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Knudsen retiring after 42 years with Minn-Dak

After 42 years with Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Tom Knudsen is retiring.

Knudsen, Minn-Dak’s vice president of agriculture, is officially retired on Monday, June 3. Minn-Dak was not only the 65-year-old’s first full-time employer, it was his only full-time employer. He joined Minn-Dak just prior to completing his education at North Dakota State University.

“I had not even done my final testing when the interviews were held here in 1977,” Knudsen said. “My first day on the job was during finals week. That was a little crazy, doing them both.”

Born and raised in Abercrombie, North Dakota, Knudsen has been married almost as long as he’s worked for Minn-Dak. He and wife Kate married in June 1977. The Knudsens have three children and six grandchildren.

When it comes to retirement, Knudsen said, the things he won’t do are piling up.

“I’m not driving a beet truck. I’m not working on a piler. I’m going to hide for at least a year and see what that feels like,” he said.

Getting away from e-mails, text strings, interviews and everyday responsibilities is something Knudsen is looking forward to.

“My favorite time of year has always been in September and October,” he said. “Guess what happens with this job at that time of year? It’s the total chaos called sugar beet harvesting.”

The chaos is total, but controlled, Knudsen said. He is confident his successor, Mike Metzger, will be successful. Metzger, a research agronomist, was promoted to Knudsen’s position last month.

“We can’t have two vice presidents of agriculture, so they solved this in a novel way,” Knudsen said.

Knudsen’s current title is vice president of agriculture (STR). The portion in parenthesis stands for “soon to retire.”

“It’s not ‘emeritus,’ since we’re not an academic institution,” Knudsen said. “The walls are getting bare, the cupboards are getting bare. I’m cleaning up to clear out to move out.”

Metzger, in a statement, said Knudsen has not only decades of hand-on experience, but the memory of an elephant.

“Tom has always been able to see the big picture and keep things simple,” Metzger said. “It’s one of his greatest attributes. No matter how complex the task we were trying to tack, Tom was always able to whittle it down to a clear purpose or direction and it was usually the correct one.”

Knudsen, who hired Metzger in 2001, watched him earn both a Master’s degree and a PhD.

“We have a well-educated PhD on staff. It’s quite a process and we’re very proud of that,” Knudsen said.

As manager of Minn-Dak’s agriculture department, Knudsen oversaw the responsibilities of raising, harvesting, storing, delivering and processing the sugar beet crop.

“Truly, for 12 months, you’re doing something with the crop,” he said. “Last year got a little excessive for everybody, going to July 5. Our normal (end of processing) date is some time in May. We’ve gone to June 5-6 before. But July 5 was a little crazy.”

Minn-Dak expects to complete its year on either June 1 or 2, Knudsen said. It’s an achievable goal.

“Our trucks are off the road now. Everything’s inside. We’ll be moving into one of our three storage sheds probably on Saturday (May 11). As everybody knows, it’s not been a very warm spring. It works in our favor for spring, not so much for getting the ’19 crop in,” Knudsen said.

Since 1977, Knudsen has seen Minn-Dak succeed and innovate. A multi-year, highly-planned expansion in the 1990s was an achievement. He is equally proud of colleagues who have stayed with the company.

“It’s just fun to watch people in your department grow and do well,” Knudsen said.


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New officer sworn in at Breckenridge City Council

Breckenridge Mayor Russ Wilson swore in full-time police officer Alec Gjerdevig during Monday night’s city council meeting.

Gjerdevig grew up in Wahpeton, attended Alexandria Technical College and first worked in the Richland County Jail. He then worked on the North Dakota State College of Science Police Department, and then with Breckenridge Police as a part-time officer.

“Alec has done a fabulous job for us. I expect no less than that continuing on,” Police Chief Kris Karlgaard said.

“Before I pin this badge on you, I’d like to point out the amount of people here,” Karlgaard continued. “There’s a huge showing from the Richland County Sheriff’s Office. You also have your family, your father, Steve Gjerdevig, is a Richland County deputy. You have the entire city council, along with the mayor, city administrator, you have a showing from the other members of the city of Breckenridge and also the Breckenridge Police Department. I want you to know you are not alone. Everyone here in this room, as well as others who couldn’t make it, are here to watch you succeed, help you succeed. We have your back. Congratulations.”

In other news, the council passed resolutions allowing Breckenridge High School and St. Mary’s School to modify the bus parking only signs at their respective locations. The signs will indicate specific times that the areas are for bus zones only, such as 7:30-9 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. on school days for the high school, and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on school days for St. Mary’s.

The council reviewed the bills and claims through May 6 for the city, totaling $241,203.82, and approved them. Bills and claims for public utilities through the same period, totaling $401,581.69, were also reviewed and approved.

The second reading of Ordinance No. 508 – Midco Franchise Agreement – was held, and a resolution was approved. The ordinance grants a renewed cable franchise to Midcontinent Communications to construct a maintain a cable communications system in the city of Breckenridge, sets forth conditions accompanying the grant of the franchise, provides for regulation and use of the system, and prescribes penalties for the violations of its provisions.

The council also passed a resolution authorizing the city administrator, finance officer, mayor and vice mayor to sign various instruments from time to time, and authorizes electronic fund transfers as needed by the city administrator or finance officer. This action is done annually.

The next council meeting is at 5 p.m. Monday, May 20.


