Wahpeton puts out welcome mat for 150th celebration
At the eastern border of North Dakota, Wahpeton is welcoming guests to its 150th anniversary celebration by dusting off the pages of history, setting the community table and pouring a steaming cup of Bison Brew.

Historic photos of Wahpeton show a growing community, complete with a trolley. Courtesy photo

Historic photos of Wahpeton show a growing community, complete with a trolley. Courtesy photo

A historical mural graces one of the Wahpeton restaurant walls. Courtesy photo
 Dakota Coffee Co. is described by its owner as the “community living room.” Courtesy photo
The Red River at the Kidder Recreation Area in north Wahpeton beckons fishermen. Courtesy photo
The Fargo Marathon draws up to 20,000 for race week. PHOTO COURTESY N.D. TOURISM

“We want to make everybody feel welcome, whether they are from here or traveling through,” said Madison Schuler, the owner of Dakota Coffee Co. in Wahpeton. “It’s our ‘North Dakota nice’ welcome.”

“The small businesses found in every community across our state provide the amenities, hospitality and service that make trips to North Dakota memorable,” Sara Otte Coleman, tourism director with the N.D. Department of Commerce, wrote in this month’s North Dakota Living.

And a renewed vibrancy among its businesses will greet visitors to Wahpeton, said Chris DeVries, the community development director and a member of the 150th celebration steering committee.

Dusting off history
The community’s first settler was Morgan T. Rich, whose plow turned the first furrow of rich, black soil in 1864. The city of Richville was officially founded in 1869, according to the celebration website.

In 1871, the town’s name was changed to Chahinkapa, a Lakota Sioux word meaning “the end of the woods.” In 1873, the town was renamed Wahpeton, a Dakota word meaning “leaf dwellers,” the website continued.

As part of the sesquicentennial, a community volunteer, Janet Gagelin, has opened “Pages Ago” at 521 Dakota Ave., where visitors can look through bound volumes of newspapers dating back to the 1920s. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through 2019.

“You can go in and browse through the newspapers,” DeVries said. “It’s a unique thing. She has had a lot of people who have come in and had a good time reminiscing.”

Pouring the coffee
In the heart of downtown Wahpeton, Schuler welcomes visitors with signature coffees at Dakota Coffee Co., a business she opened in 2016 to fill a void in the community.

“We didn’t have a coffee shop in Wahpeton and we really didn’t have a specific space for the community to gather,” she said. “We were missing that community gathering space.”

Schuler is a Wahpeton native who graduated from the University of North Dakota with a political science degree. She delved into politics in Washington, D.C., before returning to North Dakota. Her husband also owns a business in Wahpeton.

Schuler describes her shop as a “community living room.”

“My goal from day one was to make Dakota Coffee not only about the people, but the people of the community,” she said.

The shop, located at 1001 Second Ave. N., offers coffee, pastries and lunch specials. The Chahinkapa, one of the signature coffees, pays tribute to the community’s history.

Schuler has found Wahpeton to be an inviting atmosphere for her business.

“The retail climate in Wahpeton is super exciting. Our downtown has really blossomed in the last two years,” she said. “We’re like a shiny gem off the interstate. We have a lot to offer.”

That’s the perspective of another business owner, Julie Mears, who owns The Golden Rule with her husband, Todd.

“Wahpeton is a big, little town. When you start looking at restaurants and activities for children and parks and day care opportunities and housing, it’s a nice town,” she said.

The Mears own three clothing stores in North Dakota, starting in Rolla in 2001, expanding to Bottineau in 2011 and opening in Wahpeton in November 2017.

They purchased The Golden Rule in Rolla from another couple whose family had started the business in 1943. Previously, Julie and Todd were chasing corporate careers, working for a catalog retailer.

But whenever they visited Todd’s hometown of Rolla, Julie noticed the local clothing store.

“I would say, ‘Why don’t you buy me that cute little store on Main Street and we’ll move here?’” Julie said.

In 2001, the dream became a reality. “We quit our corporate jobs with fantastic benefits and started working for ourselves,” Julie said.

“We really like retail. We really like the customer interaction. We like learning about people and styles and just having that one-on-one contact,” Julie described.

The slower-paced lifestyle and shorter work hours appealed to the young couple, who now have three children.

But when the opportunity in Wahpeton surfaced, Julie’s first response was a solid “no.”

