Welcome home to new Dickinson

Congratulations to everyone celebrating a class reunion this week, and welcome home to those who live elsewhere and are back to reconnect with your classmates.

Thomas Wolfe’s novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” wasn’t written about high school reunions but, for the most part, you can come pretty close by reminiscing with your old chums. High school is a monumental time in our lives and the friendships we develop with others, more often than not, stand the test of time.

Obviously our town has changed from the Dickinson you grew up in 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 or more years ago.

To begin with, there is just a heck of a lot more people and town than you knew even a decade ago. Your favorite country parking or party spot could be one of the countless new subdivisions or contain oil wells. Cruising Villard Street or Third Avenue, affectionately known as Main, today could require sitting through a couple red lights, dodging oil trucks and dragging vehicles with state license plates from anywhere but North Dakota.

Don’t be disappointed that you hardly recognize anybody if you are out and about, because those of us who live here permanently don’t either. How long have you lived here has replaced talk about the weather. A long-term resident is someone who has lived here a year or more. Roughrider Days, Christmas and hunting season used to be about the only time folks visited Dickinson. But these days there are far more visitors than locals. Going for a drive to count new subdivisions, motels and apartments is a new Sunday afternoon ritual for folks who have lived here for a while.

Having dinner with friends at the Queen City Supper, German Hungarian, or St. Anthony Clubs is no longer an option, nor is stopping at the A&W Drive In after cruising Villard and Main.

You can, however, still get a great steak at the Elks, or new spots like the Brickhouse Grill. Favorite old pizza spots like Eva’s and A&B have been replaced with chains like everywhere else in the country. Fast-food places employ a lot of international workers and require a little more patience and time for your order. Dickinson now has just about every cuisine in the world, including a new sushi bar, which may be the best example how much the town has changed.

These are exciting times in western North Dakota. The Bakkan oil play is the biggest economic story in North Dakota history.

The rapid growth has presented challenges, as well as incredible opportunities. Dickinson has adapted as quickly and as well as possible to this unprecedented oil play. Our economy is the envy of most parts of the country. Every business is hiring and unemployment in western North Dakota is only for folks who don’t want to work.

I hope you have a great time and enjoy your time with family and friends in the new Dickinson. You will find, despite the many changes, it is still a great city to call home.

Chancellor Envy

I confess that I commit more than my share of the seven deadly sins on a daily if not hourly basis. Tuesday morning topping the list was number 4 Envy ( Jealousy; wanting to have what someone has) while reading the story about the State Board of Higher Education voting to remove Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and buying him out of his three-year contract. Monday the board took up a proposal Shirvani submitted more than a week earlier to either allow him to continue his three-year contract with “complete autonomy and full support of the board” or buy out his contract.  The whole board chose the latter which Shirvani said he was fine with.

Not hard to understand why.  Shirvani will receive his salary, benefits and retirement over the next two years. Roughly $800,000 based on his annual salary of $349,000 a year, plus scheduled pay raises, and planned retirement contributions, and health benefits.  However for the next six months the poor man will have to serve as chancellor with no responsibilities, be the appointed commissioner to three higher education organizations, and serve as a consultant to the North Dakota University System and “reasonably” cooperate when requested to provide information. Based on his past performance I can’t imagine that will be worth $800,000 plus to North Dakota.

I’m envious because my current contact like everyone else who works in the in the private sector is basically produce or be fired.  My only buyout would be vacation I have accrued and can’t seem to find time to take. Which is all that I would have if I called the kind folks who pay me every two weeks and propose doing my job with complete autonomy and full support or else.

Hey but a contract is contract and to his credit he did negotiate it and stands to reap the benefits. No wonder he was commissioner of higher education, because you must be extremely educated and smart to work out a contact that entitles you to the same compensation at your vocation no matter if the results of your actions are good or bad. I don’t know what it says about on the other side of contract negotiations.

Oh yea did I mention after it is all said and done he will still be able to receive his salary and benefits if he takes another job.  I have to confess writing to what some consider the 8th deadly sin anger at the North Dakota Higher Board of Education who hired and agreed to pay him over a million dollars for a job left undone.

