Treasures among us
In the late 1970s, there wasn’t a whole lot to do after high school in my hometown except work on the farm or go to Bismarck and work in retail and not make any money. Most of us struggled, at least initially, until we either got college degrees or got promoted in jobs we took right out of high school.
Several people chose to step way outside the box and look for opportunities in a place most of us were scared to pronounce, let alone live and work there. It was Los Angeles, and even back then, some 45 years ago, LA was a big city and had a lot going on. Still, it was the lure for some of the locals.
One guy who had a knack for fixing things and had high school interests in electronics, landed a job with the Los Angeles Police Department installing radio equipment in their squad cars. He did that for a number of years, spending a career with the LAPD. Sometimes he would come home and tell us how much he liked it- mild winters, palm trees, beach and decent paychecks. You have to remember, back then, I believe the term for Los Angeles was “laid back,” but it has certainly changed.
One young lady who didn’t want to go to college also went out to Los Angeles but took up a totally different profession. She was hired on by Fredericks of Hollywood and became a lingerie model. Back home, she was just another kid, working concessions during basketball games, slipping by in a lot of classes and was never happy. Something was missing. The opportunity she got and took advantage of completely changed her self-esteem. Not only that, she made a lot of money and lived at least a portion of her life as a glamorous model.
A third person went out to Los Angeles about the same time, and his path was completely different than the other two. He went to work for Tower Records. Do you remember Tower Records? It wasn’t really a thing here on the prairie, but it was a big deal on the west coast, and our friend got in on a ground floor opportunity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there very long. His parents became ill, so he came back to operate the farm, and when his parents died, he was compelled to continue their legacy.
The ironic thing about these three people is, although they may have known each other because everybody in a small town knows everybody, they were different ages and weren’t friends. Yet, at least three people from a small town in North Dakota ended up working in and succeeding in the second largest city in the United States. So much for country bumpkins, right?
We can sometimes think of where everybody from our hometown goes in their adult life and what would the old hometown be like had they been able to stay and find a decent living. Some join the military, and although few make it a career, those who do set themselves up well for retirement. The branch of service doesn’t matter so much as the time in grade. If someone chooses to make a career out of the military, there are many more promotions and pay raises than in the working world, and many people like that despite the fact that you might someday have to step onto a battlefield.
Sometimes, we can actually get a glimpse of that “what if” all those people never left home. In 2017, Kenmare had an all-school reunion. The community was overflowing with people doing a lot of different things during a long weekend. When we realized who and how many came back for the reunion, the amount of professional talent that weekend was staggering. That was a long weekend that working as a journalist was a lot of fun because of all the people I met.
There are countless others who have gone elsewhere to make a living and raise a family. Many have moved to Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, as well as Iowa and Nebraska. What it really shows is that people who were raised in small towns almost always know how to land on their feet, make decisions, and succeed in the big city or in a large military unit.
For far too long, we educated our kids for export. As many as possible left for greener pastures. It became a major drain on North Dakota’s economy. Then, the oil boom came and brought lots of young people back. Now, we just need to bring more of that talent home to roost.