Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Unique towns on the prairie...

Posted 1/19/21 (Tue)

When you drive past any small town on the North Dakota prairie, and quite frankly many other states like South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas, they all look the same.

Each one of them has at least one grain elevator and one water tower. In most cases, the old wooden prairie skyscraper has been replaced with more modern concrete silos.

They all look the same, Berthold, Munich, Edgeley, Litchville, Elgin, Lakota, Mott, Stanton and the list goes on. All these communities were likely built along a rail line, thus the elevators emerged and later city water.

Yes, they all look the same, but rest assured, each one is different. Each of these communities has a personality and each community, no matter how small or how large, has unique personalities within it.

If you pass through these and many other small towns, you might not experience this. But if you are there for any length of time, you will begin to see why each place is unique.

Take Berthold for example. Here’s a community on the outskirts of oil country that saw a lot of growing pains during the Bakken boom. It tried to maintain its “small town like we all know it” kind of psyche, but oil changed that, at least for a while.

Within that community there are several unique personalities, but the one who seems to stand out the most is Al Schmidt.

He is the police chief who has been in Berthold almost nine years. In that time, he has taken numerous high profile criminals off the street, including a captain at the Minot Air Force Base who was running a prostitution ring in Minot, and one of the most wanted criminals in the state of Arizona.

People are amazed at how Schmidt continues to pick up the worst of the worst. He says he’s just doing his job.

Sykeston is another example of being unique. This community is sandwiched in between Carrington and Fessenden and was overshadowed for years because of that.

The small town in Wells County was just another prairie town until Travis Hafner grew up.

Hafner spent many years in Major League Baseball, mostly with the Cleveland Indians. Jamestown was always proud of itself when Darin Erstad broke into the Majors, but Jamestown is a small city and Sykeston is a small town of 117 people. It certainly has its pride now.

In Lakota, you wouldn’t notice anything different about it except maybe that it’s the Nelson County seat.

Lakota (population 700) gained notoriety several years ago when its only bank was robbed on a bright, sunny afternoon.

What’s unique about Lakota is the families who take in a disproportionate number of foster children. These people are to be commended for their efforts in helping those who are in need.

Hazelton was just another small town until 1999 when a bond issue passed overwhelmingly to build a new school, which surprised even some of the people who voted in favor of it.

When Dennis Farrey heard about the bond issue passing, he donated a $1 million match so a better school could be built. Farrey grew up in Hazelton in the 1950s, moved to California after high school and became wealthy. His gift was to give back to the hometown he never forgot.

Some communities have more than one unique aspect such as Wishek, made famous by its annual Sauerkraut Day in October.

What many people don’t know is that the Super Valu store churns out bologna and sausage that is sold all across the state and beyond.

Long before Sauerkraut Day was a thing, Wishek made national news when a local man was arrested for DUI while driving his tractor in town. Instead of crawling under a rock to hide, he started riding his horse to the local tavern.

LaMoure has been a unique small town too because it had a Coast Guard station. How could a landlocked county in a landlocked state have Coast Guard?

As it turned out, there was a radio tower just west of town, manned by the Coast Guard, that received transmissions from the Atlantic and sent them to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa.

Amidon (population 22) is known as the smallest county seat in the state. What most people don’t know is that a law enforcement officer sits on the edge of town waiting for speeders. He’s a mannequin sitting in a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police car.

Yes, every town has a story that more of us should get to know.