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Celebration of states: ND, SD celebrate 125 years since admitted to Union

Press Photo by Mike Hricik Author Kathleen Norris discusses her 1993 book "Dakota: A Spiritual Geography" at a joint 125th birthday celebration for the Dakotas in Lemmon, S.D. Monday afternoon.

LEMMON, S.D. AND HETTINGER — U.S. President Benjamin Harrison admitted both North Dakota and South Dakota into the Union on Nov. 2, 1889.

The two states have become friendly rivals in business and sports since then. But on Monday, residents and leaders met near the border between the states to put aside most differences and rivalries and celebrate their shared 125th birthday a few months early.

Lemmon and Hettinger hosted the only sanctioned joint birthday celebrations for the 125th anniversary of Harrison’s decision. Speakers shared stories spanning the entirety of the states’ respective histories, while residents came together to enjoy each others’ company.

In Hettinger, several hundred people gathered at the town’s armory to eat barbecue, sing songs and listen to music, enveloped by a menagerie of draped American flags.

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and young 4-H members joined uniformed military veterans in carrying out the festivities.

North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley teased South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels throughout the evening, claiming the Peace Garden State entered the country first.

Michels disputed that idea.

“Our states are twins,” he said. “We don’t actually know which state was born first.”

Hettinger Mayor-elect Richard Wyman said he most looked forward to telling “NoDak and SoDak jokes to one another.”

Attendees sang “Happy Birthday” to the Dakotas, with their mouths stuffed with food. Songwriters and storytellers Chuck Suchy and Jessie Veeder Scofield concluded the event.

Anthony Larson of Hettinger said he grew up in Lemmon, but later moved to Hettinger. He sang North Dakota’s state song with an area vocal group, the Borderline Singers.

“The two communities coming together has been a great joy,” Larson said. “There’s always been a bond for me between Hettinger and Lemmon.”

Earlier in the day in Lemmon, S.D., author Kathleen Norris discussed her 1993 book, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography,” at the town’s senior center to about 100 people.

State humanities councils from both Dakotas chose her work as an official book to commemorate 125 years of statehood. Libraries and book clubs have examined its content throughout the year.

Norris said she was flattered, but surprised that her book was chosen for such an honor.

“This confirms what I’ve always known: We don’t follow trends in the Dakotas,” Norris said. “My book came out 21 years ago.”

The author has embarked on a book tour of the state to talk about “Dakota.”

Norris moved to her family’s farm in Lemmon in 1974, staying until the late 1990s. She had previously lived in Hawaii, Vermont and New York City, but was drawn back to the beauty of the Dakotas, Norris said.

Her book provides poetic descriptions of harsh landscapes, along with stories — good and bad — of the farm crisis of the 1980s. “Dakota” received both harsh and and glowing reactions from those who read it, Norris said, but the writer hopes it will drive conversation once again.

“One person wrote to me and said, ‘If you don’t like it here, you can get out,’” Norris said.