Miss America makes appearance

Grace Lang, 11, poses for a photo with Miss America and Bismarck native Cara Mund during a free event held at Kirkwood Mall this month. A large crowd gathered at the mall's north court to see Mund, who was crowned in September and is North Dakota's first contestant to win the prestigious competition. "She's very pretty and nice," Grace said. "I thought it was really cool how she came here to to take pictures and sign autographs."

MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

While economic developments dominated the state news in 2017, two young North Dakotans continued to steal the spotlight throughout the year.

It bodes well for our future that two North Dakotans in their early 20s have become national success stories. They represent the state well, creating a positive image of North Dakota across the country.

Carson Wentz and Cara Mund are both Bismarck natives who maintain ties to their hometown. Some might argue that a quarterback and a pageant winner aren’t representative of the state. We disagree. They both have the work ethic that North Dakotans like to brag about. They are ambitious, but use the trait to be leaders and successful. The water cooler talk on Mondays often focused on Wentz and the victories of the Philadelphia Eagles. Until his recent injury he put his team in the Super Bowl discussion. It speaks to his talent and leadership that without him many don’t believe the Eagles can go far in the playoffs.

Mund became the first North Dakotan to win the Miss America pageant. Her platform as Miss America is to be an advocate for the Children's Miracle Network and Make-a-Wish. It’s not a new cause for her. She organized a fashion show a number of years ago to raise money for Make-a-Wish. She makes no secret of the fact that she would like to be governor someday.

Mund and Wentz have brightened the days of many North Dakotans during the last year. It was a welcome relief from some of the difficult situations in 2017.

North Dakota’s revenue flow took a nosedive, forcing the state to make some drastic cuts. Legislators OK’d $4.3 billion in general fund spending for the current biennium, down from a high of nearly $6.9 billion in the 2013-15 biennium. State agencies and the North Dakota University System made major cuts. About 481 full-time university system employees saw their jobs eliminated. A large part of the revenue drop was because of the slowdown in the oil patch. A drought that wiped out many crops during the summer added to the economic woes.

The first months of the year saw the end of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. While issues surrounding the pipeline are still being argued in court, the camps have disbanded and the protesters have left. The pipeline became operational during the summer and helped boost oil production to near-record levels. Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, calls the pipeline “a game-changer.” There are reasons to be optimistic as the oil patch shows signs of awakening.

Another hopeful sign for many was the election of Doug Burgum as governor. He’s promised to take a new approach to state government, saying he wants to reinvent it. He’s selected a task force to look at the governance of the higher education system with the goal of offering proposals to the 2019 Legislature. He’s also appointed several business-minded leaders to lead state efforts. He’s conducted meetings on the reservations and across the state.

He plans to give his state of the state address at Minot State University, another break from the traditional approach of his office. With just a year as governor it’s too early to judge how successful he’s been.

There also were tragedies in 2017 that gripped the attention of North Dakotans.

In August, Savannah LaFontaine-Greywind disappeared after visiting a neighbor in a Fargo apartment building. She was eight months pregnant at the time. Brooke Lynn Crews pleaded guilty this month to murdering LaFontaine-Greywind and taking her newborn daughter. Crews' live-in boyfriend, William Hoehn, also faces charges and is scheduled for trial in March.

A Rolette County sheriff's deputy was killed in January as he and three other deputies exchanged gunfire with a suspected car thief. The funeral for Deputy Colt Allery, 29, drew about 1,200 officers. Melvin DeLong, who shot Allery, was killed in the shootout.

During the tough economic times and tragedies, North Dakota has done more than endure. The state’s economic outlook is looking up. Everyone’s hoping the drought was a brief interruption for the farm economy. There’s great hope for 2018.

It helps greatly that we have good examples in Wentz and Mund. North Dakotans are hoping for a quick and full recovery for Wentz. There’s interest in what Mund will do after her reign ends. The two North Dakotans added a lot of excitement to 2017 and the Tribune believes 2018 will top expectations.

Happy New Year.

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