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Cenex grant program helps distributors inspire community pride

By Staff | Aug 15, 2020

Cenex and Farmers Union Oil announced in July their latest round of North Dakota winners of their Hometown Pride grant.

Last year’s winner, Envision Cooperative of Rugby, received the grant to promote Rugby’s status as the Geographical Center of North America.

This year’s winner, Farmers Union Oil of Garrison, received $5,000 in grant funds to update sound equipment in the town’s English double-decker bus used for Garrison’s annual Dickens Festival, held in December.

“When I came across (an announcement for Cenex’s Hometown Pride Inititative) on our emails, I thought the best thing a guy could do is give the Dickens Village Festival a boost in the arm,” said Paul Schlichting of Farmers Union Oil of Garrison.

Schlichting said the event is produced by “individuals that are volunteers. There are no paid (employees). They put this on every year and they plan 12 months out of the year.”

“We at Farmers Union Oil in Garrison participate in the event itself and to have Cenex giving us a $5,000 grant through the Hometown Pride program was a huge thing for me and the community, really, because the community is so supportive of us at the local Cenex here,” Schlichting added.

Schlichting said the festival includes bus tours to the guardhouse at nearby Fort Stevenson, which is decked out to resemble a gingerbread house.

The festival also includes a performance of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” local business promotions, food fundraisers for local organizations featuring snacks such as bison meatballs and musical performances.

“This year, we’re going to have Williams and Ree, a (Creedence Clearwater Revival) tribute and the Highwaymen,” Schlichting said.

Schlichting said the Dickens Festival “started when things weren’t good with the farming community and with the lake. It was a way of generating, bringing people to Garrison to do some shopping and have something for them to come here.”

Schlichting said tour buses come to Garrison for the event, some as far away as Minnesota and Fargo.

“A lot of people say it’s the only way to start their Christmas season,” he said.

Schlichting said he “absolutely” recommended the Hometown Pride program for North Dakota communities who want to share their unique qualities.

“You’re given $5,000 and we are the owners of CHS (Cenex and Farmers Union Oil). We should take pride in that. Everyone who has something unique, whether it’s the Geographical Center of North America, the Dickens Village Festival in Garrison, the windmill at Kenmare, the Enchanted Highway by Regent there’s a lot of great things and people should take pride in that stuff,” Schlichting said. “I think partnering Hometown Pride with the company that we own, CHS, is a no-brainer for me.”

“It was great when we got it and the community loves (the festival), and it’s going to be great with a new intercom system on the bus,” he added. “Neat program.”

Miriah Filler of Rugby’s Cenex co-op, which partners with Envision, agreed with Schlichting.

The Rugby co-op won the Hometown Pride grant in July of 2019.

“I think it’s an awesome program,” she said. “It’s a great way for so many co-ops to help out in their community. We were extremely excited when we found out we won.”

“We wrote (to CHS and Cenex) based on being the Geographical Center of North America,” Filler said. “We were talking about all the tourists that come into our community to visit and then once we found out that we won, we found that the best recipient of that money would be the (Prairie Village) museum, which is housing the history for not only our community but other area communities as well.”

Filler said the Rugby co-op’s grant grew, thanks to money contributed by Envision and their bank, CoBank.

“We won $5,000 with the grant and Envision decided to add on $2,500, totaling $7,500,” Filler said. “Our banking partner, CoBank, does a matching grant as well, so the total dollars we ended up donating to the museum amounted to $15,000.”

“We have a special project we’re working on with the museum. At this time, the museum is finalizing other projects that were already under way. So, we’re hoping that in the upcoming year, we’ll be able to announce what we’re doing with that,” Filler said.

“There’s word of mouth and an idea out there, at this time, we’re looking at putting out some sort of gas station, like a replica that kind of fits the theme with the rest of the museum,” Filler said, “but we’re not sure on the date and time yet. They (the museum) have to finish up some of their other projects.”

Filler acknowledged the museum’s search for a new director and a global pandemic have delayed plans for the Rugby Cenex project.

“COVID kind of seemed to throw a loop for everyone this year,” she said.

Mark Vanderlinde, communications manager at CHS Inc., Cenex’s parent company, coordinates the grant program.

“The Cenex brand has a vast network of branded retail stores and distributors and since they are really the face of their brand in their community, we know they of anybody know what makes those places unique and awesome places to live,” Vanderlinde said.

“Rugby is the 2019 winner of the grant for being the Geographical Center of North America,” he added. “We have many Hometown Pride grant winners.”

Vanderlinde said Cenex distributors interested in participating in the program “can submit a story” about what makes them proud of their communities.

“(The story is then) reviewed by a committee,” Vanderlinde said. “The local cooperative, oftentimes, or the independent C-store owner is the recipient of the grant. Essentially, they get to choose a non-profit or whoever should receive that $5,000 grant in their community. They’re really the boots on the ground and they live there.”

“We just believe in the vitality of these communities,” Vanderlinde added. “It’s where we live and work and we want to make sure that we’re doing our part to celebrate that.”

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