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Heitkamp visits Rugby

By Staff | Jan 24, 2014

Senator Heidi Heitkamp presents medals to Marilyn Niewoehner, of Rugby, in recognition of her father’s military service in World War II.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., made a few stops during her visit to Pierce County on Thursday. Heitkamp was on a tour of the state this week, as all senators received a break from D.C. to hold events in their respective home states.

“I think that our future is in places like Rugby and Harvey and Devils Lake and making sure that those communities are vibrant,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp’s first stop of the day was at Ely Elementary School in Rugby where she spoke with Liisa Foster’s fourth-grade class. The senator rattled off facts about the history of the Red River Valley and asked students to share what North Dakota landmarks they’ve visited.

Sixth-grader and history buff Dawson Schepp waltzed into the classroom to join his brother Gavin. The brothers’ hands shot up when Heitkamp asked who wanted to be a U.S. senator in Washington D.C.

“We’ll hopefully fix the place before you get there,” Heitkamp said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp speaks with students in Liisa Foster’s fourth-grade class at Ely Elementary School in Rugby on Thursday. Foster is pictured seated.

Fourth-graders study state history and the class enjoyed playing North Dakota trivia with Heitkamp. They scribbled answers on personal dry-erase boards and proudly showcased their knowledge.

“I think it’s really, really important to tell schools we value what they do,” Heitkamp said, “and to spend time and answer questions and get kids interested in government. You hope what happens is, No. 1, they get more interested in the electoral process, but, second, you hope that they think, ‘Well, I can do that. She can do it. I can do it,’ and we get kids imagining that they can participate in this process as an elected official.”

One student stumped Heitkamp by asking her for the Rugby High School nickname. With a little help from stickers around the room, the senator worked her way to saying Panthers.

Another student asked Heitkamp if she ever dislikes her job.

“About half the time,” she said to a chorus of laughter. “It’s taken awhile to figure out that this process is different. It takes awhile to get things done. I like my job better when I’m here with North Dakotans.”

Tim Chapman/PCT Ely Elementary School fourth-graders eagerly answer trivia questions about North Dakota for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp on Thursday.

The former N.D. Attorney General and Tax Commissioner explained her role as a freshman senator and discussed the purpose of committee hearings and meeting with constituent groups. Ely Principal Jason Gullickson asked Heitkamp to explain the importance of a strong work ethic in the classroom. Heitkamp used sports analogies, explaining that Michael Jordan and LeBron James didn’t get to where they are without constant dedication.

“If things come too easy you won’t know what you’re missing,” she said.

Heitkamp was comfortable with the back-and-forth as students fired questions at her on a range of topics.

“I absolutely love kids, and I wasn’t kidding when I told (a student) one of the reasons why I ran is I wanted someone there who I knew every day would think about them,” Heitkamp said. “Think about these kids and think about what do they need for the future and how are we gonna make their lives better and that we give them a chance to have families and love their life.”

Foster thought it was a great experience for her students, who were shy at the nine a.m. start of the visit.

“I was like, ‘Who are you?’ at the beginning,” Foster said. “Her personality is so warm and endearing that the kids kind of picked up on that and relaxed a little bit as the time went on. They were really happy, and when she left they were just on cloud nine.”

Heitkamp’s next stop was at Niewoehner Funeral Home, where she presented American Campaign and World War II Victory medals to Marilyn Niewoehner in recognition of her father, John Jelsing’s, military service during WW II.

Heitkamp found out about the award after Niewoehner’s husband, Dale, did some digging and contacted the appropriate federal agencies. His research found that Marilyn’s father didn’t receive two medals to which he was entitled.

Jelsing had served stateside from 1942 to 1945. He served as a medical aide at Kennedy General Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., at the start of his military service. By the end of his enlistlment he held the rank of Private First Class and was serving as a guard at a German internment camp near Glasgow, Mont.

“This was a sacrifice that a lot of people made, even if it was stateside in our country, and we need to recognize that sacrifice,” Heitkamp said.

Jelsing died of cancer in 1968. The award presentation was a very emotional experience for Marilyn, who was honored and brought to tears.

The Niewoehners also presented Heitkamp with a gift, a white embroidered hand towel.

Heitkamp also paid a visit to i design, a business of particular interest to her, as 96 percent of businesses in North Dakota can be considered “small businesses”, and she is a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship.

From everything Heitkamp had heard, the owners of i design, Daunne Heilman and Helen Ferguson, started with very modest ambitions but their business has grown, moved and expanded over the years, providing opportunities for employees and local businesses alike.

During her visit, Heitkamp was also asked whether or not there will be a farm bill. Heitkamp responded, saying she was optimistic about its passage in two weeks.

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