Over half of Carson Steiner's life has been spent in service to the community of Dickinson.
That service began in 1984 when, four years after moving to Dickinson from Minot to be closer to his hometown, New England, he ran for the park district commission and won. It was his first elected office, but it wouldn't be his last.
After serving four terms (totaling 16 years) on the park district commission, he ran for city commission in 2000, where he has served five terms (totaling 20 years). This year is his last. He's decided not to seek reelection and took time to reflect on his service with The Press.
In the early days of his service, he worked to get recreational activities in town.
"We brought in more fields. We brought in more activities. We brought in more programs. We wanted to go out and get national tournaments. We wanted to put Dickinson on the map," he said.
In a way, they did. The highlight of his time on the park commission came toward the end, in 1996, when they brought the Babe Ruth World Series to Dickinson.
Three of the park commissioners went to New York to the World Series headquarters to be interviewed. Dickinson competed against other communities across the nation — and won.
"The town really got behind it and supported it," Steiner said. "We spent a lot of more improving our facilities. ... I think that was really the start of Dickinson's baseball program becoming a pretty good respected program within the state and within the region. Since then, we've had very good baseball teams, and we've qualified for a lot of tournaments."
When Steiner ran for city commission, Dickinson was divided on a couple of issues, one of which was city hall.
"Back then, we had an old city hall. They were talking about a new commission wanting to build a new city hall. That was split in the community. In fact, they had a recall, which really hurt the community. They recalled the group of city commissioners that were in there and brought in another group. That's when I ran with Dennis Johnson and a couple other guys. We think we helped turn things around for the positive thinking in this town," he said.
During his 20 years with the city commission, they built a lot of facilities in Dickinson, including West River Community Center, West River Ice Center, a waste water facility, a public safety facility.
Steiner said they've doubled the mileage of roads in the community since 2000, from 100-plus miles to 200-plus miles.
"Every decision you made on the board, there were some people that didn't agree with you. You just hope you made the right decision. I think we made some pretty good decisions. We had some great leadership on that board," he said.
Steiner reflected on some of the tough decisions the commission's had to make over the years.
"When we sold the land for the Walmart up there, there was a lot of discussion on that in the community. A lot of the businesses thought it would really affect them. I think what they found out was after it was built, Walmart would bring the people to town, but all they had to do was try to get them to stop into their store, so it made them successful also," he said.
Steiner said the West River Community Center had a big part in changing Dickinson.
"Once the community got behind that and saw what we could build, and that it was for the people that decide to stay in this town, the community, you could just see the light switch. After that, if we'd bring up any other buildings that we need build or any other things that we needed to do, they could see the positive effects it would bring. Before that, there was a lot of hesitation."
He said the commission has been changing; those experienced, conservative commissioners are being replaced by younger, more liberal commissioners.
"I’m reminded of a story I heard my dad tell somebody once when I was on the park board," Steiner said. "There were some men sitting around and one of the guys was kind of disagreeing with what we were doing, and my dad says to him, ‘We’ve had our opportunity to build our communities … It’s their turn. It’s the young people’s turn to build the community that they want for the next 20-some years. You and I probably won’t be here in the next few years.' And he was right; he died a couple of years after that."
He says it's time for the younger generation to take over.
"I think the important thing is when I first got involved in this here, I wanted to become involved because I thought the city commission needed somebody young. ... Ironically, that’s the same reason I’m getting off — cause I think they need somebody young," Steiner said.
His service, it would seem, has come full circle. No longer is Steiner the newcomer, and as fate would have it, Dickinson is planning to move city hall into the current American Insurance facility.