books to everyone who cares about our future here on earth.

  10. Eve Tai

    In the mid-1990’s I invited Paul to read for a Nature Conservancy event in Door County, Wisconsin. He was gracious and thoughtful and every one of our guests was moved by his words. Paul later came to Madison to promote Boundary Waters and accepted an invitation from a friend and me for dinner. We had great fun recounting tales of grizzly bears and the prairie’s beauty. Paul’s books transformed my relationship with nature and the world and I will always be grateful for his words and friendship.



  12. Mike

    I was a student of Paul’s at concordia in the nineties. He helped me to open up about many of the things that troubled me through writing. He helped me to get help for my own emotional issues and substance abuse. We had a common bond with western minnesota, and talked about what wonderful resources we both enjoyed there. Paul will be missed but always remembered.

  13. Shauna

    I also was a student of Paul’s at Concordia College my first year returning to college as an older student in 1998. I was in his introductory liberal arts course (Principia) and a creative writing course. He inspired me to love learning, and to always believe in my own worth. I was looking him up on the web to write him an email to thank him for inspiring me. I am now finishing my PhD in sociology, with an emphasis on the human/nature connections in society, and I only hope that I can inspire my students as much as Mr. Gruchow inspired me. What a loss this is….

  14. Angela

    I just read “Boundary Waters” and was deeply impressed by Paul’s philosophy. I laughed out loud at some parts and re-read parts that were especially moving. I just got “Canoe Country” from the library and found a passage he wrote in another book about farm life. I was surprised to see ha had passed on. I am so thankful I found his writings but am sad to know he is no longer with us.

  15. Laurie Lawler

    I too have confronted the “invisibility of powerlessness.” I have given so little to my land and people…in huge contrast to the published words and loving warmth of Paul Gruchow. His writings are for me virtual infusions of glorious ecstasy in the experience of the natural world…the experience of heaven on earth, on my Minnesota earth. I share his companionship more intimately than you could know. We were family who never met, lovers who never embraced. I still weep for not having been there for Paul when he needed me.

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