Self-absorbed Shirvani column off the mark

I’m not a native North Dakotan so perhaps it is why I admire the state so much. People in North Dakotas are consistent, hardy, hardworking, creative, honest and so much in making the state such a great place to live.

I always thought the quality of North Dakota schools played a huge part in their citizenship. I think those who have graduated from the university system feel their experience prepared them for a changing world.

So I was surprised of the assertion in yesterday’s editorial colum by Hamid Shirvani, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, that the system he inherited was in such disrepair in preparing students for that changing future.

Shirvani criticized our state’s higher education as one that avoids using national averages, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System peers and aspirational peers, ignores “best practices” unless they are homegrown.

Shirvani was hired to improve an educational system that was considered by most far from broken. Education, like anything important in life, is constantly changing and so should the university system. There will always be those who are resistant to change but moving slow and asking questions is not a bad thing.

Shirvani admitted that these past several months have been challenging for him and the members of the State Board of Higher Education. Their ideas were scrutinized by those he works for, which comes with the job. You would have thought he would have been aware of politics in our state and the State Board of Higher Education would have done a better job of preparing him for the fray. The board’s violation of the state’s open meeting laws did not help build trust with the Legislature and the public.

Citing the need for change, he referred in his editorial to the April 12, 1963, letter from eight Alabama clergymen who wrote Martin Luther King Jr. that his civil rights efforts in the city of Birmingham, Ala., were not only too much, too soon, but that as an “outsider,” his views and methods were deemed out of touch with the city’s historical values.

Shirvani wrote: “Believing as King did that ‘waiting’ means ‘never,’ permit me to suggest that educational transformation too long delayed is education denied.”

Comparing the need to the change North Dakota’s higher education system and his role of “outsider” to the need for basic civil rights in Alabama in 1963 and even the loosest comparison to Martin Luther King Jr. is shameful.

Dr. King pushed for basic human rights and there is nothing remotely similar to changing the state’s university system. He heroically fought to change a system he suffered in every day and his determination to do so ultimately cost him his life.

The chancellor’s editorial reads largely like someone so self-absorbed he can’t believe that his ideas and leadership style could be questioned and any problems are the result of those who would dare to do so.

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish with his column, but I doubt it will do little help him accomplish his objectives or endear himself to those who pay his salary.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press.

Barbershop wisdom

Most worthwhile wisdom I have acquired was outside of any classroom or textbook. I also know, for a fact, I never learned anything while talking.
One of the best places I’ve received valuable information is while sitting in a barber’s chair.
Barbershops, I have learned, are a great source for good and bad information — not only from the barber but customers as well. So, I shut up and listen.
Growing up in Arizona, my best friend’s dad owned the neighborhood barbershop.
Moreno Del Costello was all of 5-feet tall, joined the Navy and left his home in New Hampshire to fight in World War II halfway around the world in the Pacific. He was a true member of what Tom Brokaw described as “The Greatest Generation.”
Mr. Del Costello came home from the war to his native New England, married and moved to Tucson, Ariz., because doctors said the climate would be better for his new wife’s asthma.
Mr. Del Costello loved to hunt and fish with his two sons and generally enjoyed being outside in Arizona, and he never seemed to sit still for a moment.
He seemed to love his job and treated his customers like they were friends. He was an active member of his church and the Knights of Columbus, and was nice to me except when I accidently dribbled the basketball into his garden. I was taught to respect my elders and respecting Mr. Moreno was easy.
The only time we really ever talked was when I was in his barber chair.
I enjoyed listening to his views on sports, or the hunts that produced his many taxidermy mounts proudly hung on the barbershop wall, and only once do I remember him discussing politics.
Well, I guess it wasn’t much of a discussion.
I asked him who he was going to vote for president. He told me his policy was to vote for whoever would keep one party or the other from having a majority.
He told me that he was fearful if either party held the presidency or governorship at the same time, they controlled both House of Representatives and the Senate.
He told me citizens were far better off when one side could keep the other in check. He thought moderation and compromise were necessary before any worthwhile laws were made even — if that meant less would get done in Washington or Phoenix.
Being a very wise 17-year-old at the time, I questioned his wisdom but out of respect I kept those thoughts to myself.
I thought then that those charged with governing were the best and brightest of our state and country. Surely they would always put the overall good of the people they represent before pettiness and their own interests.
I seldom get a haircut without thinking of Mr. Del Costello, and four decades later and after watching the 2013 North Dakota legislative session unfold, I’m more inclined to appreciate his wisdom now than ever.

