Paul Christensen leads the cowboy way of life. Now he will also lead the trustees of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, a statewide organization.
Christensen, of Sawyer, was elected chairman of the trustees during the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame's annual meeting at the Seven Seas Hotel & Conference Center in Mandan Feb. 23. He replaces Bob Knudson, of Minot, who stepped down after 10 years as trustees' chairman.
The trustees' duties include choosing the finalists for induction in the Hall of Fame each year. Trustees in 12 districts across the state and the 13th district for those who live out of state vote by mail-in ballots to pick the finalists for induction. The board first screens the nominations submitted each year.
Paul Christensen stands beside the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame truck that is part of a fundraising project for the organization, shown in this photo taken in Mandan. Christensen, of Sawyer, was elected trustees’ chairman for the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame at its annual meeting in Mandan Feb. 23.
Christensen joined the N.D. Hall of Fame group in 1995. His dad, Minot veterinarian and former Minot mayor George Christensen, who was one of the founders of the organization, urged him to join. He was asked to be a trustee in 1999.
"I love the work and I love the commitment of what it is and what it stands for," said Christensen, adding, "I've always been a cowboy. Dad raised me that way, but at the same time I've always had an interest in history so this fit both areas. That's why I have a passion for it because it's what I like to do."
When he was a boy, Willa Ehr Myers taught Christensen to ride horse. The Ehr and Christensen families are longtime friends. "Dad just always kept me interested in it," he said.
"When I had the opportunity to volunteer my time for this (N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame), it was something I jumped at because, like I said, it's my passion the whole thing," he said.
Now with the trustees' chairman position, he'll have a larger role. "I love to meet and greet people." He's experienced in organizing people. For example, in 2005, he chaired the Minot Y's Men's Rodeo.
Every year in July he is in the State Fair Parade riding horseback with the Minot Y's Men. He's in charge of arranging that unit and the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame unit area resident Bud Redding and his horse-drawn unit to be in the parade.
"We're going to do that again this year," Christensen said. Plans are to have the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame truck in the parade. The truck, with a N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame wrap, is part of a major fundraising project for the organization. The organization will have a booth at the State Fair.
Christensen said there is a common belief that only cowboys can belong to the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame, but that is not true. "You don't need to be a cowboy. Anybody can belong to this," he said.
He continued, "We want to promote the culture, we want to promote the western lifestyle of North Dakota, and we want to celebrate the pioneering spirit all over the state. It's not just the western part of the state it's the state of North Dakota."
The N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame owns and operates the Center of Western Heritage and Culture: Native American, Ranching and Rodeo in Medora.
Christensen said he would like to see the center develop as a storehouse for information and research. If, for example, someone wants to revisit the story of Lewis and Clark or the story of Sitting Bull, or if someone wants to write a novel, the center would be a great bank of information, he said. The center includes numerous exhibits, a theater, meeting space, a gift shop and large open-air patio.
"I want to see this blossom even more. It's a beautiful building. We've got wonderful facilities and people need to see this," Christensen said.
The organization's corporate office is located in Mandan in the historic Lewis & Clark Hotel.
Christensen said he feels preservation of North Dakota's western lifestyle its culture and history is an important part of the state and the work of the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame. "If we don't preserve it, it's lost," he said.
He said his generation is not that far away from this history because that generation's grandparents or great-grandparents were the settlers of this state.
"North Dakota is a relatively young state compared to all the other states so we have the opportunity to preserve it from a first-person point of view. We can tell those stories that our grandparents told us. I'd like to preserve those stories because we're going to lose them and if we lose them, then we don't have another way to get them," he said.
"A lot of these stories aren't out there because people are modest. They don't think it's that big of a deal or they don't think it's that important, but it is important," he said.
Storytelling has been part of his life. When he grew up, he said he was blessed to go camping with his dad and Judge Bruce Van Sickle and their buddies including Father F.J. McKanna, Dr. W.B. "Duke" Huntley and Jim Elder.
He said that he and Craig Van Sickle were the "honoraries" and allowed to go along with the group. "There was no need for entertainment. These men entertained us to sit and listen to these men talk state politics and national politics, religion, philosophy and history they hit all the topics," he said.
Christensen is an academic instructor at the Burdick Job Corps Center in Minot, where he teaches a GED (General Educational Development) program and a high school program. He's been at Job Corps since 1999, first teaching math, and in his present position for the past several years.
The N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame organization is working on outreach programs and also getting youth more involved in the organization.
Christensen said he would like to develop an approach to encourage young people, especially the young cowboys in the state of North Dakota, to get involved in the organization so they can get better acquainted with the older cowboys, some of whom they may already know.
He said the effort to get more youth involved would also be part of honoring people in this state for their accomplishments and something young people can aspire to move forward on.
He said the Hall of Fame is about what an individual has accomplished in his or her lifetime. Individual inductees must be 50 years or older or are deceased. The Hall of Fame also has categories including ranches, rodeo livestock and events.
Christensen said he's looking forward to his new role with the organization, now in its 18th year, and being part of the group's future years of preserving the state's western lifestyle.
"It's just that I'm passionate about it the memories, the stories, the people need to be honored and remembered," he said.
Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.