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Where My Mom Met My Dad  (Dickinson, North Dakota)

(Reprint from News: December 3, 2001)

October 19, 2001


Late that afternoon, I stopped in Dickinson, North Dakota, the largest city in western North Dakota.  Back in the early 1900s, a Normal School (i.e., teacher's college) was built here and during World War II, the college was converted into a Naval Officer Training School, something like in the movie, "An Officer and a Gentleman." 


My Dad, who was 19 years old and attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 1943, joined the Navy and was sent to Dickinson to go to school there and to become a Naval officer.  Dickinson's first Naval Officer candidates, including my Dad, arrived in town by train on Wednesday, June 30, 1943.  Three days later, on Saturday, July 3, the community was going to hold a dance in honor of the cadets.


Here's a song my parents probably danced to on their first date.  This is Glenn Miller's In The Mood.

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During that same week in 1943, my Mom, who was 18 and who had just graduated from Bismarck High School, took a bus out to Dickinson to visit a girlfriend of hers, Evelyn Tobin.  Evelyn's mother, as it turned out, was on the dance committee but was terribly worried that there weren't going to be enough girls at the dance, since it was the 4th of July weekend and a lot of families were out of town.  Mrs. Tobin pleaded with her daughter and my Mom to go to the dance.  At first, my Mom refused to go because she didn't like the Navy, thinking that all sailors were sleazy scalawags.  In deference to Mrs. Tobin, though, she finally relented and went to the dance. 


Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago while I was in Bismarck, I read a front-page article in the Dickinson newspaper dated Saturday, July 3, the day of the dance.  According to the article, "Girls at the dance will not be permitted to tell the cadets their last names, supply telephone numbers nor make dates.  The cadets will not be allowed to take the girls home after the dance."  This was just as my Mom had told me many years ago.


As you probably guessed, my Dad met my Mom that night at the dance.  Naval regulations notwithstanding, my Dad asked if he could walk her home and they decided to meet outside, across the street, after the dance was over.  He walked her home that night and she asked him if he'd like to go horseback riding the next day.  My Dad, who had never ridden a horse in his life but didn't admit it, cheerfully said yes.  After bouncing up and down in a saddle for six hours the next day, my Dad hobbled home.  My Mom probably wasn't too impressed with my Dad's equestrian skills, but he must have made a good impression regardless because a year later they got married in Florida, where my Dad was training for the Navy Seals.


I had spent much of the past four months researching my family history, so I thought I should see the place where my Mom met my Dad.  I told this story to a nice woman at the Chamber of Commerce, but she said that the Community Building, where the dance had been held, had been torn down the previous year.  She gave me directions to the empty lot where it had once stood, though, so I drove out to the lot.  As I stood there, I tried to imagine what that night in 1943 must have been like.  I could almost hear the music.



Above left:  Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.  During World War II, my Dad, from the small town of Skykomish, Washington, attended Naval Officer Training School in this building, May Hall.

Above center:  A few days after arriving in Dickinson in 1943, my Dad went to a dance at the Community Building.  That night at the dance, he met my Mom, who was in Dickinson visiting a friend.  The Community Building was torn down last year and all that's left is this empty lot.  After the dance, my Dad met my Mom across the street, they walked home together... and the rest is history. 

Above right:  My Mom and Dad ice-skating near Dickinson in 1943.  They got married six months later, before my Dad was sent to China to fight in World War II.  He still has that Western Washington University sweater.



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