Closing Painted Canyon feels a lot like posturing

Not opening the Painted Canyon overlook this summer shouldn’t be an option.There has to be a way to safely allow for motorists passing through our state to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a few moments, even if the National Park Service can’t figure it out.People will stop to take in the view with or without an exit ramp — and that will be awful dangerous with the increased traffic in western North Dakota.Sorry at first glance if closing the overlook seems like the easiest way to make a statement about how the sequester effects TRNP.Park officials say their budget was cut 5 percent. Did they lay off 5 percent of their people? Couldn’t they reduce their operating hours by 5 percent? Could they seek volunteers to help man the visitor center at Painted Canyon?Unlike our state, the nation does not have a surplus because Congress and the president haven’t been able to think like private businesses and households. Federal agencies like the National Parks lack innovation when money is tight.Still, if TRNP can’t find a way to open the scenic overlook, than it’s time to let someone else be responsible for it. Why can’t they let the state operate it as a visitor center? Seek volunteers to man the center for blocks of hours during the day or let it join one of the many unmanned visitor centers along Interstate 94.The center has been an invaluable portal to our state and to close it during the tourist season seems beyond foolish.The state of North Dakota is spending hundreds of thousands dollars on tourism and keeping the Painted Canyon visitor center open would be relatively inexpensive.Think about how it looks for our state, in the midst of an historic economic boom and the envy of the country, to have arguably our most scenic vista closed because of out-of-state problems?

House Concurrent Resolution 3046

One of the best bumper stickers I ever saw said “Just be thankful we only get half the government we pay for.” So you can imagine I’m not a big fan of House Concurrent Resolution 3046 that would expand the legislature with the approval of the voters to 120 days from the current 80 days. The North Dakota constitution limits North Dakota legislative sessions to 80 days every two years. Primary sponsor Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo said the extra days would provide lawmakers with the flexibility to “address the changing landscape, politically and otherwise” in the state.  The last time the legislature expanded the days was in 1977 going from 60 days to the current 80 days. Kelsh stated the state had a budget of less than $1 billion during the 1975-77 biennium compared to a roughly $13 billion budget for the 2013-15 biennium. He added that in the past few sessions the Legislature has nearly reached the 80-day limit. Kelsh said it would provide lawmakers more time to better absorb the amount of information they receive and must weigh before voting on bills. Working at a newspaper I know a thing or two about deadlines. The worst thing I found you can do when folks are struggling to finish a task in an assigned time is to give them more time. Threaten to shrink the time and amazingly somehow the job gets done in the original allotted time. Representatives should recognize the difference between bills worthy of becoming law, and should not pursue bills that are trumped by federal law. There are plenty of federal laws that are not popular in North Dakota, but changing those are the work of our congressional delegation. Extending the legislature is going to cost more money for the extra days. Budget analysts say the North Dakota Legislative session costs taxpayers $65,000 a day and that comes to about $5.6 million over an 80-day session. The proposal that would add another 40 days would bump the cost by $2.6 million. That could be chump change considering all of the extra time for some to consider new ways to spend our tax dollars. I would think it would be tougher finishing on time with limited resources than the current surplus. North Dakota Legislators are very successful in large part because they meet only every other year and truly are citizen legislators. They have real jobs and homes in the communities they represent.   Legislators deserve our appreciation for the countless hours they put in before, during and after the sessions. The legislators are certainly underpaid for that commitment, but adding an additional 40 days away from their lives could be a significant deterrent to some seeking office.  North Dakota legislators are very talented people who truly care about the state they represent, and have done a great job representing us doing so much when resources were smaller before and now with the recent oil boom surplus. It will be curious to see how the current majority who preach smaller government vote on House Concurrent Resolution 3046.