That “no” turned to “yes” when they were able to lease instead of own the building and retain two managers from the former store that had occupied the space.

“That was another huge component of how we make it work day-to-day,” Julie said.

The Golden Rule offers women’s, men’s and children’s name-brand clothing, shoes and accessories, focusing on customer service.

“It’s knowing who you are, what you shop for, what you like. We’re going to know when you were in last and how your mother is doing and what your wife likes. That’s just what we do,” Julie said. “You really can’t put a price on that.”

“If you take care of them, they’re going to want to come back, because everybody wants to be treated nicely,” she shared.

Setting community table
Wahpeton is welcoming guests to the community with that same gesture during its yearlong 150th celebration.

“We wanted to spread it out throughout the year and utilize different seasons and have different events,” DeVries said.

When you visit Wahpeton, first stop downtown at the Red Door Art Gallery and Museum, which displays and sells local and regional art, and serves as the Wahpeton visitors center, as well as the headquarters for the 150th celebration.

“It’s our base for our growing art community in Wahpeton. We have some passionate people who are interested in the arts in town,” DeVries said.

Another “must-see” is the Chahinkapa Zoo, which is home to more than 300 animals representing six continents and 100 species, including a Bengal tiger, snow leopards, kangaroos and camels. White rhinos now occupy a new African habitat, and Tal, North Dakota’s only orangutan, continues to entertain guests by playing musical instruments and painting.

Just next to the zoo, visitors can take a spin on the Prairie Rose Carousel. The carousel is one of only three fully restored 1926 Spillman carousels in the United States. Indoors and out of the weather, the carousel offers rides for $2.

Also near the zoo, the outdoor sculpture garden in Chahinkapa Park continues to add new sculptures each year.

Along the Red River in Wahpeton, visitors can cast a line in the shadow of the world’s largest catfish sculpture, beckoning fishermen to the Kidder Recreation Area in north Wahpeton.

The 18-hole Bois de Sioux Golf Course allows golfers to tee off in two different states.

Two newer restaurants, the City Brew Hall and the Boiler Room, have also joined the downtown Wahpeton scene.

“Downtown is the gateway of our community. It’s pretty vibrant right now. Our businesses have really created a vibe downtown,” DeVries said.

“Wahpeton is ready for that extra tourism push. If we can give them a little taste of it on the business side, then they come back for some fun. They would not be disappointed,” Julie Mears added.

As the summer 150th celebration event nears, the table is set, the coffee is poured and businesses are ready to welcome visitors.

Celebration continues through 2019
• The 150th celebration in Wahpeton continues May 31-June 1 during the annual Blue Goose Days. A June 1 outdoor concert will feature RedLine and Billy D & the Crystals, both of which have ties to Wahpeton, at the North Dakota State College of Science stadium.
• The fall event will be held Sept. 13-14, with a football tailgating gathering Sept. 13, and car show, salute to agriculture, a free barbecue meal and a bull riding event all on Sept. 14.  The barbecue came about after steering committee chairperson, Jane Priebe, discovered a newspaper article from the 1930s about a community barbecue that had been attended by 6,000 people.
• The final celebration event will be Nov. 29-30 with historic tours of Wahpeton, a holiday light parade and a closing reception.
www.wahpeton150.com(link is external)

Celebrating another milestone in the Red River Valley, the Fargo Marathon is entering its 15th year, with events scheduled May 13-18.

With competitive races throughout the week – from a cyclothon on Monday, to the “Furgo Dog Run” on Tuesday, to the full marathon on Saturday – the event draws up to 20,000 to the FARGODOME, where races begin and end, says Fargo Marathon Executive Director Mark Knutson.

“Being able to start and finish inside the FARGODOME is really unique,” he says. “The other piece is the great support from the city and the people living here.”

During the marathon, homeowners host bands in their yards along the 26.2-mile route, creating a celebration atmosphere.

The marathon also benefits Shoes for Kids, with proceeds from race registrations and matching donations used to purchase shoes, which are then donated to area elementary school students.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to buy 1,000 pairs of shoes every year and we’ve been doing that for seven years now,” Knutson says.

“It’s fun to see the excitement from everybody and the community embraces it, and that helps a lot,” he said.

To learn more, visit www.fargomarathon.com(link is external).

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.