ELWYN B. ROBINSON DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
CHESTER FRITZ LIBRARY
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA 58202

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS COLLECTION

COLLECTION: OGL#1213

DATES OF INTERVIEWS: 1974-1990

DATES OF SUBJECTS DISCUSSED IN THE INTERVIEWS: circa 1900-1983

SIZE: 1.25 linear feet, plus 58 audio cassette tapes

INTRODUCTION

ACQUISITION: The Oral History Interviews Collection was deposited in the Orin G. Libby Manuscript Collection in 1990 (Acc.#90-1723).

ACCESS: Available for inspection under the rules and regulations of the Department of Special Collections.

SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE

This collection contains oral history interviews recorded on audio cassette tapes, as well as transcripts of most of the interviews. The interviews were conducted from 1974-1990, mostly by members of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. The subjects discussed in the interviews range from circa 1900 to 1983.

What follows is a short summary of each interview, as well as a listing of the audio tape number for each recorded interview and the box and folder location of each transcript.



Camp Depression - Paul Benson and Raymond Rund:

Interviewed by Dan Rylance, November 11, 1975

Raymond Rund was a lawyer from Finley, North Dakota, while Paul Benson was a United States District Judge in Fargo. Both lived at UND's Camp Depression during the late 1930s.

They said there were distinctions between students who lived at Camp Depression or Macnie Hall, and those students who lived in Budge Hall or the Greek houses. Budge Hall residents were able to pay for their housing, while those who lived at Camp Depression or in Macnie Hall worked for the university in exchange for their rooms. After living in Camp Depression for one year, students were eligible to move into Macnie.

Rund and Benson described various jobs they held while attending school, some of which were funded by the National Youth Administration. They recalled forming a cooperative of twenty men, in which each paid two dollars, and they worked together to produce two meals per day. They reported that living through the 1920s and 1930s made them hard-working and successful.

The interview focuses on the late 1930s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #579
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 1 (12 pages)



Camp Depression - John Holodick, Ray Ness, and Ken Gulmon:

Interviewed by John Davenport, October 11, 1975

Holodick, Ness, and Gulmon were all Camp Depression residents. In this interview they discussed their families' ethnic and political backgrounds, as well their time at the Camp.

They recalled having jobs through the National Youth Association, working for the university, and handling odd jobs for people in Grand Forks. They said sometimes people donated food for their kitchen; for example, a farmer would bring in vegetables from his garden. They joined the National Guard because it paid one dollar per week, and they received free clothing for being in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC).

The interview focuses on the 1930s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #576, 577, and 577a.
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 2



Camp Depression - Algot Johnson:

Interviewed by John Davenport, October 11, 1975

Algot Johnson attended UND from 1934 to 1937, and from 1938 to 1939. He spent three years in Camp Depression.

Johnson grew up on a homestead near McGregor, North Dakota. He said that during the depression years, his family's only income came from selling cream, but they had enough to eat because they raised their own food. He did recall, however, having no crops some years.

He reported that UND enrollments increased each year during the Depression. Hundreds of students who otherwise could not have attended the University were able to do so because of programs such as the National Youth Administration and Camp Depression. He said many students who came from farms would go home and work during the summers, as it was difficult to find summer jobs locally.

Camp Depression was located east of the power plant on campus. There were six boxcars for sleeping and studying, each of which housed eight students. Two boxcars were used as kitchens by Camp Depression residents, and two boxcars were used as kitchens by residents of Macnie Hall.

Johnson said Camp Depression was a blessing, not a hardship, for anyone who did not mind extra work. He did not expect to be able to attend the university, and he did not regret living in Camp Depression.

The interview focuses on the 1930s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #578
Transcript: None



Camp Depression - Mel Johnson:

Interviewed by John Davenport, October 11, 1975

Mel Johnson attended law school at UND from 1936 to 1939. He was a senator in the North Dakota legislature, the youngest ever elected, when he came to the University. His family backed the Nonpartisan League in the 1930s, and Johnson served as county chairman at the age of 21. Johnson recalled being harassed for associating with Dr. E.C. Stucke, who was a friend of Leon Trotsky and quoted Karl Marx on the state senate floor.

He also remembered sharp division in the legislature over the sales tax, and whether or not the ROTC should be compulsory. He said William Langer was his friend, but they disagreed on some issues. Johnson did not approve of Langer putting pressure on state employees to contribute to Langer's political fund.

The Depression's effects on the university were most obvious to him while he was in the state legislature, as they were forced to severely cut faculty salaries. Johnson reported that not many faculty left, because they had nowhere else to go. The Depression also had adverse effects on Johnson's family, as two banks in which his father had interests in failed. Johnson served in the military during World War II, then returned to farming.

