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40 Years Later Remembering the Launch of North Dakota's Braggin' Piece

Posted by Andrea Winkjer Collin 10/31/2016 3:25:53 PM



This one word was a subhead in the minutes of the Greater North Dakota Association’s Publicity Committee on January 24, 1970.


Composed of some of the top marketing and communications professionals in the state, this committee had been active in many projects, including supporting the formation of the first state tourism office in the early 1960s. Fargo filmmaker Bill Snyder had produced documentaries touting the state’s quality of life and business opportunities. Longtime Grand Forks Herald Editor Jack Hagerty had for many years been writing “This Day in North Dakota History” columns that were carried across the state. A new state slogan was being discussed, as was the need for a better textbook about the state and its history. 
But at this meeting, the topic was “negativism.” 
According to the minutes, committee member Les Maupin, a prominent radio broadcaster from Minot, “gave two examples of negativism that exist in the state and may provide a battleground for this committee. The ‘chill factor’ scale, which came into existence with the placement of the two Air Force bases in North Dakota; and the Air Force indoctrination program that servicemen coming in to North Dakota receive. He indicated that the Southerners are nearly frightened to death by the reports that the Air Force disseminates about its bases within our state.”


Chairing the committee was Don Gackle, who had been the publicity director for GNDA, now known as the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, before becoming the longtime editor of the McLean County Independent of Garrison.


GNDA also published a monthly magazine called The North Dakotan, but members were concerned that it was not presenting the correct image of the state. There was a need, the minutes note, that the committee should “promote our image within and without the state – that in some way, North Dakota must develop a Texas attitude.”


As the discussion about the image of North Dakota continued during that meeting, a motion was made by Harold Flint, owner of Fargo’s Flint Advertising agency. It was to “change the North Dakotan to a quarterly publication, devoted to a well-written professionally-illustrated format.” It was seconded by Hagerty and passed.


The action at this meeting put into motion what would be the birth of North Dakota horizons magazine by the year’s end. Flint offered the services of his agency staff, including Dale Western, who shaped the magazine’s design and content for the first decade and beyond. Committee member Joe McPherson came up with the North Dakota horizons name.


Ron Abrahamson, who was the public affairs and public relations director for GNDA at the time, became the magazine’s first editor. He had previously worked for Jim Hawley, the state’s first travel director, and for several years they had championed the idea of a magazine of this type with GNDA. Their concept was that it be patterned after the slick and successful image publication, Arizona Highways, which set the standard for all other state magazines. Also lending support were Joe Satrom, who at the time was the state’s travel director, Walter Hjelle, State Highway Commissioner, and Governor William Guy.


Committee member Paul Bursik, who worked for Northwestern Bell, arranged a trip for Abrahamson and Hawley to meet with the editor of Northwestern Bell’s company magazine in Omaha, Nebraska. Abrahamson recalls, “We were informed by the editor that there was no way that a slick North Dakota magazine would get support, sell or survive. He also questioned what the content might be after we exhausted Teddy Roosevelt’s short time in North Dakota and the Indian lady – he couldn’t remember her name – who traveled with Lewis and Clark.”


Undaunted by these negative remarks, they, like Lewis and Clark and Sakakawea, “proceeded on” with plans for the magazine. “Hawley and I were young then, and not easily squashed,” says Abrahamson. “While in Omaha, we spent a long evening in a place called The Cheetah Club and outlined most of the first issue on 25 to 30 cocktail napkins. We even asked the waitress for tape to give us an actual magazine format.”


Upon their return home, they and the committee members continued their work, refining the concept, developing budgets, devising distribution plans and designing marketing materials for the first issue. Subscriptions would be sold, GNDA members would get copies and the Travel Division would distribute copies to visitors to the state.


The final hurdle was later in the year when the entire GNDA board voted to approve the magazine. “Board members were not always in total agreement with the magazine idea,” Abrahamson recalls. “One member commented that ‘this could be a big and long-term sinkhole for GNDA membership money.’” With GNDA Executive Director R.C. Crockett, and Fargo banker Al Simpson supporting the action of the publicity committee, the entire board voted approval.


After the vote, Abrahamson recalls GNDA membershipdirector Erling “Ling” Nasset, whom he refers to as “my dear late cowboy friend and mentor,” came up to him and said, “Well kid, you got the go-ahead, so don’t get feet of clay now! It’ll work out fine, and you already know that North Dakota needs a braggin’ piece!”


The first issue was published in late 1970. Perhaps it is a good thing that every detail of launching it was not recorded in committee minutes. A letter to committee members on December 28, 1970, noted that “the *$¢%(*&&C##!!! magazine is now off the press and in the mail …”


The first issue featured the snowcapped North Dakota Badlands on its cover. Inside was a column by writer Wayne Lubenow. There were features on Anne Carlsen and her then-named Crippled Children’s Home in Jamestown, archaeological digs by James E. Sperry of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and wild horses by Gary Leppart of the state Tourism Division. 
Photo spreads were on the state’s threshing bees, rodeos and winter scenery. A historical profile of Chief Four Bears was written by James Connolly of the North Dakota Automobile Club and a poem about the beauty of North Dakota sunsets was written by Huldah L. Winsted. Well-known state author Erling Rolfsrud wrote a column on early aviatrix Florence Klingensmith, and an announcement detailed the new photo contest.


And, finally, there was a photograph and tear-out recipe cards for Norwegian lefse, Russian holiday kulich and German apple kuchen.


These themes and stories have resonated through the content of North Dakota horizons over the past 40 years as it has continued in its mission to showcase the state’s quality of place, abundant resources and its people.


In the third issue of the magazine, Don Gackle wrote to readers in 1971:


Some said it couldn’t be done – that North Dakota (this “land of the fortunate few”) couldn’t undertake so bold and imaginative an undertaking as the publication of a high-grade, professionally-prepared quarterly magazine. I trust you’ll agree that the first, second and now the third issues of horizons should have made “believers” out of the “non-believers.”


The idea of a quarterly North Dakota magazine was conceived about two years ago. The Greater North Dakota Association, through its Publicity Committee, began an extensive study … markets were tested … financial resources were explored. And, finally, the “go-ahead” was given – for a project that is no small undertaking.


But lest we be misunderstood, North Dakota horizons is not the product of one man, one committee or one organization. This is a joint undertaking involving countless people, from layman to professional, in and out of government. In a way it’s unique … in that it is a product that is supported by the private and public sectors of our economy, by the people who comprise privately-funded GNDA and by the State of North Dakota.


And its goal? Just this one mission: to accurately portray our state’s image. More specifically, the goal of horizons is to help tell the North Dakota story as it should be told. It is true, thanks to the efforts of many, that much of the misunderstanding that has plagued our state for so many years is being overcome … but our task is far from complete. While I’m reluctant to call it by its popular name, ignorance – on the part of many away from our state – still it is a very serious deterrent to our economic growth and development.


But horizons has still another purpose – to inform and to entertain North Dakotans and to make them proud of their state heritage.


Pride is essential in developing a great state. If we don’t have pride in ourselves, in our accomplishments, and in our state, we can hardly expect others to be enthusiastic about North Dakota.


It is not the purpose of horizons to “oversell,” but merely present in an attractive manner the features, the people and the living which makes North Dakota an exceptional place in which to live, work and raise a family.


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Editor, North Dakota Horizons
PO Box 1091
Bismarck, ND 58502
United States of America

P: 866-462-0744


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