Road Trip

I have taken many a road trip in my life, beginning with those Sunday afternoon drives with my parents that with any luck included an ice cream cone from the Tasty Freeze.  College road trips were similar but tamer than the one featured in National Lampoons Animal House. These days I try to make a point to take a road trip once a month around our area to keep up with all the building and drilling that is happening. I’m amazed at all that is new from one month to the next. New businesses and housing developments literally spring up from one trip to the next. This week I made a point to count new manufactured homes and apartments that are new in the last two to three years. Keeping a loose count in my head I counted over three thousand, and that was not including new town homes or houses. Conservatively estimating two persons per unit using my best third grade math there are logically over six thousand new folks living here that didn’t three years ago.  Add the folks living in houses and townhomes to the mix and probably another couple thousand.  Undoubtedly most have moved here to work in support of the oil boom, but who are they? The newspaper has done countless stories about new people and businesses to our area, but do we really know who these new people are?  Most seem to be hard working law abiding people who seem to live to work. Along with the newcomers sadly some folks couldn’t or didn’t want to adjust to the changes and have moved. Contrary to the naysayers our town at first glance hasn’t really changed as much one would think when a town has fifty percent more people living in it than it did three short years ago.  Certainly the area is busier, traffic has increased, rents have skyrocketed, help is hard to find, still crime hasn’t spiraled out of control, and folks seem to live pretty much as they did before the boom.  Our town is changing at an incredible pace. Most are excited for the new hospital, medical centers, shopping center, restaurants and schools that are being built. All of which are a result of the oil boom and our area’s newcomers.  During my monthly road trips it is fun to try and imagine what are city will city will look like ten, five or even one year from now.  Anyone with a little time on their hands should take a drive around Dickinson to see how much and fast our town is changing.

Self-proclaimed wimp takes trip to hospital

Seems like everyone I know has been sick this winter and flu and cold

season has been exceptionally hard on everyone.

Thankfully, I had dodged both and was one of the few folks at work who hadn’t missed a day. I have always been blessed with good health and couldn’t remember the last time I called in sick. Ten years ago?

Now there were some days I probably should have called in sick, but I love my job and

can’t stand sitting around.

I was that annoying guy who lacked empathy and smugly told everyone I didn’t get sick and bragged about never spending a day in the hospital but all that changed Jan. 8 when pain woke me up from a dead sleep.

The major reason I seldom get sick is because I am without a doubt the biggest wimp when ill with

even the smallest of ailment. In the wee hours of that morning I

experienced pain that required an emergency room visit that would only be appeased by really strong drugs. Kidney stones were detected, passed and I was sent home with instructions if I wasn’t better in a couple of days to see my own doctor. Things didn’t get better and that Friday my doctor thought I had a sick gall bladder which an ultrasound confirmed.

I was put in the hospital Friday night with surgery planned for Saturday. Removal required the relatively old-fashion surgery of being opened up and an additional five days in the hospital. My time in the hospital confirmed things I knew, what others have told me and taught me things I had no idea of.

First, I really am a big wimp and a horrible patient. Hospitals are nowhere to go to for rest, being sick will let you know who cares about you and nurses are the most underappreciated folks in health care. Did I say how miserable a patient I was?

My nurses were extremely professional and caring to me and several others despite working 13 to 15 hours a night.

The first night was the worst and each day I gradually got better while experiencing an appreciation for what nurses do for those most in need.

Thank you to my wife, the doctors, nurses and the folks at St Joseph’s for making me well, and for all the support, thoughts, prayers, cards, flowers, gifts and prepared meals from family, friends and employees at The Press.

I left the hospital with a new appreciation for the blessing of good health, praying I’ll never have to spend another night, but comforted knowing that if need be it will be there.

Dickinson Halloween

Three year-old Lady Bug Braelyn Versen helped her parents Mark and Jessie hand out treats for the Ramada Inn at Treat Street Monday night.

