Arne Lundquist, who lived on his own terms, dies at age 91

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Katy Read, Star Tribune
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Unique, interesting, complicated, one-of-a-kind — these are the sorts of words people reach for when asked to describe Arne Lundquist.

"I've never met anybody like him," said his friend Bill Tresch. "He was a complicated person, no doubt about it."

"He lived a quiet, contented and intellectually vibrant life on his own terms," said another of his close friends, Lee Lewis.

Lundquist died Feb. 25 of complications from a hip fracture sustained in a fall. He was 91.

No single word or phrase encompasses Lundquist's eclectic mix of particular and sometimes contradictory traits. Obstinate but lovable. Introverted but sociable. A natty dresser despite his old and rumpled wardrobe.

"You could mistake him for a homeless person, but he assembled it well," Tresch said.

Lundquist never owned a computer or car, didn't travel, never married and never worked a high-paying job — nor did he show any sign of missing those things. His formal education ended after high school, but he was a self-taught scholar of art, literature, music and baseball.

"He was a kind, compassionate and humble guy with many passionate interests that made conversations with him fascinating and lively," Lewis said. "His housekeeping and lawn maintenance, however, left something to be desired."

Lundquist lived his whole life in the same tiny Minneapolis house where he was born to Swedish immigrants. It was crammed with books and records, the walls festooned with homages to art: posters of paintings by French artist Henri Matisse, pictures of Greta Garbo and of jazz musicians Bix Beiderbecke and Lester Young — "little things that he wrote and just taped to the walls," Tresch said.

Tresch said he once spotted an envelope on which Lund­quist had scrawled a note: "The sole end of art is aesthetic bliss." It's a paraphrase of a passage by Vladimir Nabokov — one of his favorite writers, along with Shakespeare and Jack Kerouac.

Tresch, Lewis and two other friends, Kathleen Heaney and Dave Brus, met Lundquist at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, which Lundquist frequented for years. The foursome, all two or three decades younger than Lundquist, looked out for his welfare, independent though he was. They called themselves Team Arne.

He walked a lot, often to Buster's on 28th for a beer and light lunch. He paid frequent visits to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, often to gaze at Rembrandt's "Lucretia." He stood in the rush line to see plays at the Guthrie Theater.

"He was one of the best appreciators of good human endeavor," Tresch said.

That included professional athletes, "whose grace and athleticism moved him," Brus said. One day, Brus said, he found his friend perusing a baseball almanac full of history, records and stats. "He said, 'You know, I was going through it and the score of the World Series in such and such a year in Game 5 — they got it wrong.' I thought, 'Wow, how would you even know?' " Brus said.

"His memory was wicked," Lewis said. One time Lewis mentioned Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, and Lundquist said he'd heard the Minnesota Orchestra play it in 1963: "[Stanisław] Skrowaczewski conducted. It wasn't the high point of the concert."

Lundquist had a habit of saying "I love you," with complete sincerity, to his friends and to waitresses at Buster's.

"Oh, all the time!" said Angela Perron, who has worked there for 12 years. "Not in a weird, creepy way ... just in an Arne way."

He is survived by a sister, Mildred Edwardson of Bloomington. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

Katy Read • 612-673-4583