George Albert Sinner was born on May 29, 1928, in Fargo, North Dakota. He was the youngest of four children born to Albert Francis and Katherine Augusta (Wild) Sinner. He attended public school in Casselton, North Dakota, before graduating in 1946 from St. John's Prep School in Collegeville, Minnesota, with a high school diploma.
He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from St. John's University in Collegeville in 1950. He joined the United States Air Force, as part of the North Dakota Air National Guard, on April 1, 1951, in Fargo. His unit, the 178th Fighter Squadron, was activated for duty during the Korean War, and was stationed in Valdosta, Georgia, and Adelanto, California. He separated from the Air Force on August 21, 1952.
George Sinner married Elizabeth Jane Baute of Lebanon, Kentucky, on August 10, 1951. The ceremony took place in Valdosta, several days before Sinner's unit was transferred to California. They had met on a blind date while Sinner was at a conference in St. Louis in September 1950. The couple had a total of ten children: Robert, George, Elizabeth, Martha, Paula, Mary Jo, James, Gerard, Joseph, and Eric.
Following the end of his military career, he returned to Casselton to work on the family farm with his father. He later formed the Sinner Brothers and Bresnahan Farming Operation with his brother, Bill, and his brother-in-law, Ellery Bresnahan.
A member of the Democrat/Nonpartisan League Party, Sinner served the 10th District in the North Dakota State Senate from 1962-1966. In 1964, Sinner unsuccessfully challenged the Republican Mark Andrews for a seat in the United States House of Representatives.
In 1966, Sinner was appointed to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education by Governor William Guy, and served as Board President in 1970. His seven-year term on the Board was marked by his drive to create the Tri-College University Consortium, among North Dakota State University, Moorhead State University, and Concordia College. Students at each of three institutions were allowed to take courses for credit at any of the neighboring campuses. Sinner also served as a delegate to the North Dakota Constitutional Convention in 1971-72.
He won a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1982, and won the Democratic/NPL nomination for Governor in 1984. He defeated the incumbent Republican Al Olson in the fall election, and won re-election in 1988. His eight years in office were marked by a financial crisis caused in part by the worst droughts seen in the state since the 1930s. Sinner also directed reorganization in state government, especially in the Economic Development Commission. With his support, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department held the first Prairie Rose State Games in 1987. He was also in office during North Dakota's Centennial Observance in 1989, and witnessed the call-up of the North Dakota National Guard during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
During his tenure as Governor, he was an active member of the National Governors' Association. He chaired the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and was co-chair of the United States-Canada Task Force from 1986-1987. He also became the first North Dakota Governor to chair the 29 state Interstate Oil Compact Commission.
Following his second term, Sinner served as Vice President of Public and Government Relations for the Crystal Sugar Company in Moorhead, Minnesota. Throughout his career, he remained active in his farming operation near Casselton.
Sinner has been active in a number of professional, educational, and civic groups, including: the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the North Dakota Farmers' Union, the North Dakota Public Broadcasting Council, the Greater North Dakota Association, and the Casselton PTA. Sinner founded and served as the first President for the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association from 1975-1979. He was also a founder and the first chairman of the Northern Crops Institute, a four state international marketing and educational organization headquartered at North Dakota State University in Fargo.
The George Sinner Papers have been divided into three series:
Series 1: North Dakota Constitutional Convention, 1971-1972
Series 2: North Dakota State Board of Higher Education
Series 3: Biographical Material