Niewoehner keeps tradition of community pride
On the walls in the offices of Niewoehner Funeral Home in Rugby hang a wide assortment of appealing photos, art pieces and artifacts, each with a unique story attached.
Owner Dale Niewoehner seems eager to tell the stories behind the photos and artwork when he has time; listeners to his stories will notice community connections are very important to him.
Across from photos of Niewoehner posing with political luminaries such as former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and presidential hopeful Joe Biden hangs an image of a man alone on a street, broom and dustpan in hand, bending down to sweep up broken glass. Close to the photo hangs a pastel acrylic painting of the same subject.
“That’s me in the photo,” Niewoehner tells visitors who ask about the pictures.
Niewoehner visited with the Tribune recently to share the story behind the art – and to reminisce.
“It was a morning in October of 2010. That’s when the photo was published in the Tribune,” Niewoehner said. “I was going to breakfast and I’d just retired from being the mayor. I saw all this glass on the street and I thought, ‘Oh, the police will clean that up.'”
“But I saw when I got back from breakfast, it was still there,” Niewoehner added. “So, I got my dustpan and broom and I cleaned it up because it was glass, and somebody was going to drive on that and get it in their tires.”
“While I was working in the street, I happened to look up, and I saw Dan Smith standing near Merchants Bank taking my picture,” Niewoehner recalled. “He came down and talked to me and I just said I was cleaning glass up so no one would drive on it.”
“Dan was selling pictures to the Tribune at the time, so it was published in the October 16, 2010, issue,” Niewoehner said.
“I don’t know if (the glass) was from an accident the night before or if someone had just thrown beer bottles in the street,” Niewoehner shrugged.
“But that’s just kind of how I am. Whenever I walk anyplace, I’ll pick up litter on the street and put it in the can, as do other people. If we all work together, our city will be cleaner,” he added.
Niewoehner extended his involvement in the community beyond the funeral home when he began a career in local politics in the 1980s.
“I served on the council from 1986 to 2002, then I was the mayor from 2002-2010,” Niewoehner noted.
Niewoehner said keeping Rugby clean and liveable was a priority when he served in city government.
Niewoehner said, “When I was in city government, one of the comments I’d hear from people was that Rugby was so clean. That’s community pride. It’s maybe not as clean as it used to be, but most people have pride in their houses and their yards.”
Niewoehner added, “The city keeps the streets swept and so, it’s a clean town.”
Niewoehner said the photo had hung on his office wall for several years until he noticed it missing one day last fall.
“I noticed this picture was gone,” Niewoehner said. “I thought, ‘What happened to that picture?’ and I decided not to ask any questions. Sometimes, somebody’s making a surprise and you just don’t ask,” Niewoehner added with a smile.
Niewoehner’s wife, Marilyn, has worked in the funeral home for many years and works as an artist. Her work is displayed and sold in her shop, Embroideries, which is next door to the funeral home.
“She gave me that painting at Christmas,” Niewoehner said. “It’s in acrylic pastels.”
He said the painting depicts him perfectly.
“I like neatness,” he said.
Niewoehner also has a display of small photos from Rugby’s early mayors, each with a story. A few early mayors in town had scandals attached to their names as well.
His photos of legislators from North Dakota are larger, in individual frames. Some have autographs.
“When I was mayor, I tried to get all the members of Congress here in town at least once a year,” Niewoehner said.
“Dorgen, Conrad and Pomeroy – they were here often,” said Niewoehner, referring to Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad and Earl Pomeroy. “To me, it was important that these people saw what was going on in this community. It was important that these people were here and saw what we were doing and saw our needs.”
Niewoehner pointed to a large, autographed poster board leaning against an office wall. The poster shows a graph comparing the United States’ gross national product growth for the years 2008 and 2010.
“Kent Conrad was known as The Poster King of the Senate,” Niewoehner explained. “He used more posters (for visual aids) than anyone else in the Senate. There was a department or office that made all these posters for him. Finally, they said, ‘Nobody else uses posters as much as you do. Here, we’re going to give you all the poster making stuff. You make your own posters,'” Niewoehner recounted with a laugh.
“So, when Kent retired, I said, ‘I’d sure like to have one of your posters,'” Niewoehner added. “So, that’s the poster he gave me and he inscribed it for me.”
“We developed relationships, especially Conrad and I. He and I are very good friends – he was here a lot,” Niewoehner said.
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