MSU President's Column for Traill County Tribune

November 9, 2019

We appreciate our farmers

“The establishment of a college in Mayville marked the end of a dream and the beginning of a grand adventure. The vision of the advantages inherent in higher education had long abided in the thoughts and yearnings of the pioneers who settled eastern North Dakota. Far from being untutored sodbusters, many had tasted enough education to feel its allure, and more understood, however imperfectly, that their children could rise in life beyond the station of their parents through the power of knowledge.”

This is the first paragraph in James Warren Neilson’s book, “The School of Personal Service: A History of Mayville State College.” Dr. Neilson, who passed away in 2015, was a long-time professor of history and economics at Mayville State. He was granted emeritus status upon his retirement in 1998.

In the book, Neilson underscores the fact that the pioneers who settled the Mayville area came to America in search of farmland and a better way of life. That better way of life included the opportunity for their children and grandchildren to pursue higher education.

Neilson said, “The casual visitor, seeing Mayville for the first time, would likely notice its grain elevators dominating the skyline. If he chose to look at the town a bit more closely he would have noted its implement dealers, and the fine homes built by major land owners. For Mayville, throughout its history, has been a farmer’s town, a community closely related to the agricultural pursuits carried on beyond its confines.”

When Dakota Territory was split into the states of North Dakota and South Dakota and North Dakota’s constitution was written, Mayville community leaders, who were closely tied to agriculture, worked hard to see that a normal school would be established in Mayville. Leading the way were E.M. Paulson, a banker and implement dealer in Mayville, who served two terms as the town’s mayor, and Colonel William H. Robinson, a Civil War hero who had migrated from his native Chicago to North Dakota, and who had succeeded in several business pursuits in Mayville.

It was unusual that a college would be located in a small community in the newly established state. Most institutions of higher education would be founded in larger towns and cities. These pioneers worked tenaciously to make it happen.

Neilson said, “A college in Mayville would of necessity be unique, or very nearly so, a small college in a country market center. Yet the vagaries of politics were such in 1889 that a proud community would win its college, and the long struggle to shape it into a truly outstanding little institution would get underway.”

There is no question that agriculture and farmers played an integral role in establishing the Traill County area and in founding and supporting Mayville Normal School, which has transformed over the years to become Mayville State University. The roots of this institution and community are tied to agriculture, and the entities continue to be intertwined after all these years. (Mayville State celebrated its 130th birthday on Nov. 2.)

Many of Mayville State’s graduates are farmers or work in careers tied to agriculture. Many of Mayville State’s biggest supporters are tied to agriculture. Many of our students and employees come from farming families. Each of us depends largely on the success of the other.

We are sincerely grateful for our many farming friends and the important roles they play for our university and for our community. The work they do is making a big difference in the lives of countless people, and they are in our thoughts and prayers during these difficult times. We truly appreciate their hard work and all that they do to make the world a better place.