As residents of Crosby and Divide County took time in 2017 to commemorate the past 100 years of building, they also got to work on the next 100 years.
The news in 2017 was filled with stories of building — not just in the form of new structures, but also in efforts to improve or maintain strong community institutions, pursue new endeavors and increase quality of life.
That all happened despite some instability for the anchor industries of farming and ranching: One of the most severe droughts in recent memory reduced crop yields and threatened livestock. Oil has fared better, as daily production in the state climbed back above 1 million barrels and the rig count increased from 38 in January to 56 in October.
2017 was a second consecutive year of big changes for several longtime Crosby businesses.
Ekness Supervalu became Jason’s Super Foods in February, closing the book on the Ekness family’s 60 years of grocery ownership in Crosby, dating back to the 1957 opening of the City Locker.
Jeff and Heidi Greaves completed their refurbishment of the former Power Creamery, now The Depot. That business also got a new neighbor in March, when BNC National Bank opened a brand-new building immediately to the south.
Henny’s Coffee acquired the space that BNC had vacated and now has its own shop after first opening inside Stems and Salvage two years earlier.
The former Golden Hub Motel reopened in the summer as the Crosby Lodge under the management of Lucas and Becki Schumacher and Amber Haugland. The old Tastee Freeze building on the south end of Main Street also came back into business: Jean and Joel DeJardine started a diner called Beverly’s, in October.
‘100 years and building’
Nearly two years of planning from business owners, community organizations and other Crosby and Divide County institutions went into the celebration held in August, the biggest the city has seen since its 2004 centennial. More than 1,100 registered for a full three-day weekend of activities, entertainment and reacquainting.
The focus this time was the 100th birthday for the Divide County Courthouse and the completion of its $10 million expansion and renovation. Residents past and present were able to take their first tour of the new addition despite construction delays that meant county departments had yet to fully settle into their new spaces. A dedication ceremony featured state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as keynote speaker.
Among the other celebration events: a street dance; a parade, with John Andrist serving as grand marshal; a concert lineup that included the popular North Dakotan duo Tigirlily; and an extensive fireworks show.
Divide County saw anywhere from severe to exceptional levels of drought all summer long.
From April to July, just 2.85 inches of rain were measured at the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network station south of Crosby. Last year saw 11.21 inches in that time.
The conditions extended throughout western North Dakota and spilled into South Dakota and Montana, and even much of eastern North Dakota was either in moderate drought or at least drier than usual.
Relief efforts reached Bismarck, with Gov. Doug Burgum’s waiver of permit fees for hauling hay, water or livestock supplies. In Washington, D.C., the Agriculture Department authorized the use of federal Conservation Reserve Program lands for emergency haying and grazing.
5 years for deadly wreck
A judge in May sentenced a Florida man to five years in prison for the August 2016 traffic deaths of Les Gunderson, 31, and two daughters, ages 8 and 2, east of Crosby.
William G. Koehler pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter ahead of jury selection in February, avoiding a trial that would have been held in Watford City. Judge Robin Schmidt had granted a change of venue after Koehler’s attorney argued it would be impossible to select an impartial jury in Crosby.
Koehler admitted his cell phone had been a distraction shortly before his pickup struck Gunderson’s car, which had been stopped by a flagger in a construction zone.
At the sentencing hearing, Gunderson’s parents, Tammy Monteyne and Lesely Gunderson, each addressed Koehler and spoke of their trauma from losing a son and two grandchildren.
Koehler apologized to the Gunderson family members who were in attendance.
Noah Knudson, a 2015 graduate of Divide County High School, received a kidney in September from Rev. Zachariah Shipman.
Knudson’s kidney function dwindled to as low as 8 percent, he said in May, after the end of his sophomore year at North Dakota State University. Knudson has a condition called Henoch-Schoenlein purpura. He took the fall semester off to recover.
His relatives had set up a page on the website CaringBridge and announced there his need for a donor. Shipman said the posts motivated him to get his kidneys tested for a possible transplant.
More recently, Jerry Stromstad of rural Fortuna traveled to Rochester, Minn., in November, to receive a liver transplant.
School, park upgrades
Crosby’s 1 percent sales tax for the park district and community center received an extension through 2021. Voters in July approved the renewal measure by a wide margin: 132 for, 15 against.
The park improvements that began in 2013 after the introduction of the sales tax continued in 2017 with the opening of a dog park at the fairgrounds and a sand volleyball court at the Crosby Country Club. The pool house got a fresh coat of paint, including a colorful mural by Thane Lund, and new managers Ashley Aslesen and Melissa Rindel added more swimming lessons and other programming.
The Divide County School Board issued an additional $3.3 million in bonds in April toward the completion of its building renovations and additions.
These bonds did not require a ballot measure but must be paid back through an existing levy.
The elementary school addition was ready for the start of the school year in August, featuring four new classrooms including science and computer labs, and the administrative offices in both buildings received facelifts. The high school’s move into five additional classrooms could come in time for the new semester in January.
Skjermo campground grows
An expansion of the Skjermo Lake campground in the spring added eight new electric hookups, bringing the total at the site to 32.
The county also implemented a new fee structure for campers, including a full-season reservation for $500. A previous ordinance only allowed campers to stay for 10 consecutive days but was generally not enforced.
Along the way, the Divide County zoning board discovered in March that no state health permit existed for the site, but a June inspection found everything to be in compliance.
Despite initial worries the allowing of longterm camping would lead to a lack of availability of spots for short-term campers, Deb Gilbertson, chairwoman of the Divide County Park Board, said that has not been the case.
St. Luke’s national prestige
The selection of St. Luke’s Medical Center to a list of the nation’s top 100 Critical Access Hospitals was “very gratifying,” CEO Cody Barnhart said after the announcement in March.
The list, created by the Chartis Group, a national advisory firm for the health care industry, rated all 1,332 of the small, rural hospitals on the quality and cost of their care. St. Luke’s was among seven North Dakota hospitals in the top 100.
Barnhart has also touted steps by St. Luke’s to offset its operating deficit: He said grant awards and cuts in expenses have made a difference in the bottom line as revenue has declined from the oil boom’s peak.
Family Dollar says no
One major headline from the year told of something that wasn’t built: a Family Dollar store.
The commercial real estate developer that purchased an option on city-owned property at Southridge Acres in March decided in July not to build a store there. A Family Dollar official said the development costs would have been too high.
In later consultation, Lonni Fleck, city engineer, suggested Crosby could spur development at Southridge by running utilities to the individual properties, but the city council has not taken any action with regard to the subdivision.
FBLA wins 15 straight
Divide County High School’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter won its 15th consecutive Outstanding Chapter Award at April’s state leadership conference in Bismarck, with 15 students qualifying for this year’s national conference.
The chapter, under the guidance of advisers Wendy Grote and Betty Sandberg, has also regularly won the state awards for largest local chapter membership and for overall membership achievement.
At nationals, held in July in Anaheim, Calif., DC received another Outstanding Chapter award as well as special Diamond Chapter status, given in honor of FBLA’s 75th anniversary.
Divide County also had a state officer this year: JoBeth Johnson successfully campaigned for the position of state historian.