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Hovland to receive Distinguished Service Award

By Sue Sitter - | Jun 12, 2021

Tilman Hovland

A familiar member of the Rugby community will receive an honor from the North Dakota American Legion at their annual department convention, to be held in Minot June 25-27.

Tilman Hovland, known for his career teaching music and serving the Rugby Clarence Larson post, will receive the Distinguished Service Award, according to an announcement by the North Dakota American Legion.

A Rugby resident since 1962, Hovland joined the Rugby post after applying before in the Minot area. Hovland was born in Lignite.

“There was a period of time where you weren’t eligible for the American Legion even if you had been in the armed services. So, I had not joined. I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to,” he recalled.

Hovland said a legion member suggested sending in an application to see if they would admit him later.

The legion accepted his application.

Hovland is a Korean Conflict-era veteran who served at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

Originally pegged for the infantry, Hovland was sent to the New Mexico site after the U.S. and North Korea declared a cease-fire.

Scores on Army aptitude tests showed Hovland to be a fit for the New Mexico site, so he trained for work there in a seven-month course in Huntsville, Ala., under scientist Werner Von Braun.

“I never studied so hard in my life,” Hovland said of the training. “My kids call me ‘The Rocket Scientist,'” he quipped.

Hovland said he had an opportunity to stand in a crater left by a nuclear bomb test at the site.

When he joined the American Legion, Hovland said members designated him as bugler for the honor guard. “When I first came here, they didn’t have anybody for a bugler for the honor guard,” Hovland said, adding, “We still have the honor guard. About a dozen guys belong to it.”

Hovland recalled traveling with fellow honor guard members to funerals in all kinds of weather, including once to Barton, where t­emperatures dipped to 30 below zero.

A fellow legion member asked him to count the funerals where he had played Taps. “It’s well over 300 times,” Hovland estimated.

Hovland’s work for the Legion often crossed over to his position as a music teacher at Rugby High School. Hovland retired from that post in 1993.

“Boys State, I’ve been connected to that ever since I came to town, which was in 1962,” Hovland said. “I was the go-between for the legion and the school. I worked closely with the guidance counselors with the schools.”

“I still serve in that capacity, but for many years, we haven’t had any students,” Hovland noted. “One year, we had 10 boys and eight girls that went to Boys’ State and Girls’ State together. Now, we’ve gone for several years where we just don’t have anyone we can talk into going. It’s a fantastic program. It’s one of those deals you can’t really explain to the student what a great thing it is. For those that have gone, oh, my, they can’t believe what a great experience it was.”

“I’ve also been the go-between for the music scholarships for the International Music Camp at the International Peace Garden,” Hovland added. “We haven’t had that because of the virus but I would imagine they’d get it going next year again.”

“It’s a marvelous place,” Hovland said of the music camp. “You can’t really explain to a student what a great experience it is, they have to have been there.”

Hovland’s involvement in musical programs at Rugby High led to another honor when school officials named their auditorium after him. Hovland, his three children and wife had performed musicals in the auditorium for Rugby’s Village Arts during summers. His first production was “Oliver!”

Hovland said he noticed a need for air conditioning in the auditorium “when I was squishing in my shoes on the stage because it was that hot in there.”

Hovland said he began a campaign to raise money for an air conditioning system in the auditorium. Hovland said after the campaign raised about 80 percent of the needed funds, the school board voted to pay the remaining cost.

“That was a big turnaround for the productions. We had sell-out audiences every time. Otherwise, we’d have been about half that because it was a sauna,” Hovland noted.

Military honors in Hovland’s family go back to his grandmother, who was a gold star mother, an honor given to mothers of fallen soldiers.

“I had four uncles who were all in the Army at the same time in World War II. The youngest one was killed in France,” Hovland said. “The Minot Daily News gives the pictures of the four brothers in one of their papers (from that period), “ Hovland noted.

“My uncle was buried on Normandy Beach in France,” Hovland added. “He went in on D-Day June 6 and passed away July 5, so he made it almost a month before he died of his injuries. He was 23 years old.”

Hovland said he felt honored to be chosen for the Distinguished Service Award. He said he plans to stay involved in the Rugby post and his community.

Hovland said of the legion, “They’re a very busy organization. They’re quite a crew.”

“They need a PR person for each post, because people are really not aware of all they do,” he added.

“For example, for a student graduating high school, they have a lot of scholarships. They’ve given a lot of scholarships to students at our high school. Then, after their first semester of college, (students) submit a transcript to say they’re passing, then they receive $500 up to maybe $1000,” Hovland said.

Hovland said he also plans to keep playing Taps for veterans’ funerals.

“Last year, we had several younger folk join who are actually former students of mine who’ve been in the service and are on the honor guard with me,” Hovland added.

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