The Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill & Elevator will be celebrating their 100th anniversary soon but not before a resurrected band of NPL supporters have toured three gems created by the Nonpartisan League in 1919.
By Lloyd Omdahl
According to the plan, a busload of some 25 were scheduled to leave Mandan at 9 a.m. July 29 for a tour of the Bank where Mike Jacobs, author of a new book about the Bank, was to share some insights. A Big Tent Chautauqua was slated to continue talks. At 3 p.m. the bus was scheduled to leave Bismarck and arrive in Grand Forks for a Tuesday tour of the Mill and a return to Bismarck that afternoon. Among those on the bus were former ND Commissioner of Agriculture Myron Just of Minneapolis, Former Director of Economic Development Bill Patrie and former ND Commissioner of Agriculture, member of the NPL Executive Committee and granddaughter of Bank Manager Frank Vogel (1937-1944) Sarah Vogel. Under the steady leadership of Eric Hardmeyer in the Bank and Vance Taylor at the Mill, both businesses have become prosperous with the biennial sessions of the legislature bleeding millions in profits for the state budget. Both institutions have seen leaner years. In fact, many state policymakers thought that one or the other, perhaps both, would fold before the end of the first decade. The whole situation was precarious. Socialism was not on the agenda of a conservative state but the Nonpartisan League rallied large majorities in both houses of the legislature and passed their bills which were quickly signed by an NPL governor. But the true believers in private enterprise, manifesting themselves as the Independent Voters Association, dug in and initiated measures to repeal the radical legislation. All six repealing measures were barely defeated, saving the League program. However, all was not joy for the League. The IVA had also filed recall petitions against the three NPL officials who ran the Industrial Commission under which the League programs were to be implemented. All three were recalled, leaving the Bank and the Mill in the hands of the IVA. Fortunately, the three new officials honored the vote by which the League programs survived and made every effort to make them successful. But the Bank and the Mill were not turning great profits for the general fund. Since the Mill was the more anemic of the two, some legislators proposed privatizing the Mill more often than the Bank because the Mill was barely breaking even. All of these efforts failed, probably because the private enterprise crowd was sort of proud of having a state-owned Bank and Mill. Other states had tried state ownership or state partnerships with banks but they all fell by the wayside. We used to have Russian trade teams come to the Mill to consider buying wheat. I used to wonder what was going through their heads as we bragged about our socialistic institution. They probably expected a picture of Lenin hanging behind the next door. Today, the founding NPLers would be dancing in heaven, if that’s where they went, over the success of the Bank and the Mill. The Bank, rumored to be the biggest bank between Seattle and Minneapolis, offers scores of creative programs for farmers, businesses, banks, students and local governments. It deserves its new quarters. The Mill’s gross – now pay attention – is now $340,000,000 annually and growing. It’s the biggest mill in North and South America and that’s not a rumor. The Mill, too, deserves new quarters. The tourists on the NPL bus have a right to celebrate.