“Gospel Allies in Fargo, North Dakota,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 77–78
The Sioux Indians of North Dakota called themselves the Dakota or Lakota, which means allies or friends. Now, more than a hundred years after European immigrants began settling the territory, the area is home to another group of friends and allies: the 2,360 members of the Fargo North Dakota Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Named after one of the partners in the famous Wells, Fargo shipping company, Fargo was founded in 1871 as an outfitting post for settlers. Today, Fargo is North Dakota’s largest city. Missionary work in the state began in 1883, but early results were disappointing. After the turn of the century missionaries enjoyed success among Native Americans in outlying areas, but by 1943 the Fargo Branch consisted of only five or ten Saints meeting in the basement of a YMCA building. During the 1950s, the Church began to grow as members moved in from out of state, meetinghouses were built, and leaders traveled more widely to strengthen remote branches. By 1977 growth had reached the point that Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was assigned to create the Fargo stake. This event made Church history because North Dakota was the last of the fifty U.S. states to have a stake organized within its boundaries.
“The strength of this stake is the commitment of its members and their desires to serve in spite of the tremendous distances we have,” says stake president Joel C. Smith, who works as the environmental manager for a sugar company. Taking in North Dakota’s Red River Valley as well as part of the neighboring states of Minnesota and South Dakota, the Fargo stake is large indeed.
Joe Dudley testifies of the value of the gospel and of the Fargo stake’s community of Saints. “My testimony has blessed me many times,” he says. “The Church has a lot to do with overcoming challenges. It teaches us the right way of living.” Joe and his wife, Kathy, live with an adopted child and five foster children on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, one of five reservations within the Fargo stake. Several of the family’s foster children have chosen to be baptized after receiving parental permission. Joe serves as president of the Clearbrook Branch and works as an Indian tribal court judge.
Farmer and retired U.S. Forestry Service employee Myron Nyberg lives with his wife, Lorraine, in Cass Lake, Minnesota. As mission leader of the Bemidji Ward, which is located near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Myron has made many friends and allies by helping convert and activate others. “I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to join something, you go all the way, learn about it, and live it,” he says, paying tribute to his wife for showing him an example of gospel commitment before he joined the Church. Myron, who goes out with missionaries once or twice a week, says that “the Spirit is strong when we teach the discussions.” To cultivate friendships in their community, the Nybergs share their garden harvest and Myron mows neighbors’ lawns.
Home teaching is another effort that helps unify and bless the gospel friends and allies of the Fargo stake. “I was inactive for twenty years,” recalls North Dakota native Lee Allen. “My wonderful wife, Dorothy, was a member of another faith. Seven years ago, a gentleman knocked at our door and said he was our home teacher. He showed so much love and warmth that I let him in.” Later, after missionaries had taught his family the gospel, Lee was able to baptize his wife and his daughter, Alisha. When he became old enough, son Trenton joined the Church as well. In 1990 the family was sealed in the temple. Today Lee serves as stake executive secretary, and Dorothy serves as a counselor in the stake Young Women presidency.
“When you’re giving service, you get a good feeling,” says seventeen-year-old Brenna Lueck of Lisbon, North Dakota. Stake youth and adults prepare meals for the needy and perform other charitable acts, participate in interfaith activities such as music festivals and quilt shows, and organize positive media coverage of activities ranging from missionary work and family history efforts to changes in the Church’s First Presidency. Representing less than 1 percent of the total population within the stake’s boundaries, the Fargo stake’s community of Latter-day Saint friends and allies may seem relatively small and sparse. However, members’ efforts will continue to increase gospel growth and help make friends for the Church.