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It's The PeopleIt's The People
Jerry Richardson


I always knew I had the best job on the campus, maybe in Fargo, maybe in North Dakota ...
Members of the faculty tend to be marooned in their classrooms, labs and departmental coffee lounges. Administrators are expected to hobnob with others of their ilk, all the while attending meetings of numbing length.

Support personnel are trapped in their little cubicles save occasional excursions to the Union or the Bison Turf.

But our jobs, in the Office of Communications and University Relations, in the words of a well-known graphic designer of the day, were to “get out, walk around and report the scene.”

What a treat! We had the privilege, pleasure and honor of meeting a whole lot of NDSU’s people over the years—students, faculty, administrators, support staff and, most of all, its graduates. And the perfect excuse to sit down and ask them to tell us about themselves, take their pictures and write about them. And we even got paid for doing that.

Bob Crom, Don Schwartz, Beth Rochefort and Tom Goodale had set the tone for the Office of Communications and University Relations well before I got there. It was September of 1963. Bob had just returned from a year’s leave which he had used to orchestrate a name change for the doughty North Dakota Agricultural College to that of North Dakota State University. It was a team of bright, young, enthusiastic people, eager to get on with their lives and careers.


Three of the five were single and therefore available for 50-60 hours a week or more. NDSU was a very big part of their (and all of our) lives. We attended the plays, concerts, football and basketball games, track meets, chaperoned fraternity term parties, attended alumni functions and banquets—quite a few of those perhaps a bit “above and beyond the call” of our job descriptions. It was taken for granted that you would put in eight hours in the office, then move on to other things during evenings and weekends.

Jerry Lingen had taken over the Alumni Association about the same time I joined the staff as news bureau editor. He was so hopelessly understaffed (himself and a secretary), that he seemed grateful for any help we were willing to give—editing Bison Briefs, putting Homecoming banquet programs together, or volunteering to attend an alumni chapter meeting in Des Moines, Madison, Indianapolis, Kansas City or Zap.

Not surprisingly, one by one, that first group of people moved on to what they perceived to be greener (or at least warmer) pastures, but by then the pattern was well established, and in a somewhat different sense, continues to persist to this day.

Black BarIrv and Marie RectorDon SchwartzLes PavekBlack Bar
(L to R) Irv and Marie Rector, Don Schwartz, Les Pavek

Looking back on three very stimulating decades, there are lots of highlights that stand out:
• Being picked up out of a crowd of fellow tourists at the front gate of Windsor Castle by Irv and Marie Rector in the Burroughs Corporation’s sleek Daimler limousine and driven by “Reg,” the chauffeur, to their elegant flat on London’s Hyde Park.

• Sitting in the Washington Bureau of ABC with Howard K. Smith and Sam Donaldson on the night Richard Nixon turned over his tapes while NDSU’s John Lynch, chief of the network’s Washington Bureau, orchestrated the pool production from the White House.

• Getting a dinnertime phone call at home from Mike Hurdelbrink in Cleveland, announcing “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a story in Bison Briefs! Jim Critchfield has been under cover for 30 years with the CIA, but he’s retired now. I think he’d be willing to talk.” (It turned out that he was, having just gotten back from advising the Sultan of Oman on his country’s infrastructure.)

• Taking Bob Hendrickson’s picture and interviewing him in his office on the 50th floor of the Equitable Building in the heart of Manhattan.

• Listening to Ben Barrett recount how Maj. James A. Ulio, later Adjutant General of the whole U.S. Army in WWII, told him to suck in his stomach while standing in the ranks in front of Festival Hall.

• Driving into San Francisco for a dinner in Chinatown with my wife, Lou, and Tomm Smail, the only Bison player who had warmed the bench during our Camellia Bowl victory and didn’t feel like celebrating. (The next year Smail was chosen MVP.)

• Having Steve Sando come down from the class we taught in the old gym on the top floor of Ceres Hall and announce with a roll of his eyes, “We had the lecture on the history of type.”

• Having Gov. Art Link and his wife walk up to your table at a Memorial Union banquet and inquire politely, “Mind if we join you?” (It was the night Peggy Lee sang on the campus.)

• Getting a four-word phone call from President Laurel Loftsgard in Old Main—“Can you come over? ” It always made you feel like General Halftrack at Camp Swampy, getting a phone call from the Pentagon.


Black BarArthur LinkH. R. AlbrechtPeggy LeeBlack Bar
(L to R) Art Link, H. R. Albrecht, Peggy Lee

We could go on ...
Those are just a few examples of why it was almost always fun to show up for work at the Office of Communications and University Relations on the first floor of Ceres Hall.

To be honest, of course, it wasn’t always like that. There were those inevitable days when it seemed like I had the worst job in town.

The Forum didn’t run a story you had knocked yourself out writing and checking for accuracy, and that everyone was expecting to see in the paper. (Ruined quite a few Sunday mornings at home.)

There were inevitably days like that.

The common thread in it all, however, as NDSU’s new President Joe Chapman perceptively observed at his inauguration, was: “The people of NDSU.”

Are they—NDSU’s students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni—really any different from any other random assortment of people you might run into in Seattle; Columbus, Ga.; Manhattan, Kansas; Inchon, Korea; or Brookings, S.D., (all places we had the sometimes dubious pleasure of working and living)? Maybe not. With luck, you’re likely to run into good ones virtually regardless of where you go.

Still, it may be a figment of our imagination or what a behavioral scientist might call “structuring your perceptions,” there is something naggingly different about North Dakotans in general, people from this region, and NDSU’s people in particular that we had the good fortune to meet, come to know and work with over the years.

Basic decency; openness; approachability; the virtual absence of pettiness, pretense or snobbery. Qualities you can’t quite put your finger on, but don’t always encounter elsewhere. Whatever it is, we’re convinced it’s worth preserving and is not something to be taken lightly. It goes back to little things like having the state’s governor call you by your first name. And regardless of where you run into NDSU’s people— Washington, New York, London or Grassy Butte—those qualities seem to persist throughout their lives.

Is it truly a special place? Face it, it’s probably not the Harvard of the Prairies, or the West Point of the Plains (as South Dakota State once described itself). What it is, however, is exactly the kind of university Justin Morrill and his pals had in mind around the time of the Civil War, when they created a system of public universities intended to be “of, by and for the people of their states.”

What’s the message in all of this for members of the faculty, students, administrators, alumni and the Legislative Appropriations Committee? NDSU deserves the best you have to offer, to be prized, nurtured, respected and perpetuated. It’s a legacy handed down from the people who created North Dakota and its land-grant university more than a century ago.

It was an honor and a privilege to have played a part in all of that. And quite a lot of fun as well.


— Jerry Richardson
gerald_richardson@ndsu.edu


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Laura McDaniel: laura_mcdaniel@ndsu.edu
Last Updated: Monday, 05-Jan-2009 14:05:00 CDT
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