Holten: A chance to know your ND heroes
I spent this past weekend with what might be the nicest people in the world.
What’s more important is that they get it.
And what is it that they get? They “get it” that treating people respectfully, being a person who is true to their word and giving of their time is more important than all the newspaper clippings, trophies, buckles, TV appearances and awards ceremonies combined.
They “get it” that telling a waitress that she looks nice and that the food she served tastes great is more important than worrying about whether or not your server paid you enough respect or served up the meal of the century that your predetermined expectations might have demanded.
You see, I had the privilege of spending Saturday afternoon with Alvin Nelson and his wife, Kaye, on Alvin’s 80th birthday, which might be a landmark in itself — reaching 80, I mean — for a cowboy whose life was in peril every time he got on the hundreds of bucking horses he did over the course of his world championship career.
At 80, he still has the same glimmer in his eye that he had when he was 18. And as we poured over countless rodeo photos taken of him by rodeo photographers from Madison Square Garden in New York to the Houston Astrodome or the Los Angeles Coliseum, where he rode in front of 100,000 people, he could still tell me the interesting little details about almost every ride. And those are the type of details that you will be able to read about at the new North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora.
Alvin began riding professionally in rodeo at the age of 18 and was the world champion five years later.
In 1960, he nearly won the world title again and qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964 and 1966. He won the NFR saddle bronc riding average in 1961 and 1962, and won the NFR all-around title in 1961. He took a break in 1959 to serve in the U.S. Army in Germany and to meet Elvis Presley, who was assigned to the same barracks as him.
That reminds me, North Dakota. People around the world know a whole lot more about your rodeo heroes than you do. And it’s this newspaper, some new exhibits and a bunch more exposure in the media that’ll be changing that soon. Because if you knew the real untold stories about North Dakota’s cowboys and Indians, you’d realize what a big-time state you really have.
Meanwhile, I discovered last Saturday that Alvin has a mountain-sized pile of memorabilia and triple that amount in memories.
Having spent a good chunk of Saturday with him and Kaye, whom he met when she was a rodeo queen from Watford City, I realized that my time with them was a lesson in how life should be lived. Because the more I’m around them, the more respect I have and the more honored I feel.
Then there is Brad Gjermundson, another of North Dakota heroes, an unknown kid from a tiny town who soared onto the national stage when he won the rookie of the year award in 1980 and world champion titles in 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1985, as if winning world championships was no harder than brushing your teeth, competing nine times in all at the NFR.
I spent Sunday with him and his wife, Jackie, at their ranch near Marshall, going through what might be the biggest mountain of rodeo memorabilia yet, and realized that even Ronald Reagan, who sent Brad a letter, knew more about him than plenty of his state’s own.
But not anymore, because on May 3, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame will be debuting two new exhibits, one for Alvin and one for Brad, that’ll be bigger and better than any you’ve seen.
After all, North Dakota, even Reagan and Elvis knew these guys, so it’s time more of you did, too.
And now you can.
Do you know what else? There are a lot more cowboys like Alvin and Brad in there. So go to Medora and check it out.
Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.