Elaine Hobson Miller Chronicles Her Travels
to the NFPW Conference in Fargo, N.D.

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Old friends and new places. That’s what took me to the NFPW Communications Conference in Fargo, North Dakota, in June. And that’s what will take me to the 2023 conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, next June.

 

The workshops are always timely and informative. But to tell the truth, they are becoming less and less applicable to my semi-retired status. It’s the family reunions that keep me returning, along with the pre- and post-trips organized by the host affiliates.

 

I’ve been attending these conferences since 1996. While I’ve missed a few, I always enjoy catching up with folks I’ve known all these years and making new friends, who will be old friends by the time the next conference rolls around.
 

The one-day, pre-conference tour took us to Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River from Fargo. We visited the Hjemkomst (yem-komst) Center, which collects, preserves and shares the history of Clay County. Then we stopped by the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center to see the wood chipper that chopped up a dismembered body in the 1996 movie “Fargo.” Everyone hammed it up and took photos peering inside as if we’d been “chipped.” The yellow, rusted machine is signed by the Coen Brothers, who wrote, produced and directed the movie, and is located inside the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center in Fargo.

 

Our three-day post-tour (Sunday-Tuesday) took us to a Frontier Village in Jamestown, where we had our pictures made with Dakota Thunder, the world’s largest buffalo. Created by sculptor Elmer Petersen, this 26-foot-tall, 60-ton concrete bovine has been one of the Midwest's most popular roadside attractions for over 50 years.

 

Other highlights of the post-conference adventure included touring the Custer House at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, where Custer was stationed when he fought his final battle; seeing another bovine statue, Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein (NFPW members are suckers for superlatives); photographing seven giant metal sculptures along a two-lane highway in Southwest North Dakota near Dickinson, then meeting the sculptor who created them; and watching a herd of bison and listening to the high-pitched chirps of a village of prairie dogs in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota.

 

Salem Sue is a 38-foot-high, 50-foot-long, 12,000-pound tribute to the local dairy business in New Salem, North Dakota. Recognized as one of North Dakota’s preeminent dairy centers, the city named its high school athletic teams the Holsteins. Once again, cameras snapped rapidly in front of and under this black and white sculpture.

 

The 32-mile Enchanted Highway is a country road that starts at Exit 72 off I-94 near Gladstone. It ends in Regent, where the artist who designed and built the highway’s seven scrap-metal sculptures runs a gift shop. Gary Greff is the artist, who used his own funds to build the sculptures, which include Geese in Flight, a Tin Family, Deer Crossing, Pheasants on the Prairie and Teddy Roosevelt on horseback with a stage coach next to him, and two more. He’s now working on a new one, which contains scrap-metal spiders in their giant web.

 

“Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam…” is the refrain that ran through my mind when our tour bus stopped near a buffalo herd in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Mommas and daddies grazed while their babies either nursed or lolled around doing nothing.

 

As for the prairie dogs, they have their own “villages” in the park, consisting of above-ground mounds leading to miles of underground tunnels. They can be quite comical and talk to each other quite a bit, a sound that reminded me of birds chirping. Buffalo herds are maintained in separate areas from the prairie dogs, not just to protect the latter from running feet, but to prevent the buffalo from stepping in the prairie-dog holes and breaking the bigger animals’ legs!

 

NFPW members laugh about shopping our way through various cities and states on our tours. We never miss a gift store. But I brought back an unpurchased and unwanted souvenir from the conference this year – COVID. The Sunday morning after the conference ended Saturday night, attendees received an email from NFPW headquarters announcing that a fellow member had tested positive for the virus that morning. I had come in contact with her and managed to contract it.

 

I discovered that the following Thursday morning when I arose from my bed at home to feel like a Mack truck had run over me. A home test confirmed my suspicions. I must say, though, it was a mild case. It didn’t spoil my homecoming, just gave me a good excuse to rest up before my next adventure, which took me to Wyoming and South Dakota. If you’ve enjoyed this little travelogue, let Solomon Crenshaw Jr. or me know and I’ll write about that trip next issue.

—Elaine Hobson Miller