Some things people come to expect and look forward to like Halloween, and area kids and their parents have come to make Malloween and Treat Street a large part of a safe trick or treating experience. Malloween is held at Prarie Hills Mall where merchants hand out treats inside the mall and out of the weather. Malloween and Treat Street have been happening long enough that they certainly qualify as Dickinson traditions. To those new to the community Treat Street is where businesses gather at the Ramada Inn to hand out treats to kids. Kids like at the mall don’t have to brave the cold or snow  and are in a safe environment. Dan Porters Motors the Ramada Inn and businesses have partnered for years to make the event much enjoyed by kids and their parents. Until this year businesses would rent motel rooms at a fraction of the normal rate and decorate them for kids to travel through to pick up treats and be spooked in the process. This year it looked for a while there wouldn’t be a treat Street but at the 11th hour the Ramada Inn staff stepped up and rerouted kids through their beautiful new meeting rooms. The Ramada did a fantastic job decorating and directing traffic for the event. Thanks to the Ramada Inn the tradition continued uninterrupted. The Press was lucky enough to participate again and I think the new format was even an improvement to an already great family event. Once again there were really great costumes some store bought and others the product of great imagination. All of them took some planning before and on Halloween creating the type of memories that kids, parents and grandparents will remember forever. Bonita Ellis from our sales department and I handed out treats to probably a 1000 kids. Handing out candy is almost as much fun as getting it, and when people asked me how many kids we had for Trick or Treat the next day I could honestly answer over a 1000.  The Prairie Hills Mall and the Ramada Inn deserve a big thank you from our community for helping to insure that our community can continue to have a safe and fun Halloween. 

World Series


To every kid growing up in Arizona in the 60’s baseball was king. I played two innings in right field for Arizona Sash & Doors little league team, because everyone was guaranteed to play. Still despite a lack of talent I love to watch baseball and largely because the game hasn’t changed much in the last 150-years.  

My wife and I were lucky enough to catch a Texas Rangers game this spring and I have been pulling for them ever since my Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles fell out of contention sometime in late April, that and the fact they are playing the hated St Louis Cardinals the Cubs biggest rival. The one thing that has changed about baseball is how and when we watch. During the 60’s there was no ESPN and ABC’s Saturday game of the week was the only chance we had to watch a game on TV. If we wanted more live coverage the Dodgers broadcasted their games in our area on the radio. Night games we listened to Vince Skully’s play by play in our rooms with the volume turned down on our transistor radios, because bedtime was 8:30 and west coast night games didn’t get over to near midnight. Day games could be listened to at our leisure, except for those played during school hours. Transistor radios were strictly forbidden at school even during lunch and recess. Radios would be seized and every kid knew you would be in big trouble. Your parents would have to retrieve your radio, and that presented a double dose of big trouble.  No teacher ever accused me of being a model student, but even I accepted that finding out who won the days games would have to wait until after school. That was until the fall of 1967 when I was a 6th grader at Julia Keen Elementary. Like a lot of baseball fans I was mesmerized by the Boston Red Sox who had won the pennant after finishing in 9th place the year before. Add they were playing the hated Cardinals made it all the harder to sit in class knowing I could be watching or at least listening to the World Series. When the Series reached game seven it was too much for a 12 year-old to take. That morning after installing fresh batteries I hid my radio in my jacket and snuck it to school hoping no one would notice. I quickly ate my lunch and rushed to the farthest point on the playground.  I turned my back to school and tuned in the game. Just about the time I thought things couldn’t be better from behind me I heard an adult ask who’s winning? Standing behind me was not just a teacher but the principle herself Mrs. McBride. Damn Cardinals I said without thinking. I don’t know what possessed me to swear to the head teacher, but my thoughts quickly switched to the impending reprimand. To my surprise she simply replied rats and continued on her way.  I don’t know why I received the reprieve but knew better to question my good fortune. I quickly turned off and hid the radio and joined the rest of the kids in school. Tuesday I was watching the World Series when my wife came in to the room and asked who’s winning? Damn Cardinals I said once again with out thinking!