The interview focuses on the 1930s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #578
Transcript: None



Camp Depression Interview - Ralph Johnson, Lawrence Johnson, O.A. Hove, Walt Styer, and Franklin Vecon:

Ralph Johnson came to UND on an athletic scholarship, which meant the Athletic Department found him a job that would pay for room and board. He lived in Camp Depression when it opened in 1933.

Lawrence Johnson said Camp Depression was a miserable place to live. It inspired people to want to graduate, and obtain a graduate degree, so they could move on to something better.

O.A. Hove also lived in the Camp in 1933, then moved to Macnie Hall. He had several jobs while in school, including one at a restaurant. After his shift he would bring food home to share with his roommates.

Walt Styer was President of Camp Depression, and enjoyed living there. He recalled activities of the Camp residents, including holding a dinner for the university faculty.

Frank Vecon reported that he enrolled at the university because there were no alternatives.

The interview focuses on the 1930s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #580 and 581
Transcript: OGL #1213, Box 1, Folder 3



Agnes Geelan

Interviewed by John Davenport, 1975. 12 pages.

Agnes Geelan was the mayor of Enderlin, North Dakota, from 1946 to 1954, served as a North Dakota state senator from 1951 to 1954, and was a member of the 1971-1972 Constitutional Convention. She attended Mayville State Teachers' College, partly because most of the women she knew went there, and partly because that was what her family could afford.

After graduation, she taught in various schools in North Dakota, finally settling in Enderlin. Geelan first became active in local politics in the early 1930s. Her husband was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Workers Insurance Organization, and she was in the auxiliary. Enderlin was a pro-labor town in the 1930s and 1940s, because it was a railroad town. Railroad people could carry the vote on any issue.

Geelan quit teaching in 1935, when she became state president of the American Legion Auxiliary. She was elected to the Enderlin School Board in 1945 and served one term. She saw a lot of sexual discrimination in debates over teachers' salaries, and her frustration over this kept her from running for reelection.

Geelan also discussed being on the high school debate team with Carl Ben Eielson, the North Dakota native who piloted a plane over the North Pole in 1928.

Most events discussed in the interview date from the 1910 to the 1940s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #852
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 4 (12 pages)



Leroy Goodwater and Hilda Goodwater

Interviewed by Edward Oetting, March 16, 1978

Leroy Goodwater was born in Grand Forks in 1896. He spoke about life in Grand Forks in the early 1900s, including the streetcars that went out to the university, East Grand Forks' reputation as a drinking town, and various downtown businesses. He started his first job around 1915, working in the dry goods department of the R.B. Griffith store.

Goodwater served in the National Guard on the Mexican border in 1916, then served in World War I, sailing for Europe in 1917. He spent nineteen months in France. During World War II, he trained troops at Crowder, Missouri. Goodwater worked 37 years in the Grand Forks Post Office Department. His steady employment there meant the Depression did not affect him greatly.

He retired from the Post Office in 1956, and then worked at the exchange at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which was established around 1958. Later he worked for UND, handling government property in the armory.

Most of the events discussed date from 1910 through the 1950s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape # 785 and 786
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 5 (32 pages)



Harold Groth and Grace Groth

Interviewed by John Davenport, June 4, 1976

Harold Groth's family started farming near Inkster in 1905. At that time, Inkster was mostly Norwegian, with some Scotch, Irish, and German families. Harold Groth became involved in the Nonpartisan League in 1916. The League was stronger than the Independent Voters' Association in the Inkster area.

Groth reported that he lost money he had invested in wheat when the stock market crashed in 1929; the Inkster bank closed that same year. Harold and his brother took over the family farm around 1932.

Groth spoke about a Hutterite community established near Inkster around 1950. They were against education, mostly because they did not want their children to leave the community. In 1961, Groth published an article in North Dakota History entitled "The Railroad Construction Episode of 1881-1882". Groth also wrote a history of the Casselton Branch Railroad, as well as other articles.

He said few area young people were staying on their family farms in the 1970s, and he did not see a bright future for small farms. Groth also commented on Garrison Diversion, and strip mining in western North Dakota.

Most events discussed date from 1905 to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #837 and 838
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 6 (39 pages)



UND History Department Faculty - John Parker, Elwyn B. Robinson, Robert Wilkins, and Louis Geiger

Interviewed by John Davenport on October 17, 1975

During the late 1940s and 1950s, their goal was to reestablish conditions as they had been before the Great Depression. They resumed publication of North Dakota Quarterly, worked to get library acquisitions increased, and tried to increase the number of graduate students.

Attracting faculty to the history department was hindered by Department Head Felix Vondracek's lack of leadership. The department had only one phone and no clerical help, because Vondracek never requested budget funds for these things. There was a lack of privacy and professionalism.

