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The Good Ol’ Days: That Was No Lady, That Was a Bull

By Staff | Feb 19, 2016

While driving to Kissimmee to cover the Florida high school girls weightlifting championships on a recent Saturday afternoon, my route took me past Orlando International Airport and then onto a winding four-lane street through an industrial park. Traffic was light and as I idly surveyed the surroundings, I came face to face with a nearby bull. I don’t know its breed, but it was black or dark brown and was grazing in a small pasture between a trucking terminal and a factory and it was looking longingly across the lane at a larger pasture of cows.

Which is the more unusual…a bull in an industrial park or a girls weightlifting state championship? How about a girl lifting weights in a china shop?

I last saw a bull in person in 1977 at a bullfight in Seville, Spain. The young women in our group were shocked and saddened by the ultimate outcome. Some cried after the final Ole! I once saw some buffalo in person while driving between Tok and Glennallen, Alaska in 2002 and I had to slow to a stop until they cleared the highway.

When I was a freshman at Rugby High School in ’62-63, I took the vocational agriculture class taught by the legendary Don Erickson, who was arguably the standard of excellence in Vo-ag education. Erickson taught more than a thousand young people over a quarter century and many hundreds of them became successful in farming, agri-business and public speaking. He molded RHS’s Future Farmers of America chapter into the best in the nation (you can look it up).

Mr. Erickson’s Vo-ag classes were an adventure. He knew how to balance order and decorum with informal bantering. When the bell rang, we all left with more knowledge than when we came in an hour earlier. In addition to teaching, Erickson was a much sought-after public speaker, sometimes driving as far as western North Dakota or even eastern Montana to share his humorous-but-informative style of after-dinner speaking for agricultural and business audiences. He sometimes had to drive back in the early morning hours after a weeknight gig, but still was on KGCA, fresh as a daisy, at 5:55 a.m. for his Monday-Friday wakeup show.

One day in Vo-ag class he said that he could speak intelligently on just about any topic. I challenged him to speak on what was then a newly-emerging subject: nuclear physics. To our surprise and great enjoyment, he launched into an informed, intelligent overview of nuclear research, the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, etc., interspersed with a joke here or a clever pun there. We were all amazed.

Don told me about when he and three other men gave short sermons for a First Lutheran Church Men’s Day service. They were each assigned a topic and Don had mentally worked out a mini-sermon about Topic B. Dr. C.G. Johnson spoke before him and, to Don’s discomfort, Dr. Chris was speaking on Don’s Topic B! It was Erickson’s turn next, so as he walked the short distance from his pew to the pulpit, he formulated a sermon on Topic C and received rave reviews. That was Don Erickson.

I bought a Polled Hereford heifer for an FFA project and Mr. Erickson helped me to pick one out. We settled on one, whom I called “Lady”, as she had some sort of registered name. She was a bovine “blue blood”. If Lady would have had a pinky finger, she would have raised it at the appropriate moments.

I kept Lady at Cousin Victor Gronvold’s farm in Barton and I made regular visits, as her daily dairy diary would allow. One winter day I was taking her for a walk, on a sort of leash, when she broke free and started running toward Wolford. Gena (Mrs. Thor) Gronvold happened to be looking out her kitchen window and saw a little heifer racing through the snow with this frantic city kid in trousers, jacket and porkpie hat chasing after her. I don’t know how I caught up, but it was a lesson learned.

In March of ’63, I entered Lady in competition at the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City. Hans Dahl and I drove to “The City of Bridges” (you can look it up) and Lady earned a red ribbon. It was certainly an experience and also my first (and last) indoor rodeo, at least close-to, as they say in Britain.

Our FFA chapter had regular meetings, presided over by a designated person for that night’s session. One meeting’s president was a young man with the initials Dwight Johnson. As a part of the closing order of business, the president recites, “As we mingle with others, let us be diligent in labor, just in our dealings, courteous to everyone, and, above all, honest and fair in the game of life.” This was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

That particular night, Dwight had a cold and his first words, somewhat appropriately, sounded to me like, “As we mingle with udders.” (You can check the minutes).

Bill is a Rugby native, graduating from RHS in 1966. His family operated the Gronvold Motor Company until 1968. He is a retired FAA air traffic controller (not to be confused with FFA controller) and although he resides near the urban ranches of Orlando, Florida, his heart will always be with the Heart of America. And, no, he doesn’t still fit into his blue FFA jacket.

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