Sunday, September 30, 2012

Town and Country - to define a community


It is true.  I have been too busy to blog lately.  Why, you ask?  Several reasons, listed for your understanding:
  1. I am the mother of a soon to be 4 year old.... who is now a preschooler at Wiggles and Giggles, started First Lutheran Church school this fall, and is soon to be a Badlands Gymnastics Tot (just like his Momma, who was in the very first class when the club first started in Watford City back in the early 1980's).
  2. We ranch and are therefore small business owners and operators.
  3. I recently went back to work selling my time and talents (debatable as to what they really are and what their value is, if any) to an agri-service business essential to our rural, ranching based community.  That gig started the end of August.
  4. I have signed on to a committee that raises funds for the continual improvement of the McKenzie County Health Care System (which includes the McKenzie County Hospital and Clinic, the Good Shepard Home and Horizon's Assisted Living, and the Healthy Hearts Wellness Center).  We are currently raising funds for our upcoming New Years Eve Event, Boots and Bling which will benefit the Clinic and it's need for equipment to improve efficiency to serve the rapidly growing population base of the county.
  5. My RLND (Rural Leadership North Dakota) project is in full swing.... and thus the primary topic for today, along with some thought provoking ideas on defining and valuing 'community' (which might lead to a bit of venting on the Bakken play and the North Dakota state government's role in my need for venting).
I started a NDSU Extension adult leadership class in December of 2011.  It has been a wonderful experience and the 18 months are proving to fly by.  One of the goals for the class beyond building a network of rural community leaders in North Dakota (to strengthen the voice of rural North Dakota) was to select an individual project.  The project was  to be one of personal interest which would bring a voice to each participants defined community.  Seems simple, but it isn't that cut and dry.  I am a part of many communities:  the Angus and Quarter Horse COMMUNITIES, a local, state, and national ranching COMMUNITY, the Tang, Best, Dahl, Levang, and Hovet (our families) COMMUNITIES, the western North Dakota COMMUNITY, the McKenzie County COMMUNITY, the Watford City COMMUNITY........ you get my point. 

After much thought and deliberation, the community that I felt needed a voice was our local geographical community of Watford City and McKenzie County.

NEWS & VENTING ALERT.......  Oil has been found here and although it has ensured the short term success of Main Street Watford City businesses, of mineral owners and of surface owners willing to sell their land at the current values, it has also put great stress on many folks and resources caught in the cross hairs of this modern day gold rush.  Currently, oil is king and it sets the standards for almost everything locally from the average commute times on the roads (which for the most part have doubled), to the crime rate (which I don't know what to say about that as it was nearly non-existent prior to the Bakken boom), to the starting hourly wage employers pay for basic employee skills (which are safety netted on a federal level in the rest of the country, but need not be here with only 2.7% unemployment).  Have I mentioned that although 8% unemployment is not good for a country, 2.7% unemployment is not good for a COMMUNITY.

Back to COMMUNITY.... I LOVE Watford City and McKenzie County.  From the time I packed my bags in the trunk of my Honda Accord and headed to NDSU in the fall of 1993 there was a constant pull back to this place.  Back to the community that celebrates it's youth and supported their endeavors.  Back to the place where champions are made through hard work, community support, and steady coaching and guidance by the best teachers and coaches in their fields.  Back to the place where our ranch just so happens to be.  The beautiful and secluded badlands near where Cherry Creek flows into the Little Missouri.  Where TR in his ranching days chased down and apprehended boat thieves and near where the first homestead claim in McKenzie County was made.  Where my sister and I climbed clay buttes and rode our horses all summer long, not thinking about the fact that our kids might not have these same opportunities.  Not realizing that things might change.......

So here I am.  Making sure that our story is told.  Making sure that this way of life, which has made 'champions in life' be told and celebrated.  Making sure that if people come here for fame and fortune or for a fresh start, that they understand this place is more than that.  That it is people who care about their neighbors.  That it is people who care about their youth.  That it is people who care about their land and where they came from.  That it is people who care about their community.... We care so much that this change hurts.  It is hard.  We worry about our families, our neighbors, our community servants.  We hold strong, together, for a quite moment, a peaceful presence, a cherished memory of what our community was.  And then we fight, together, for a bright future and a strong, reinvented community.  One, that although it will look different, will still value, cherish and celebrate what makes us US... and thus makes us COMMUNITY!

Media Men, Inc - Cody Schimick and Dan Lee (both WCHS class of 1991 graduates) were back for a week mid-September filming for the documentary, 'Cowboys and Crude - the story of McKenzie County'.  This project is primarily being funded by the Watford City Roughrider Fund, a half percent sales tax which benefits the Watford City community through funding community projects.  The goal of the documentary is to provide web support to the county's website for professional and tourism recruitment by creating clips for the website.  Additionally, a high quality, edited, voiced over documentary will tell the 'story of us'.

On the first day, we followed Mayor, Brent Sanford around and interviewed him.  The second day we watched the Watford City Wolves football team win their Homecoming game and upset the Velva Aggies.  Throughout the week we interviewed many people and listened to them tell their stories of family and community during the quiet times and the lean years.  I listened to my grandma tell of her childhood, growing up in south McKenzie County in a tar paper shack with her folks and siblings.  She was born in 1918 and she told of hard work, tough winters, determination, family, community, education, how her parents met and why they came to McKenzie County.  It was for the same reason many are coming here now.  For opportunity and fresh starts.

We learned of the strong ranching heritage of the west river country, of the making of the federal grasslands, of the great depression, of the previous two oil booms and what the Risser meant to McKenzie County.  We visited with Coach Fridley and gained insight into what motivates him to keep on inspiring young men to dig deeper for 'team' and protect that blind side.  We learned that when the last lynching in North Dakota took place, it was for reasons other than revenge.

Cody and Dan capturing the ground breaking of an income based housing project which was a combined effort of non-profit, private business (MBI) and government entities for the community of Watford City.  This project should provide much needed affordable housing for nurses, teachers and other essential service providers who are currently competing head to head with oil industry employees for housing.

Cody setting up for an interview with Watford City Mayor, Brent Sanford.

Checking the lighting before Mayor Sanford's interview.

Filming of the McKenzie County Heritage Days.  The Leiseth family provided the horse power for the thrashing demonstration.

Marlene Levang-Thompson overlooking her family land and cattle.  She shared with us insight into the first two oil booms in McKenzie County.

Dan, myself and Cody wrapping up the week after our last interview.  It was a great week.

I have always wondered why when others I grew up with were aspiring to "get out of this place", why I did not feel this way.  I can tell you that beyond all else, I needs to be close to my roots, which are here.  Whether it is out of fear of losing them, or true, deep love for them, I do not know.  I suspect it is both.  I KNOW beyond all else, I need to be near this place.  Not even the temporary nuisances (which will pass) created by this current Bakken boom can tare me away..... 


  1. Absolutely love your writing. And the stories you tell. I admire you and am jealous of you all in the same breath. :) The amount of love and commitment you have to the community as well as the lifestyle is amazing, and if every person (wherever they may be) could have even half of that passion - the world would be a better place. :)

  2. Thanks so much Nancy. Really appreciate that...

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