They reported that faculty members had higher ambitions for the university than the administration, and that the administration was not very responsive to what younger faculty members were trying to do. President George Starcher, however, brought in a new attitude. It was reported that UND's six-member history faculty did a better job of teaching than a lot of larger history departments because UND concentrated on teaching. Other universities were more concerned about research, a matter which did not effect UND, as the university lacked the resources to conduct a lot of research.

They discussed the beginnings of archive and manuscript collections at the library. They did not recall any stigma ever associated with being political, although President John West was concerned about keeping the university nonpartisan.

Some of the changes in teaching and students over the years from the 1940s to the 1970s include increased usage of audio-visual materials instead of straight lectures, a preference among students for a variety of readings instead of one textbook, and more classroom discussion.

Events discussed in this interview range from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #787, 788, and 789
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 7 (46 pages)



Dr. Alice Hunter

Elsie Brown interviewed by Ann Sande, May 25, 1977

Elsie Brown spoke about growing up in Grand Forks in the early 1900s, and then talked about Dr. Alice Hunter, who began practicing medicine in Grand Forks during the 1920s.

Brown reported that Dr. Hunter was very well educated. She attended the best medical colleges available at the time. Her medical practice lasted only a few years, and then she started farming full time.

Brown discussed Hunter's downfall as a doctor. She said Hunter's eccentricities started soon after the death of her mother in 1925. Hunter's elderly father was removed from the house because she did not care for him properly. Hunter was an excellent business woman and farmer, but her eccentricities prevented her from having friends.

Events discussed date from the early 1900s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio cassette tape number 776
Transcript
: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 8 (7 pages)



Dr. Alice Hunter

Marian Meyers interviewed by Ann Sande, May 27, 1977

In Marian Meyers' earliest recollections of Alice Hunter, from around 1915, Hunter was a beautifully dressed, apparently wealthy university student. Meyers said she was shocked by the dramatic change in Hunter's appearance between then and the mid-1920s, when Hunter returned to Grand Forks after earning her medical degree. Over the years, Hunter grew withdrawn and eccentric.

When Meyers was president of the Grand Forks Senior Citizens, from 1973 to 1975, she saw Hunter frequently. Meyers recalled Hunter speaking often about her father, a banker, and the papers she had which had belonged to him. Meyers said Hunter was never very active in the organization, but often attended bazaars and lunches.

Events discussed in the interview date from 1915 to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #777
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 9 (6 pages)



Frank Kelly

Interviewed by John Davenport, March 24, 1976

Frank Kelly was on the UND Visual Arts Department faculty and President of the Grand Forks Chapter of the Audubon Society. The Grand Forks Chapter began in 1971 with about 35 members. It was started as an environmental group, and not strictly focused on birds. Some of their initial concerns were the Garrison Diversion project. Kelly reported that since they considered historical relics, such as buildings, part of the environment, they were concerned about the proposed demolition of the Carnegie Library in Grand Forks.

Kelly recalled the local Christmas bird count, which started in Grand Forks around 1955. Kelly also participated in the summer bird census, which is conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird and Habitat Resource Laboratory. He handled counts in five areas, three in North Dakota and two in Minnesota. Kelly said in some areas the duck population had declined because farmers had been draining their fields. The pinnacle grouse, or prairie chicken, declined in population because farmers in some areas stopped planting corn.

Kelly discussed the Garrison Diversion project, and said a major problem was that not enough studies had been made. He also commented on coal development, and his art work. He said he used birds as subject matter in a lot of his art work to convey an environmental message.

Events discussed date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #774 and 775
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 10 (35 pages)



Merle Kidder

Interviewed by Dan Rylance, October 6, 1983

Merle Kidder served as County Superintendent for McHenry County from 1933 to 1949, and on the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education from 1939 to 1956. In this interview Kidder talked about his early years on the Board of Higher Education. He said the Board's first goal was to take politics out of the school system. Another early concern was faculty problems at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. Kidder offered views on the geographical distribution of Board members, changing the name from North Dakota Agricultural College to North Dakota State University, and other education-related issues.

Events discussed date from 1923 to 1983.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #896 and 897
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 11 (29 pages)



William Koenker

Interviewed by John Davenport and Dan Rylance, May 18, 1976

William Koenker started as an Associate Professor at UND in 1946, later became Chairman of the Economics Department, and in 1959 became director of the Bureau of Economic Research. In 1962 he was appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs. He retired on July 1, 1976.

Koenker worked with Cliff Kelley to develop the Bureau of Economic Research. Part of its original purpose was providing faculty with summer employment, and organizing research projects.

