Posted 12/14/09 (Mon)
Enoch Thorsgard, a lifelong Northwood farmer who served in the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1969 to 1980, has been a supporter of the North Dakota Heritage Center for nearly 40 years. He championed the building of the Heritage Center as a Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, and today at 91 years of age, says he supports its expansion.
He was present to testify at the March 5 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Heritage Center expansion. “North Dakota has in the past often been referred to as a state of lesser significance, but in recent years that has been drastically reversed. The character of our people, our ambitious government and our prosperous economy all have an inviting influence. ‘A Smithsonian on the Prairie’ may be the added fringe benefit that will keep us excelling and put us on a level above much of our country. Little did we realize more than 25 years ago the significance of our investment in our present Heritage Center, and this expansion may secure our future.”
Thorsgard recently published a book about his life, “Enoch’s Saga: Horsepower to Satellite in a Lifetime,” and it is in this book and in a recent interview on WDAZ-TV news, Thorsgard speaks about the importance of the Heritage Center, then and now.
“As soon as I became knowledgeable of the issues at hand, I realized that it was the need for the new Heritage Building that was being discussed,” Thorsgard writes in his book about his first days in the House Appropriations Committee. “I very soon took that as something I would lend my efforts to. If someone asked me to support their budget needs for their school project, I let them know that I needed support for the Heritage Center. I remember one member said, ‘I don’t like it. My people may shoot at me for it, but being you want that money for the Center so bad I will vote for it anyway.’”
Although private fund-raising was going on, “It had to have Legislative approval,” Thorsgard wrote about the Heritage Center appropriation. “At one time, we had a fund drive among the House membership. This was partly to gain interest and support. We elected Representative [Earl] Rundle, a very colorful rancher and short and stout with a bald head and weathered complexion. He would often stand up with a foolish statement or question to be discussed. He stood up in his seat and shouted, “Whoever gives the biggest and highest priced calf for the Heritage Center will get a prize!” I was selling cattle to the famous hockey player Bobby Hull, so I pledged $700, which was supposed to be what Bobby Hull paid me for one. I believe I got the first prize.”
Thorsgard carried the budget for the new Heritage Center and the museum budget before the Appropriations committee every year he was in the Legislature. “It wasn’t a popular issue at that time. I do not remember anyone giving me an encouraging statement. I also usually had the park and recreation budget.” He remembered how his colleagues sometimes made fun of him working on what they considered unimportant programs, and they even gave him a teddy bear at a party.
“Little did they realize that tourism would be our second largest industry. We are in a very favorable location. People can leave the crowded city and still find a place where they can be alone and get lost. Whatever we can do to help them have a good vacation will be profitable to us.”
Thorsgard believes heritage is important in democracies. “Free people are proud of their history and heritage.” He also appreciates what this heritage means for his profession of agriculture. “A well known public figure recently stated that life on a farm has changed more in his lifetime than it did the previous 2,000 years. It would indeed be a great loss, if this is a true fact, to lose for posterity a few of the stories and happenings of this period. Certainly generations to come will be inspired and proud of our heritage and our history. The stories of the struggles and hurts and accomplishments of those, our forefathers, have lessened the struggles of my generation.”
The final passage of the Heritage Center appropriation bill happened during Thorsgard’s last year in the Legislature.
The State Historical Society of North Dakota and its Foundation appreciate the tireless work of Enoch Thorsgard and countless others like him who have championed the preservation of our state’s rich history. He currently serves as a History’s Trustee – a partner and donor to the SHSND Foundation.