Even while working toward the U.S. citizenship granted in 1951, Alma Hildahl was preparing to become an active participant in her new country's government. Today at age 91, her political involvement hasn't waned.
Her decades of behind-the-scenes political work came to the forefront on Saturday when the North Dakota Republican Party honored her at a ceremony during its convention in Minot.
Hildahl, 91, has attended every state Republican convention since 1950.
Alma Hildahl poses with Sen. John Hoeven and his wife, Mikey, at the North Dakota Republican Convention in Minot Saturday.
She modestly brushed off the recognition that delegates surprised her with this year. The real highlight for her was Gov. Jack Dalrymple's talk about North Dakota's economic success.
"I loved the governor's speech. I like to hear things that I've dreamed about happening," she said. "We are number one in a lot of different things. It makes us pretty proud of North Dakota."
Hildahl's contributions to the party include the 15 years that she ran the Minot office of Mark Andrews, who represented North Dakota in the U.S. House from 1963 to 1981 and then served a six-year term in the U.S. Senate.
"It was a rewarding job, being able to help people," Hildahl said. "I enjoyed that period of my life."
Through that experience she had opportunities to meet Presidents Nixon and Reagan in Washington, D.C.
With Andrews' eventual retirement from the political scene, Hildahl has directed her focus to other Republicans. Among her favorites this fall is Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk. She baked an assortment of treats for a coffee social that she hosted when Kalk stopped in Minot on a campaign swing in March to announce his re-election plans.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a Minot native, said Hildahl's ability to mobilize people and raise the enthusiasm level is what every candidate likes to see. When she worked for Andrews, she really worked for the constituents because of the help she was able to offer, he said.
"Because she knew everybody in Minot and beyond people all over the state it made her really effective," he said.
Jackie Becker, whom Hildahl recruited into Republican activism more than 30 years ago, said Hildahl has a way of shepherding new recruits and instilling loyalty so that volunteers come back again and again. Much of her ability to inspire others is the result of her enthusiasm being so catching, she said.
"She believes so much in what she is doing," Becker said. "She has an ability to rally people, get people excited."
Hildahl and her husband, Allan, were natives of Canada who moved to Los Angeles in 1946. They decided Los Angeles wasn't where they wanted to raise a family and they weren't comfortable with the government system in Canada. So they decided on Minot, where Allan Hildahl was in the contracting business.
Alma Hildahl, who had been a teacher in Saskatchewan and California, said Minot's educational system helped sell her on the community, where she and her husband raised two sons, Mark and Dean.
She said she immediately became involved with the Republican Party because she didn't want the United States to take a path similar to the one that the Canadian government was on.
"I was adamant that it was not going to go like that," she said.
When not coaching youth baseball or heading up the school PTA, she was helping Republicans get elected and serving as president of the Minot Republican Women.
She was president of the club when Spiro Agnew, vice president under President Nixon, came to North Dakota to speak to Republicans. She recalls the threat of Vietnam War protest, prompting $11,000 worth of security measures.
"Because of that, we had to know the Social Security number of everybody who was attending," she said.
She remembers the year, back in the 1970s, when the Republican Women set up a telephone bank in the basement of a member's home. They had six phones that they manned five days a week, calling everyone in Minot to determine their political affiliation and identify party supporters.
"We elected every Republican who ran," she said of the election that year.
Hildahl expended just as much effort in working for Andrews, including hosting corn feeds for 500 supporters.
"Nobody realizes what candidates have to do to get elected. It's really a lot of work," Hildahl said.
But she added there have been fun times, too.
One of her favorite political convention memories involved the time she talked a Winnipeg bagpipe band, in Fargo for a fair, to come to the state Republican convention that was in town. She invited them to join the demonstration and parade around the convention hall in celebration of Andrews' endorsement for the Senate.
"They brought down the house," Hildahl said.