In 1962, when Koenker was selected Vice President for Academic Affairs, he was given almost complete freedom in defining his job. He saw a large part of his job as being the faculty's representative in the central administration. One of his major goals was improving the selection process for deans and department chairmen. Koenker discussed some of the mistakes made in dean selections over the years, and some of the important qualities in a dean.

Koenker said President Tom Clifford was more of an organizational man than Starcher. Clifford assigned specific areas of responsibility so that the vice presidents could each run their own shops while he was gone, and he also provided enough interaction between the vice presidents so they could work well together on issues that overlapped their boundaries.

Koenker said McCarthyism did not have much impact at UND as both President West and President Starcher were strong defenders of academic freedom. Koenker also reported that Starcher deserves much more credit than J. Lloyd Stone for nurturing contacts with benefactors such as Chester Fritz and Edmund Hughes. He also commented on the roles of the State Board of Higher Education, the Higher Education Commissioner and university presidents. He said both Starcher and Clifford have made it clear that university decisions would be made by UND and not by the city of Grand Forks.

Most of the events discussed date from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #782-784
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 12



William Koenker

Interviewed by Dave Vorland, June 1976

Koenker said there have been three distinct phases to his career. The first was from 1946 to 1955 when he concentrated on teaching. The second was from 1955 to 1962 when he was involved heavily with research on various regional and state problems. The third began in 1962 when he moved into administration.

One of his first concerns as Vice President for Academic Affairs was strengthening the faculty. Another goal was a better system of rewards and recognition for teaching and research.

Koenker discussed deterioration of standards in the grading system, formula budgeting, and evaluations of faculty. He said a current and future concern was improving support for the library and the computer center.

He said a university requires three things that are different from state colleges: a graduate program, which requires laboratory, library and computer resources, professional schools, and providing research services for the state.

Events discussed date from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Interview: None
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 13



Soren Kolstoe

Interviewed by John Davenport, March 31, 1976

Dr. Soren Kolstoe was a long-time faculty member at Valley City State Teacher's College, and also wrote poetry. Kolstoe was born in 1888 in Norway, and grew up near Thief River Falls, Minnesota. He was a hunter and an environmentalist. Kolstoe donated a collection of approximately 400 eggs to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. He devised a method of mounting and storing the eggs that prevented breakage. Kolstoe said collecting eggs requires a license, and to get a license, the eggs have to be used educationally or scientifically.

Kolstoe has been active in the Valley City Boy Scouts, a member of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society, the Isaak Walton League and Ducks Unlimited. He retired from teaching at Valley City State College in 1958. Then he worked for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, visiting schools and organizations and giving presentations on various species. Kolstoe authored a book entitled Lyrics of the Prairie, which combines poetry and pictures. In the interview, Kolstoe recited some of his poetry.

The events discussed date from his childhood, in the early 1900s, to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #834 and 835
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 14 (31 pages



Charles Libby and Margaret Libby Barr

Interviewed by John Davenport, Dan Rylance, and Robert Wilkins, October 31, 1975

Charles Libby and Margaret Libby Barr are the son and daughter of Dr. Orin G. Libby. Dr. Libby served on the faculty of the University of North Dakota History Department from 1902 to 1945, and was editor of Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota and North Dakota Historical Quarterly from 1906 to 1944.

Libby brought his family to Grand Forks in 1902. They lived in a neighborhood comprised mainly of university faculty members and their families. At that time, there was a sharp separation between the children of university faculty and other children in town.

The family spent many summers in California where Orin Libby was an exchange professor at various universities. They also spent vacations around Bemidji, which was a popular vacation area for university families. Orin Libby's hobbies included target shooting, curling, ornithology, and singing. Politically, he was nonpartisan, but leaned toward the Democratic Party.

Libby visited Indian camps and listened to and memorized stories told by old Indian chiefs, then preserved the stories in writing. He did not write a history of North Dakota, however, due to a lack of time and money to conduct the necessary research.

The Libbys were Episcopalian. Orin Libby was active as Sunday School superintendent, vestryman, and senior warden. He also belonged to the Franklin Club, the Masons, and the Shriners, and was active in founding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at UND.

The interview focuses on events during Orin Libby's years in Grand Forks, 1902 to 1952.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #568
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 15 (40 pages)



Henry Martinson

Interviewed by Robert Carlson, October 7, 1974

Henry Martinson was secretary of the Socialist Party in North Dakota, publisher of the Iconoclast, and was an organizer for the Nonpartisan League. He served as Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor from 1937 to 1965.

Martinson homesteaded in northwestern North Dakota in 1906. There were many Norwegian immigrants in the Williams and Divide County area, and they were used to socialism. Appeal to Reason was reported to be a popular socialist newspaper.

