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Trottier receives governor’s award for individual achievement in arts

By Sue Sitter - | Jan 16, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT David White Thunder Trottier poses near a gift by artist Walter Piehl in his “mini-museum” at his Rugby home.

A lifelong devotion to the arts for local radio personality David White Thunder Trottier has sparked recognition from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

Trottier is among six “stellar recipients of the 2021 Governor’s Awards for the Arts,” according to a Jan. 6 announcement released by the council.

The governor selected Trottier for a category called “Individual Achievement” in the arts.

Trottier’s involvement with the arts includes 30 years of service on the NDCA and 22 of those years as council chair. He stepped down from his post at the council last year.

Trottier said he was surprised to receive the Governor’s Award.

“It’s a very prestigious honor for the state of North Dakota and I’m very proud to be receiving it,” Trottier said.

“Someone had suggested I would receive it and I said, ‘It’ll be a little while before something like this happens’, but it did happen,” Trottier said.

“And when it comes to awards, they’re really nice to mark things that you have done in your life and with your life, but you never do what it takes to get them alone. There have to be other people involved. I had great council members I worked with over the years. I had great staff members I worked with over the years to get all this,” Trottier added. “There were some hard roads and hard things that we went through and had to do to get all this and that’s all part of this.”

The “hard things” Trottier referred to include cuts to the arts council over the years and changes in personnel. However, Trottier’s tenure on the council outlasted four governors’ administrations before he decided to retire during Gov. Burgum’s term.

Trottier said his involvement in the arts goes back to his childhood.

“I always give credit for my love of the arts mainly to three people: Beth Johnson, who’s the founder of the Fort Totten Little Theater and my parents, who were involved in things that I thought looked fun – doing skits and stuff like that,” Trottier said.

“Beth Johnson founded the Fort Totten Little Theater, I believe, in 1963 and her son, Bob was my best friend growing up. We met when we were three or four years old, and we’re still friends today. He’s my best friend,” Trottier added.

The first live play Trottier watched, a production of “Oklahoma,” had him “mesmerized,” Trottier recalled. “To me, it was like I was on a movie set. It was as professional as I’d ever seen in my seven years of life.”

Trottier began performing in plays soon after that.

“I was at St. Michael’s Indian Mission School, and we were always doing the Christmas plays every year,” he said. “I was the archangel one year. My first year, I was the royal messenger. That was my first big role.”

Not only did acting catch Trottier’s interest; he developed a passion for music as well, he said.

“I always had that intrigue, even beyond school. Music was something I grew to love,” Trottier added, noting he sang “all the time” in childhood. “We used to grab the vacuum cleaner hose and use it as a microphone,” he said, recalling his years growing up with his siblings in Fort Totten.

“As time went on, I got more involved in sports. That was something my dad loved seeing. I grew to love basketball, baseball and football. I played all three,” Trottier added.

Although he focused on sports in his years at Belcourt High School, Trottier said he took an opportunity to perform in a play.

“My French teacher was doing a play and the villain quit,” Trottier said. “She said, ‘What am I going to do? My villain quit.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it. It can’t be that hard.’ She gave me a script and let me out of class, and I went to the library and started memorizing lines. We had a rehearsal that night, and I didn’t need to call for many lines. I didn’t know what blocking was. I called it ‘movements on stage.’ I made up my own because we didn’t have any time to do this.”

“The next day,” Trottier added, “we did an afternoon performance for the school and an evening performance for the community and I didn’t miss a line. That was the only play I did in high school.”

Trottier attended Mayville State University, where he played football but the theater beckoned again. After he watched a production of “Damn Yankees” at the university, Trottier said, “I knew I had to be a part of this.”

Trottier continued playing football and progressed from bit parts to leading roles in theater productions.

“Doctor Christopher Jones, who was the lead dancer in ‘White Christmas,’ was my instructor,” Trottier noted. “I had lead roles and I got awards for Best Actor in a Play and Best Actor in a Musical in my senior year. It hadn’t been done before and it has not been done since. That was in the 1976-77 school year.”

“I got Best Actor in a Play for Twelfth Night and Best Actor in a Musical for Alfred P. Doolittle, the role in ‘My Fair Lady,'” Trottier added.

After college, Trottier rose through the ranks in human resources for manufacturing businesses. He eventually founded a company called Chiptronics, Inc. However, his involvement in the arts stayed strong.

Trottier played guitar in The North Band, a musical group performing in gigs throughout the plains states. He also stayed involved in the theater, reprising his role as Alfred P. Doolittle in Rugby’s Village Arts’ production of “My Fair Lady.” He also performed in theatrical productions in Devils Lake.

After the breakup of The North Band, Trottier formed another called “U2 Plus One.” He said they still occasionally get together to play.

Although the current pandemic put a damper on Trottier’s live musical performances, he found time to present solo performances live on social media. Trottier chose unique venues for his pop-up concerts: one took place at First International Bank and Trust and another was performed at Market on Main downtown.

Trottier’s years in the arts, both on the NDCA and performing, gave him the opportunity to connect with other artists. His home is a tribute to his connections with walls displaying paintings, drawings and other works by artists such as Monte Yellow Bird and Walter Piehl.

Piehl, a Minot artist, created a painting especially for Trottier as a retirement gift for his time with the NDCA.

“I hung it next to my beaded quiver in a room I call my mini-museum,” Trottier said. “On all sides, there’s more art and more detail,” he noted, pointing to parts of the canvas bedecked with writing and images from Trottier’s work, life and family. “These are my two coaches from college,” he said, pointing to two faces in the collage-like painting. “That’s a team picture of my football team at Mayville State. So, the detail is just amazing.”

“I have not found everything in this painting yet,” Trottier added. “He’s got Ojibwa; that’s my dad’s side of the family. “It’s beautiful. That’s a custom piece of art for me, by such a distinguished artist. He coordinated everything, but he also sent out requests to former executive directors, former council members, staff members, anyone who wanted to contribute to it to put it together. Walter was the point man who got it fit to his style here.”

Trottier now incorporates his art into his work as a broadcaster at KZZJ radio.

“I love doing radio because I get a lot of creativity here. A lot of the stuff you hear, the ads, I write all of them,” Trottier said. “When you hear people read the ads, they’re reading my words.”

Although Trottier said he’s slowed his pace in recent years, his involvement in the arts continues.

“I just want to stay active with it,” he noted. “I do love music and I tell people the difference between athletics and the arts is you can do the arts for the rest of your life. You’ve only got a small window for athletics.”

“With the arts, people do it until they die. It’s hopefully something my kids have gotten from me, too, with theater and music,” Trottier added.

“I’ve been spending some time with one of my grandsons and teaching him chords. He’s fired up about that,” Trottier said. “He got a chord practice device for Christmas from me. It shows a picture of the chord and where to place your fingers. I told him, ‘You need to practice.’ I said, ‘When you come back and see me again, you can show me the progress you’re making.'”

Recounting his conversation with his grandson, Trottier said, “‘Papa,’ he said, ‘Someday, can I do a concert with you?’ I said, ‘Of course you can. Learn the chords and practice and someday, we’ll do a concert together.”

Trottier will be honored in an online ceremony Feb. 3 from 6:30-8 p.m. “The public is welcome to participate in this wonderful celebration of the arts in North Dakota,” the NDCA announcement said. The event, which is free, requires registration. More information and a registration form are available at www.arts.nd/governors-awards-arts.

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