Bernt Lloyd Wills was born on July 24, 1909 in Drake, N.D. He grew up in Central Montana, but graduated from high school in Casselton, North Dakota. He taught and administered public schools in North Dakota from 1928 to 1942. In 1934, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Valley City State Teachers College in Valley City, North Dakota. In 1937 he received a Master of Arts degree from Montana State University, Missoula, Montana. He earned a Ph. D from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1953.
Wills started teaching geography at the University of North Dakota in 1943. From 1944-1946, he served in the United States Navy. Upon his return in 1946, he was named chairman of an independent geography department at UND. In 1963, he wrote a book entitled North Dakota: The Northern Prairie State. He stepped down from his chairmanship in 1964 to resume as a full time professor. In 1967, he wrote a second book entitled North Dakota Geography and Early History. Upon completion of the book, he left for Australia and New Zealand for a year long sabbatical. He was awarded the Alumni Association Award for outstanding teaching in 1976.
Dr. Wills served as National Vice President of Gamma Theta Upsilon, a national professional geographic fraternity, from 1953-1955 and as National President from 1955-1957. He was the first president of the Association of North Dakota Geographers, and also served as an editor of “The Bulletin,” for ten years. He was also a member of the Association of American Geographers, National Council for Geographic Education, North Dakota Academy of Science, and was listed in Who’s Who in American Men of Science.
Wills was involved in many activities around the community, including the Grand Forks Ballet Company, the Grand Forks School Board, and the Boy Scouts of America. He also belonged to Wesley United Methodist Church and served as a youth leader, a lay speaker, and as a member of its board of directors.
On September 25, 1937 he married Evelyn Whitt in Ferdig, Montana. They had two children, James and Karen. Bernt Wills died on July 28, 1985 in Grand Forks.
Books written by Bernt Wills:
North Dakota Geography and Early History. Grand Forks, 1967.
North Dakota, the Northern Prairie State. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1975.
The Bernt Wills Papers have been divided into six series:
Series 1: Personal Materials
Series 2: UND Department of Geography
Series 3: Reports and Speeches
Series 4: Organizations
Series 5: Course Materials
Series 6: North Dakota: The Northern Prairie State
Thirty two photographs were separated and placed in the Photograph File Cabinets.