Around 1915, the socialist party in North Dakota began to divide into two factions: some were opportunistic, and some were Marxist. He was in the Scandinavian branch which was closer to pure Marxist. They wanted to educate people until they could understand real socialism. The opportunists wanted to be politically active, and they wanted power. Equal suffrage and elimination of child labor were immediate demands of both factions. Some of the people Martinson commented on included A.C. Townley, William Lemke, William Langer, Alfred Knutson, and L.L. Griffith.

Most of the interview focuses on events between 1910 and 1940.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #801, 803, and 805
Transcript: None



Henry Martinson

Interviewed by Edward Oetting, December 14, 1976

Martinson was involved in a failed effort to establish a farmer-labor party in North Dakota in the late 1920s. He attributed the failure to the lack of a close working relationship between farmers and labor, and to the hope, held by many, that the collapsed Nonpartisan League would be revived.

He worked with the Teamsters in Fargo in the mid-1930s when they held a strike. During the strike, the employers formed the Associated Industries, an organization designed to defeat unionism. This group would constantly harass the union and try to discredit them through the press.

He helped establish the Department of Agriculture and Labor's cooperative division, which organized and promoted co-ops. Martinson also recalled helping teachers draft a tenure bill. He also agreed to help them lobby for its passage, but when it was time to lobby, the teachers backed out and no one showed up. Martinson attributed North Dakota's political progressiveness, as demonstrated by the Nonpartisan League and Socialist movements, to the fact that most people who came to the state were pioneers who left communities because they wanted to expand their fields of operation and their ideas. He offered his views on labor's influence with the legislature, the effect of the AFL-CIO merger on labor in North Dakota, and recent Presidents of the state AFL-CIO.

Most events discussed date from 1915 to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #802 and 804
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 16 (43 pages)



Dr. S.W. Melzer

Interviewed by John Davenport, May 25, 1976

S.W. Melzer grew up in Wisconsin and attended medical school at Northwestern University in Illinois. He moved to Woodworth, North Dakota, in 1915. He reported that Woodworth was prosperous in the early 1900s, because it was good farming country. Most of the surrounding land was homesteaded by 1906.

Melzer practiced medicine for fifty years. In his early years, before vaccinations become common, childhood diseases such as chicken pox, scarlet fever, and measles would be epidemic almost every year. Several doctors from surrounding towns left the area when the drought hit in the 1930s, and Melzer was the only one left in the area. He made calls 80 miles away. He said most people were honest and did what they could to pay him, sometimes years later.

Melzer hunted around Barnes Lake when it was still a marsh. He said when he first arrived at Woodworth, there were no grouse, fox, raccoons, or deer. Melzer said the Woodworth area was always largely Republican. He liked William Langer and voted for him until Langer became more radical in later years. Melzer was also in favor of Garrison Diversion, and coal mining in western North Dakota.

Most events discussed date from 1915 to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #836
Transcript
: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 17 (28 pages)



Ken Porter

Interviewed by Gordon Iseminger, Robert Wilkins, Playford Thorson, Chuck Haga, and Dan Rylance, August 24, 1976

Ken Porter was a World War I flying ace. He was born in Dowagiac, Michigan, and attended college at Ann Arbor, then entered the U.S. Army Signal Corps at the beginning of World War I.

Porter's squadron arrived in France in February of 1918. They attended training school at Issoudon. In June of 1918 they moved to the Chateau-Thierry front, where they first encountered the German mobile air force, or the "Richtofen Circus." Porter killed his first "hun" on July 2nd of that year.

He was part of the 1st Pursuit Group, shock troops attached to a unit composed primarily of the British Independent Air Force. The I.A.F. would bomb the enemy's lines of retreat and then troops would go in and murder the enemy. They flew at three different echelons. Porter flew in the top level, 20,000 feet, with no oxygen. He described the clothing they wore to protect against the extreme cold at that altitude. Porter officially shot down six planes.

Toward the end of the war, Porter was once shot down between the lines, and landed in "no man's land," where all of the vegetation had been destroyed by the gas used in four years of fighting. He was discovered by another American. Porter's plane knocked out the main communications line on the front when he landed.

He said mechanical failure and wind conditions were two major problems. The prevailing wind was into Germany, so it was difficult to get back after combat over the lines or in Germany, and many planes ran out of fuel. He also said that Americans were better fighter pilots than the Germans because Americans were better able to handle unexpected situations.

Most of the interview focuses on the World War I years.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #778 and 779
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 1, Folder 18



Benjamin Ring

Interviewed by Doug Crockett, June 27, 1975

Benjamin Ring began teaching in the Philosophy Department at the University of North Dakota in 1962.