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After prison reshuffle debate, North Dakota corrections system head looking ahead to legislative study

BISMARCK — The head of North Dakota’s corrections system is looking forward to a wide-ranging legislative study of her department after lawmakers rejected plans to shuffle prisoners around the state.

North Dakota lawmakers budgeted $400,000 to hire a consultant to aid in a study of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The agency’s budget bill mandated that legislative leaders appoint a special six-member committee to examine the department before the 2021 session.

The examination will start months after Gov. Doug Burgum pitched a multi-step plan to move female prisoners out of a relatively remote location in southwestern North Dakota to another facility near Bismarck, which he and corrections officials said was driven by a lack of services available to women compared to those offered to men.

In written testimony to lawmakers in March, DOCR Director Leann Bertsch said current arrangement is no longer “viable.”

“Even though it would be much easier for myself and the department to continue the status quo and avoid a debate that is fraught with emotion, the taxpayers deserve correctional practices that enhance public safety and utilize tax dollars in the most fiscally prudent manner,” she wrote.

But the Legislature ultimately opted for a “comprehensive” study instead. The effort must include a review of “gender-responsive correctional and rehabilitation facility and service needs” and the preferable location of facilities.

In an interview, Bertsch maintained that the department still needs to address services for women, but she said she’s coming into the study with an “open mind.”

“I think this is an opportunity to really educate and inform people about the direction the Department of Corrections needs to go,” she said Tuesday, May 7. “The study is actually broad enough that we can look at all the pieces of our department.”

Bertsch said it became clear during the legislative session that even if the female prisoners are relocated, there was still a desire for “some sort of correctional mission” in New England.

“We can work with that if that’s the way they want to go,” she said.

Bertsch also lamented the legislative debate over the department rose to a “level of unnecessary (incivility),” citing comments made by New England Republican Rep. Mike Schatz, whose district includes the women’s prison. Speaking to the Dickinson Press about prison reform efforts in March, Schatz said Bertsch’s “attitude” about corrections was “wrong” and “dangerous.”

“I think that the taxpayers and public servants can expect a higher level of statesmanship from their legislators,” Bertsch said Tuesday.

Schatz said he questioned looking to Norway as a model for prison reforms and being more “lenient” with prisoners while raising concerns about correctional workers’ safety. Bertsch described the state’s prison system as safe and humane.

Schatz, meanwhile, welcomed the legislative study of the DOCR and defended officials running the women’s prison.

“Everything seemed to be working just fine, and then all of a sudden there’s all kinds of complaints that we’ve never heard about before,” Schatz said.

Rachelle Juntunen, the warden of the Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in New England, likewise said they there were caught off guard by the Republican governor’s proposal to move female prisoners out of the community when it was announced late last year, prompting concerns about the economic impact to the area.

Juntunen disputed accusations about the facility, but she said they were willing to make changes to address concerns raised by the state.

“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to just sit back and say, ‘Well nothing’s going to happen for two years so let’s just keep doing business as usual,’” she said. “If they want things improved, we will certainly work with them on doing what we can to make that happen.”


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Richland County adds staff to Veterans Service Office

With a 5-0 vote, the Richland County Board of Commissioners approved hiring an full-time employee for the veterans service office. The employee is expected to begin on July 1.

Her office continues to grow, Veterans Service Officer Mary Vetter said Tuesday, May 7. Vetter keeps the commissioners informed about case management and the office’s financial impact on Richland County, North Dakota.

“We continue to receive positive feedback from the community as well as veterans,” Vetter said.

Those veterans are grateful for both Vetter’s work and Richland County’s work for its veterans, Vetter said.

“I think it’s been a population that has been a little underserved and (support) would be a nationwide communication that we’d continue to hear,” she said.

What Vetter really needs is a helper, she said. She asked for approval of the new position and what supporting information the commissioners would need.

“We can continue to see the volume (of cases) is growing,” Vetter said. “That’s a good thing.”

No one should have the impression that she’s too busy to handle a veteran’s case, Vetter said. She hears that sentiment from local veterans and said it is not the case.

Vetter is aware that her workload is not expected to lighten anytime soon.

“We do not want to miss the opportunity to help a veteran in our community,” she said.

Commissioner Nathan Berseth made the motion to hire a full-time employee. It was seconded by Commissioner Rollie Ehlert.

“I could defend this position all day long, six ways to Sunday,” Berseth said.

The commissioners are all on the same page, Commissioner Dan Thompson said.

“I think today has been a huge step forward for Mary’s position and the wheels are turning,” Thompson said.

Richland County is facing another personnel change. NDSU Extension Agent Kayla Carlson is leaving the Twin Towns Area office to work in Fargo. Carlson began serving as a family consumer science agent in fall 2016.

“We focus on meeting the various needs of the people that live in Richland County,” Carlson said previously.

Since her hiring, Carlson has informed residents about topics including chronic disease prevention and lifestyle management.

The next Richland County Commissioners meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 21 at the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton.


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4 Things to Know Today

1 Public Service Announcement: The city of Wahpeton will do hydrant flushing May 14-May 16.

2 In contempt: The House Judiciary Committee Wednesday held Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying evidence.

3 Historical fashion: Red Door Art Gallery presents a Style Show and Lunch, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at City Brew Hall.

4 Young entrepreneurs: Marketplace for Kids returns to NDSCS Tuesday, May 14, check out their projects from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.