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Gronvold: The Fulda bus

By Staff | Sep 16, 2016

Ronald Volk’s obituary brought back memories of the late 1950’s and early 60’s and what the consolidation of rural schools meant for the children of Pierce County. While my country contemporaries might challenge this, I think that busing rural kids to Rugby for school was a good scenario for us all.

For one thing, it meant that we “city kids” had the opportunity and honor of meeting the “farm kids” or “country kids” as they joined us and made significant contributions in leadership, music, athletics and scholarship.

Beginning with my 5th grade year in 1958, as I trudged the five blocks to school (uphill, both ways), a long line of yellow school buses would be arriving at the curb of Ely Elementary and the junior high downtown. I got to know which bus was which. I think the Fulda bus was either No. 5 or 6. I had never heard of Fulda before I met Ronnie Volk and his fellow bus mates, but I quickly learned that it was a special place with special people.

Had things been different, Fulda may now be flourishing, maybe even with a high school of its own. But, for some reason, the residents of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, etc. have seen population stagnation and even decline since maxing out in the 1950 census. We’re so out of the way that we are actually north of flyover country. You can look it up.

Ronnie Volk had lots of siblings, including older brother Duaine and sister Sharon, a classmate. Duaine went to Vietnam in 1965 and was interviewed by Channel 13 newsman John Williams “in country”. I recall Duaine’s saying “It sure is hot over here”.

I have not kept in touch with many of my former classmates and Ronnie’s obituary is exactly what I would have expected his life to be. He was a bright-eyed people person and a natural leader. You couldn’t help but be his friend. He will be missed.

Dan Jacobson was a fellow Fuldan. He made an immediate impact by being cast as Bob Cratchit opposite my Ebenezer Scrooge in the sixth grade Christmas play. We used the old high school stage and the butterflies were raging as Dan and I made eye contact sitting at our “counting house” desks just prior to the opening of the heavy blue curtain. Danny was a natural actor.

My mother had sprayed silver coloring on my hair to make me look older and, for safety reasons, we didn’t light the candle on my desk for fear that my locks would light up.

Danny J. invited me to a Friday night stay at his family’s farm when we were in the 8th grade. I rode the Fulda bus along with the Jacobson siblings and their cousins Tom, Jim and Chuck Teigen, the Volk family and, among others, Jackie Wangler and her sisters, all blessed with beauty. Jackie’s elder sister Annette had been the North Dakota Dairy Princess and was a much-honored RHS grad. Jackie and Dan would eventually marry and Dan rose to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army. After retirement, he became manager of the Washington (D.C.) Navy Yard. Jim, the eldest Teigen brother, earned a PhD in agronomy from Purdue. My classmate Tom was director of the NDSU Agronomy Seed Farm for 32 years and little brother Chuck would survive a horrible farming accident, during which he calmly directed his fellow first responders on how to extract him from a mower.

And that is just one school bus. Each and every bus that arrived from the country had kids who would grow up and contribute, just by being themselves. To paraphrase the Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff, “What a county!”

We still have a few paragraphs left, so I’ll take this opportunity to admit that my earlier article about Officer Frank Peterson left out the names of the two men connected with his February 3, 1963 murder. For the record, they were Louis Mattern, 21, formerly of Rugby, and his Minot roommate Frank Linha, 22. They were described as “youths” in a St. Petersburg (FL) Times headline of the story. 21-year-olds were “youths” in 1963 while teenagers today are now tried as “adults”.

I was so eager to publish the article that I failed to do all of the research. I was unable to find a definitive story about the incident and compiled my column using several different stories that appeared in 1963 and are archived in newspapers nationwide. A few weeks after my column was published, I discovered some more info which I wish to belatedly tack onto the story.

The color of the “youths” car was red and black and they had removed the back seat in order to accommodate their stolen stuff. After shooting Peterson, their car was seen racing out of the alley behind the Lyric Theater by local undertaker Harold Anderson. When the pair were several miles west of town, they turned down a country lane and dumped all of the items that they had stolen from Rugby businesses into the ditch.

They then returned to the scene of the shooting because Mattern thought that Officer Peterson may have recognized him and written his name in the snow. After they drove by and saw that the crime had already been discovered, they then drove to Minot and were stopped by law enforcement at a U.S. 2 roadblock near Surrey at about 9 a.m. that Sunday morning. They said that they had been to Rugby to plan a birthday party, which sounded plausible to the officer, who noticed the missing back seat and a broken side mirror. Had the two fled to Minot immediately after the pre-dawn incident, they may have escaped justice for weeks.

Gronvold is a 1966 graduate of Rugby High School.

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