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'Something special and memorable': President Bush's North Dakota centennial visit fondly recalled

'Something special and memorable': President Bush's North Dakota centennial visit fondly recalled

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As President George Bush planted a tree outside the North Dakota Capitol, Lindsy Nordeen remembers how nervous and confused she was when a security guard asked her to step past the barricade rope.

"After our teacher telling us specifically not to go on the other side," said Nordeen, then a second-grader from Northridge Elementary School, "dead center" among her classmates at the tree planting on April 24, 1989.

She helped Bush plant a 12-foot American elm descended from one of President John Quincy Adams' at the White House. She said she was shy as a child, especially at being singled out by the tall president.

"Eventually it kicked in that that was something unique and cool that's happening, and I was fortunate enough to have the honorable experience," Nordeen said Tuesday from Minneapolis.

President Bush, who served one term from 1989 to 1993, died Friday night at the age of 94. His visit to the state Capitol in 1989 is his most notable excursion to North Dakota, in the year of the state's centennial.

Dennis Neumann, who served on the North Dakota Centennial Commission at the time, said the commission wanted to invite the president to a centennial function.

The Fourth of July at the Capitol was considered too great a security risk with 100,000 people on hand, Neumann said.

As part of "a lasting legacy project" to plant 100 million trees in North Dakota over the centennial decade until 2000, the commission opted for Bush to dedicate Centennial Grove on the Capitol Grounds and plant a tree.

Former North Dakota Rep. Tom Kleppe hand-delivered to Bush the invitation to Bismarck, Neumann added.

"We thought that that sort of fit with what then the Bush administration was promoting by way of environmental values and almost fit his view of 'a thousand points of light,' the small state that's doing 100 million trees," Neumann said.

Neumann recalls handing the president a chrome shovel after Bush made a speech on the Capitol steps amid 28 mph winds and 54 degrees. Ten thousand people gathered to see Bush.

"When I handed him the shovel, he quite vigorously moved a whole lot more earth than just one little shovelful. He shoveled a lot of it in and around the tree," Neumann said. "He seemed very eager to jump to the task."

The elm planted that day later succumbed to North Dakota's winter after a brush with gypsy moths, and was removed in 1990.

Dave Lee, then an employee of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, recalls getting admitted past the Secret Service to snag a photograph of local schoolchildren "in awe" of the president.

"When he was leaving in the car, I waved at him and he waved back," Lee said. "That was kind of neat."

Jim Fuglie, who was state tourism director from 1985 to 1992 under Democratic Gov. George Sinner, remembers shaking hands with Bush and a brief exchange about Fuglie's job.

"He was very friendly. It was a very brief meeting, but he seemed very sincere," Fuglie said. "He was glad to be here, and I liked him."

Democratic Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl, who served from 1987 to 1992, also recalled a handshake with Bush, but he was "on the periphery." Gov. George Sinner, who died March 9, accepted the shovel after the tree planting.

For Nordeen — who graduated, attended the University of North Dakota and lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Jeremy, and their 5-year-old — her brief, chance encounter led to a fair amount of media attention. KFYR-TV interviewed her at school the day after the president's visit.

She, like other local students that day, received a Black Hills spruce seedling which she planted at her family's lake home near Dawson.

Like the centennial elm, that tree also met its end — Nordeen said it may have been hit by a lawn mower.

She also sent a letter and picture of her and the president to Bush, which she said he autographed and returned to her.

For Nordeen, her encounter with the "class act" president at the tree planting was "something special and memorable."

"I remember my grandma picking me up from school that day and telling her 'Grandma, I met the president,'" Nordeen said. "And she was like, 'Well, yeah, honey, everybody did,' and I'm like, 'No, I really got to meet the president.'"

Neumann said Bush's tree planting goes down as an official presidential visit to Bismarck, not a campaign stop or for political purposes, but to commemorate an important milestone for North Dakotans.

"I think for that reason it meant a lot to the people of North Dakota," Neumann said.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or


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