An important man in my North Dakota has passed away.
Enoch Thorsgard of Northwood died Dec. 16. He was 98. His visitation and prayer service are 5 p.m., Dec. 18. His funeral is at 2 p.m. on Dec. 19 at Ebenezer Lutheran Church in Northwood.
Enoch was an important cattleman for the region and a tremendous leader for his family and community.
I have known Enoch since the mid-1980s when I worked for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. I had heard about his feeding potato byproducts from the Grand Forks, N.D. processed potato manufacturing plant and perennially tried to do an interview with him about it. For years, he declined, implying there were detractors to cattle feeders and he didn’t want to call attention to himself. I also wondered if he wanted to keep a low profile. (Was it because he was concerned that some competitor might want to tap the same feed source? Only he knew for sure.)
I knew about him as a state legislator. He was more conservative than my leanings, but he always seemed sincere in his pressing for the North Dakota Family Alliance. I could see his faith in God shone through his life, just as it did on his Sunrise Acres farms. (What a perfect name to match the attitude of Enoch Thorsgard.)
It was 2006 when I got to know Enoch much better.
I had been to a North Dakota Stockmen’s Association meeting in Fargo. I was standing in the hallways with Enoch and Russ Danielson, the former North Dakota State University animal science professor/mentor extraordinaire. I commented to Russ that NDSU was now doing studies to determine if cattle feeding was feasible in North Dakota, while Enoch had been doing it profitably for decades. As Enoch listened, in a theatrically stern voice, I joked to Russ that Enoch really was doing a “disservice” to his industry by not doing an interview with Agweek, to tell his story as an encouragement to young people.
I remember Enoch looking up and studying my face. Soon, he disappeared and about 20 minutes he reappeared. Enoch told that he’d gone out to the parking lot and called his wife, “Mel” (Madeline), and started to cry because Mikkel Pates had said he’d maybe done a disservice to his industry by not telling his story. “I asked Mel if it was okay if I did an interview with Agweek, and she said, ‘Yah, that would be okay.'”
And so we did.
Enoch took me around the extensive feedlot which is unique because the animals he’d bought were often the ones that other people didn’t seek — cull cows that would improve with some TLC. I remember seeing animals of every description, including some that looked more like old rodeo stock than some kind of beef animals. One of the unique things about the feedlot is how it largely was single electric wire. Enoch was a perfect example of his generation, economizing where he could. He was remarkably frank in his description of how he’d lived, even underlining the parts where he wasn’t perfect. But I also knew he forgave himself.
The tour was in the late afternoon and Enoch spent the rest of the evening with me, explaining his long life in agriculture. He was North Dakota’s first “Outstanding Young Farmer” — in 1953. He’d gone on People to People missions to the Communist Soviet Union. He was photographed with all manner of Republican luminaries. His office was organized, eclectic.
Enoch told me about his life as a young farmer, how he went into trucking and back into farming during World War II. He told me about his Dale Carnegie inspiration in how he engaging with people. He talked about the numerous family members that were part of the energetic farming and business life he’d built in the Northwood area. I met his son, Grady, another fine example of service to his family and community.
Enoch enjoyed the story so much that he decided to publish an autobiography in 2008 — “Enoch’s Saga: Horsepower to Satellite in a Single Lifetime.” He asked if the photo I took in his feedlot could be used on the cover. Of course, I said yes.
When I got my copy of the book, Enoch wrote a note that started, “Wishing Mikkel Pates a Merry Christmas. I am thankful that you were so persistent and that I was smart enough to listen and trust you.” His only regret was that he hadn’t emphasized the blessings of his Christian faith more. There are those for whom this is a small thing, but not to Enoch.
Later, I met one of his grandsons who has a strong faith and helped organize a Northwood-based support system to help Haitian farmers learn how to be more productive. It’s a selfless, altruistic kind of work that can only be inspired by a faith that was nurtured by prior generations — including Enoch and Mel.
To the family, you have my condolences. Especially now at Christmas and New Years it is a difficult time to say goodbye for now, but you know he loved you and was proud and full of hope. Enoch was not tall in stature but he was a giant in North Dakota agriculture and in my book.
Featured photo taken by Mikkel Pates in 2006.