Ring reported that the American school system ignores two kinds of students: the brightest and the least intelligent. He believed that the smart people should be taken care of, and this belief encouraged him to look for a job in an institution with an honors program.

He was appointed to the Honors Committee soon after arriving at the university. At that time many of the older faculty saw their job as civilizing the students from rural areas. The North Dakota work ethic would take students anywhere they wanted to go if they knew how to behave properly.

The Honors Program was started because many faculty members felt that no one really cared about learning, and a change was necessary. Some wanted the program to involve more work; others wanted to present an entirely new way of looking at things.

He recalled a letter written to President George Starcher in 1965. Some faculty members wrote to show Starcher that many people supported at a time when he was frustrated by entrenched Old Guard opposition. Ring was responsible for Starcher's receiving the Mikklejohn Award. This brought national recognition to UND for their stand on academic freedom. Ring also helped draft a statement that all kinds of speakers would be welcome at the university, but they had to be available to discuss their ideas and listen to opposing arguments.

Ring said he and Bob Branconier were the first two people in this area to decide the Vietnam War was a real disaster. Ring organized the first teach-in on Viet Nam. In 1969, he attended an institute run by student activists in California and left with a sense of oncoming disaster. What eventually happened was the Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970. Soon after the events at Kent State, students held a protest at the missile site at Nekoma, North Dakota, which was attended by over 2000 people.

Ring said a crucial problem for faculty is the tendency to forget they are always dealing with a new group of students who do not remember the same events. He said one of his best experiences has been seeing the success of the Honors Colloquium.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #465
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 1



Elwyn and Eva Robinson

Interviewed by John Davenport and Dan Rylance, August 23, 1976. 28 pages.

Elwyn B. Robinson served on the faculty of the UND History Department from 1935 to 1970, and was the author of History of North Dakota.

Elwyn and Eva Robinson both grew up in Ohio. He attended Oberlin College and she attended the Flora Stone Mather college, which was the women's liberal arts school at Western Reserve University. They both taught school in Ohio, although Elwyn began graduate school at Western Reserve in 1931. He received a PhD in 1936.

In 1935 they were married and moved to Grand Forks where Elwyn started teaching at the university. At that time, UND had two history departments, American and European, because President Kane had taken half of the department away from Orin Libby. Clarence Perkins chaired the European section. When Libby retired in 1945 the departments were rejoined.

In the late 1940s, Robinson gave talks on the radio about "Heroes of Dakota". He wrote an essay on the themes of North Dakota history for UND's 75th anniversary celebration. He wrote an article about George Starcher which was published in the North Dakota Quarterly in 1971. He also served on the State Historical Society of North Dakota Board of Directors.

His book, History of North Dakota, was published in 1966. Robinson said part of the reason he wrote the book was that Libby had always planned to but never did.

Most of the events discussed date from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #766 and 767
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 2 (28 pages)



Clarence Sande

Interviewed by Ann Sande, May 4, 1977

Clarence Sande was a founding partner of the Agriculture Supply Company (AGSCO) and served as chairman of the Greater North Dakota Association. Sande grew up on a dairy farm near Angus, Minnesota. He worked for a Land-O-Lakes poultry packing plant in Thief River Fall, Minnesota from 1929 to 1941, where he did accounting work, and later was office manager.

In 1941, he moved to Grand Forks to work for Ole Flaat, setting up a seed division. In the 1940s Sande and Larry Brown bought out Flaat's interest and formed AGSCO. In the 1950s, they formed four corporations: AGSCO Seeds, Inc., AGSCO Chemicals, AGSCO Steel Buildings, and AGSCO Distributors.

Sande said farming conditions were becoming more sophisticated in the 1940s, and there were some large, successful farms in the Red River Valley. During his years in the agriculture supply business, Sande saw the complete growth of the agricultural chemical industry. He said it was always difficult to persuade farmers to use new products. AGSCO was successful because they were able to relate well to the most innovative farmers.

Sande said the chemicals he was familiar with did not have long-term environmental effects. He said they were necessary if people are to have good food to eat. Sande also commented on banning various chemicals, organic farming, and other agricultural issues. He said farmers have no control over markets, so they have to concentrate on keeping costs down and production up.

Most events discussed in this interview date from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #772 and 773
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 3 (15 pages)



Gerald Skogley

Interviewed by Dan Rylance, 1983. 35 pages.

Gerald Skogley was the Vice President for Finance at UND from 1971 to 1983. Skogley was born in Mott, North Dakota and grew up in the German-Russian area of the state. He served in the U.S. Army, attended Bismarck Junior College, and then attended UND.

He started work as assistant business manager at UND in 1955, when there was little state control over university budgeting. One of his first jobs was to implement a budget system. The university was starting to obtain outside research dollars, and more accountability was needed. Also, rising enrollments were attracting the state's attention to budgeting at colleges and universities.

