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Discussion: In memoriam: Per Stensby

in: Orienteering; General

Aug 21, 2020 9:05 PM # 
It is with a great sense of loss that we announce that Per Stensby passed away August 17 at age 89. A Norwegian, he loved orienteering – it was in his blood. He was one of the first in the early evolution of the sport in the United States intimately involved in the beginnings of USOF (now OUSA) and was a founder of Backwoods Orienteering Klub in North Carolina in 1978.

Per Stensby was the driving force behind the 1993 World Orienteering Championships held at Harriman State Park in NY serving as the Event Director. Per was also instrumental in the hosting of the Veterans’ World Cup in Minnesota in 1997.

Full article with memoriam by Sara Mae & Larry Berman can be found on on the Orienteering USA website.
Aug 22, 2020 1:09 PM # 
I was very sad to hear of Per Stensby’s passing. The last time I saw him was about 5 years ago in Stuben, Maine, where he was demonstrating the technique for harvesting wild blueberries from his fields where he had a second home. He was eager to show me and my friend his cabin and have a visit with his wife Eva, but my friend insisted we leave since we had a 3-hr drive back to her house. I was upset about cutting out visit short, but felt I must go along with her wishes. I have regretted that decision ever since. Carl and I received a couple more of his annual Christmas cards and later a card with beautiful tribute to Eva when she passed away, but after hat I never heard from him again, despite my efforts to contact him.

I got to know Per in the late 1980s when he was lobbying the USOC to accept Orienteering as an Olympic sport. We had gained Group C status, but Per was going for full Olympic standing in the US, a stepping stone to becoming recognized by the IOC. He was supposed to attend a USOC meeting in Dallas, TX where I was living, but he could not make it and so asked me to take his place. I did not feel qualified to represent USOF (OUSA) but since I was a US Orienteering team hopeful at the time , he pushed me to make a presentation from the athlete’s perspective. I learned a lot from that and subsequent experiences about how the USOC worked, and about Per’s ability to inspire others to help reach his goals. I got to know him and respect him. I will always remember being at the banquet after WOC 1989 in Sweden, when he was president of USOF, sharing a secret with him while we danced: I had become engaged to fellow orienteer Carl Childs. I had to keep the news secret during the training and competitions in order to not allow it to break my focus on my races. He shared my joy with me and remained my friend in the years ahead.

Soon after WOC 1989, Per became busy with organizing the 1993 WOC in New York. Those who helped with that very successful event know the Herculean effort it took and know there were controversies along the way, but under Per’s competent leadership, we put on an event which all of US orienteers we’re proud of. Per pulled away from the sport afterward, but we kept in touch over the years until the last few.

I am hoping that someone knows how he spent his last few years. When his son Jan died tragically in a car accident (2015?), Per was devastated. His daughter-in-law returned to Sweden with his grandchildren. Then Eva died. I could not get him to respond to letters nor phone messages. I tried again recently to no avail. So if anyone was in touch with him, please share what you may know about him. I am very sad that I never got to see him or talk to him again and now he is gone.

If anyone has stories about him, please share those, too. To me, he was a smart, bold, kind and caring man who shared my love of orienteering. He was my friend. I will miss him.
Aug 22, 2020 8:30 PM # 
Big Jon:
I ran at both WOC '93 and the Veteran World Cup in '97 - 2 of the most interesting race weeks I have ever done - great areas, superb maps and top class courses. All respect to Per for helping make these superb events happen.
Aug 23, 2020 2:21 PM # 
I never knew Per well, but in my limited experience, he was certainly a dynamo driving the WOC '93 planning, and constantly working to promote and grow the recognition of orienteering. His energy and enthusiasm for our sport will be missed.
Aug 23, 2020 8:52 PM # 
This is sad news. Thanks Mary Jo for sharing your memories. I didn’t know him nearly as well but I had a great deal of respect for him.
Aug 23, 2020 9:27 PM # 
Per goes back more than thirty years, maybe even to forty. We were casual friends, he living in NC, me living in Massachusetts. His being a half generation older meant we competed on different courses as well. Per was involved in orienteering at a national and even international level, my involvement was with a few local Boston-area clubs. I left orienteering from 1984-1991, formative years for the sport.