Skogley became more heavily involved in the university's fiscal management when he was appointed to the Budget Committee, created by President George Starcher. When Thomas Clifford became President, Skogley was named Vice President for Finance.

Skogley commented on the differing views of eastern and western North Dakotans regarding the university. He said eastern residents see UND partly as a cultural and athletic outlet in Grand Forks; western North Dakotans see it strictly as a place where their children might go to school, and they do not want to support as many activities.

Skogley said 1983 was the first time there was real bi-partisan support for higher education in the state, but problems arose because there was a split among Republicans in the state senate over their role. He said unless there was a change in the mood of North Dakota taxpayers, North Dakotans would have to choose between saying "no" to additional institutions, or saying "yes", which would affect the quality of all of them.

Skogley said UND's major strengths in 1983 were good faculty, well-prepared students, and good relations with the residents of Grand Forks. He said UND has to be a university for the state, not just Grand Forks or northeastern North Dakota.

Most events discussed in the interview date from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #906 and 907
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 4 (35 pages)



O.A. Stevens

Interviewed by John Davenport, March 25, 1976

O.A. Stevens was a professor of botany at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He wrote articles for North Dakota History on Native Americans in North Dakota and what types of plants they used.

Stevens said Eliot Cownes did some of the earliest cataloging of plants and animals. Cownes was an ornithologist and doctor who traveled with the army exploration of the 49th parallel around 1843. Stevens reported that the early settlers in North Dakota did not rely heavily on native foods, because they were accustomed to other things.

Stevens said changes in local bird populations reflect changes in the environment;, planting fruit trees in farmyards, for example, attracts robins and orioles to the prairies, an area where they would not normally live.

He also commented on Garrison Diversion, deforestation, and coal development.

Topics discussed date from the 1800s to the 1970s.

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #768 and 769
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 5 (12 pages)



Robert Wilkins

Interviewed by John Davenport, January 23, 1976

Robert Wilkins joined the faculty of the UND History Department in 1945. He was born in Hammond, Indiana, and graduated from high school there. He attended West Virginia University at Morgantown and Indiana University at Bloomington. He taught high school history at Hammond, Indiana, and he worked for the Sinclair Refining Company during World War II.

In this interview, Wilkins commented on many faculty members and administrators employed by the university over the years. He said President John West was of administrative rather than academic background and had a philosophy of practicality in education.

Wilkins discussed Felix Vondracek's tenure as chair of the History Department. Vondracek was not a good planner for the department, which caused problems. The faculty had to circumvent him when they needed something. Vondracek was very militaristic and held extreme anti-Communist views.

Dean Robert Witmer was a scientist and accomplished little for the arts during his years as Dean of Arts and Sciences. Wilkins also discussed Dean Olaf Thormodsgard and the changes in the law profession and law school over the years. He said Thormodsgard did not believe in tough grading standards. Wilkins said Richard Bek presided over the stagnation of the languages department. Bek always promoted himself, but missed the opportunity to upgrade the department when a lot of money was available for education after the Sputnik incident. Wilkins also mentioned Joe Tamborra, a professor of Italian and French.

He also described various radio programs involving university students and faculty, including a series called "Dakota Sketches," based on Elwyn Robinson's Heroes of Dakota series.

Wilkins was chair of the Honors Day committee during George Starcher's presidency. The Honors Program was Starcher's idea. Wilkins said he has been very disappointed in the Honors Program, because the students involved are no smarter than anyone else, and the program has become a way to do less work. Faculty lectures were another of Starcher's ideas. Wilkins thought that many of the lectures were not of the quality that faculty lectures should be.

Wilkins said Starcher had a cold, aloof image, but did bring brought more money to the university than West. Wilkins felt this was because Starcher had a better understanding of what a university should be and his earnestness convinced people of the importance of the university and of what he was trying to accomplish.

He mentioned the Wranglers, a conservative campus group made up of Witmer, Thormodsgard, and others who were against changes that Starcher was making.

Most of the events discussed in this interview date from the 1930s through the 1960s

Interview: Audio Cassette Tape #790-800
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 2, Folder 6 and Folder 7 (236 pages)




John R. Salter, Jr.

Interviewed by John Jones, January 6, 1981

Part I - John Salter interviewed alone

Salter grew up in Arizona and attended university there. His first college teaching job was in Superior, Wisconsin. In 1961, he and his wife, Eldri, became interested in the political situation in the South, and moved from Wisconsin to Jackson, Mississippi, to teach at Tougaloo Southern Christian College.