Wherever there was an O meet on the eastern seaboard, it was likely Per would be there. He’d come in a rented car, stay at a motel, socialize and be gone. In those days, he was working for Ciba-Geigy in an environment affairs directorship position and living in North Carolina but his work demanded travel.

In later years, he lived in New Hampshire which became my state as well. At one time, I worked in New London and visited him at his home there. At some point in time, also long ago, Beth and I (with Jim and Mil Plant of NEOC) visited Per and Eva at their beloved blueberry farm in Maine.

A few years ago, I learned from his son Per Olla that Per was in assisted living in Concord, right next door to us. I visited him on several occasions the second half of 2018 and the first part of 2019. I would usually take O maps and related magazines and photographs to engage his memory. On my last few visits, he didn’t know who I was but on one when I showed him the WOC ’93 map and related old photos, he lit up. It was a particularly nice visit, reminiscing about mutual orienteering history Per didn’t really recall but had a feeling for, enough so that it brought tears to his eyes, on which he commented.

The last time I went, Per looked at me with no sign of recognition.


It could be said ‘Heaven’ is the woods, with map and compass for guidance.

"See you in the woods, Per".
Aug 23, 2020 10:20 PM # 
Bob, thank you for filling in important but very sad information about Per's last few years. That is so touching that WOC '93 was still able to break through to the far reaches of his memory. "See you in the woods, Per."
Aug 24, 2020 1:23 PM # 
Thank you Bob and Mary Jo for sharing. Like Peggy, I did not know Per personally very well; his friendship was much more so with my father than I, I think mainly through their work on the Veterans 97 event. And I had noticed that dad stopped receiving Christmas letters a few years back and wondered. Per will be missed, but I will think of him every time I pass by the blueberry bushes here in western Sweden.
Aug 24, 2020 11:39 PM # 
Thanks for everybody's comments.
This is tough to think about.

I have fond personal memories of Per getting along well with my mother, sharing an overlapping orienteering background in post war Norway.

For my generation, it strikes me that Per did more than anyone else to advocate for, and champion the interests of US orienteering on the international stage, primarily with the IOF.
I owe Per a big debt of gratitude, on multiple counts, related to his efforts in this arena, on my, and our behalf.
Aug 25, 2020 3:53 PM # 
We ran into Per while skiing at Craftsbury quite a few years ago, after he had left the orienteering scene. It was such a pleasant surprise to run into him on the trail and have a chance to chat with him. I first got to know Per when I was elected to the BOD. He was very helpful and provided much needed guidance. I was always amazed at his dedication to USOF and the amount of time and effort he put into the sport.
Aug 30, 2020 4:00 PM # 
I remember the "prime of life" competitors, our sport's rat pack: Per Stensby, Larry Berman, Al Smith, and Russ Bruce. There were others but these guys I remember meet after meet were always vying for the top spot in the older men's categories. They all enjoyed their competition. Their example inspires me to keep orienteering.
Aug 30, 2020 5:47 PM # 
You're going to scare Larry.
Sep 3, 2020 10:03 PM # 
Another bit of Per trivia: He was one of only five North Americans to have received the IOF Bronze Pin for service to International Orienteering.
Sep 15, 2020 10:57 PM # 
More Per trivia-
I was fortunate to receive a copy of an extensive life summary prepared by Per's family.
viewable here:

Within the section devoted to orienteering, I was struck by "...most notably he was Norwegian, Swiss, and US Champion in Orienteering.

I can't vouch for all this, but assuming this is accurate, how many people can claim this accomplishment, or even something similar?
Granted, national champion definitions can vary, but I'm rather sure Per was a legal resident, if not actual citizen, in each country.
Sep 19, 2020 7:04 PM # 
He is not ever listed as US Elite Champion but held his age group Champion title a few times.

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