Salter was the adult advisor for the North Jackson Youth Council, which included many high school students. This group launched a boycott of Jackson's white merchants. Salter said boycotting was really the only mode of protest available to them. Many could not vote and the group did not have the bail money for mass demonstrations. Nonviolence was best because the other side would have grabbed any opportunity for a real massacre. Also, they knew that violence would not settle any basic issues in a permanent, substantive way.

He worked with Medgar Evers, an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) employee who was assassinated in June 1963. Salter said Evers was very effective and committed, but was often caught between the grass roots people, with whom he identified and who he wanted to help, and the national office of the NAACP. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there was an understanding between the NAACP and the federal government that no direct-action movements would occur in Mississippi until the other Southern states were addressed, and that problems would be settled through the courts. Evers knew that court action would not remove the barriers in Mississippi.

The collapse of the Jackson Movement in 1963 was demoralizing, and led to the collapse of the Youth Council, as well as other biracial committees that had been established in other cities. The Jackson Movement was successful in establishing the right to organize in Mississippi, in eliminating a lot of the fear there, and in shaking the power structure. It brought Mississippi out of isolation and was a major factor in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Salter left Tougaloo in 1963 and began full-time work as a civil rights organizer elsewhere.

Part II - Salter interviewed with the Reverend Edwin King (starting on page 79)

Much of this part of the interview centers on the NAACP's role in the Civil Rights Movement. In Spring 1963, the national office knew they had to get more involved in the situation in Mississippi, but they were used to defending blacks in trouble, not working with people who were fighting for themselves.

Another difficulty was pressure on the organization from the Kennedy administration to avoid direct action in Mississippi. The national NAACP office worked hard to prevent James Meredith from entering the university, because the Kennedy administration did not want a desegregation crisis in Mississippi.

President John Kennedy was not helpful in regards to civil rights. He appointed some of the worst federal judges in the South, and his administration committed some of the worst sins of omission. The impression given by his administration was that the federal government could not come down and protect everyone.

Salter also described the situation in eastern North Carolina, where the violence and injustice toward Native Americans and blacks were severe. The federal government was not willing to help there, either, so private attorneys had to be hired to handle a major voting rights case, and they won one of the most sweeping injunctions ever won in a Southern state.

Interview: None
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 3, Folder 1 (124 pages and index)



John R. Salter, Jr.

Interviewed by Betsy Nash, December 26, 1990

In this interview, Salter said one factor that distinguished Mississippi from other Southern states was the comprehensiveness of its problems, violence and conservatism. Other states had areas that were moderate. Mississippi was the Citizens' Council's strongest fortress, and one of the most violent sections of the South.

Salter spoke about his reasons for writing his book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism. Mainly he wanted to tell the story of the courageous people involved in the movement.

Tougaloo was a private college, so a person affiliated with it could be radical without getting fired. Salter said some of the faculty at Jackson State probably would have sided with the movement except they were afraid of losing their jobs. He said Tougaloo was not militant, but it was more militant than anything else in the state.

In Mississippi in 1961, those involved in the movement trusted no politician. John Stennis was willing to be of some help occasionally. Senator James Eastland was an opportunist, a Citizens Council member, and a cruel individual, in Salter's opinion. Erle Johnston was an adversary, but Salter said he respected him. Salter and other activists from the outside generally had to assume that any Mississippi white person was the enemy.

Salter spoke some about Medgar Evers, and reported that he (Salter) and Edwin King were almost killed in a rigged car accident shortly after Evers' murder.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act allowed many whites who were secretly moderate, politically, to follow their own politics; they could say they had to abide by federal law. The Citizens' Council tried to convince people to boycott merchants who abided by the new law, but they were unsuccessful. The whole economic, political power structure of the South generally went along with the Act.

Salter also spoke about the Sovereignty Commission, which was essentially a secret police agency that accumulated a lot of poisonous data. Its primary goal was opposing social change. The Commission was functionally killed in the early 1970s and officially killed in 1977.

A Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was filed to open up the Commission's files. In 1985, Salter was part of a group allowed to look at them. He said the materials contained horrible allegations, and almost certainly lies. He wanted to work out arrangements where the public would have access to materials on the Sovereignty Commission, but not the information on private individuals; the ACLU did not like that arrangement. There was a big battle between open disclosure advocates and those who wanted to protect privacy rights.

Salter said he believes Byron De La Beckwith is guilty of Medgar Evers' murder, but a third trial is merely an effort to find a scapegoat in an attempt to deflect bad publicity caused by the movie "Mississippi Burning" and other factors. Mississippi has to put aside old antagonisms and work toward social and economic justice for everyone. He said the United States in general has never before gone as long without social upheaval as we have now, and the county is entering a time when we will see great social change.

Interview: None
Transcript: OGL#1213, Box 3, Folder 2 (113 pages and index)


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