Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published June 29, 2010, 02:12 PM

Coffee and the meaning of life

FARGO, N.D. — My sympathies to the entire family of Helen M. Broten of Dazey, N.D. Helen died at age 93 June 16, leaving the families of three daughters and a son.

By: Mikkel Pates,

FARGO, N.D. — My sympathies to the entire family of Helen M. Broten of Dazey, N.D. Helen died at age 93 June 16, leaving the families of three daughters and a son.

I spent a memorable time with Mrs. Broten on May 10, 2007, and her son, Jim Broten.

Jim is a significant figure in North Dakota agriculture, focusing much of his public energies on the North Dakota Barley Council and related entities. In 2001, I traveled internationally with Jim and others with the U.S. Grains Councils.

Five years later, I asked to interview with Jim, to see what made him tick as he ascended through posts in the Grains Council and juggled his many responsibilities. Yes, it was important to Jim to be a farmer, and yes, it was important to him to expand markets for U.S. barley, soybeans and other crops across the world. But Jim is also an entrepreneur and a mechanical engineer and marketer — owner of Sheyenne Tool and Manufacturing, which makes augers and other items, using talented local craftsmen and labor.

Anyone who knows Jim knows that this fellow thinks expansively and fast, moves fast and acts decisively. At Cooperstown, N.D., and Dazey, we took a tour of the tooling plant, did a windshield tour of the planting operation, but then — this was a must — we had to stop for coffee with Mom.

I’d never met Helen before. I don’t know whether she knew or cared what Agweek was or is. Over coffee, I soon learned Helen counted on getting with Jim most every day of the week for a nice cup of coffee. For an hour or so, it was as if we had all the time in the world.

Helen talked about how she’d married Olaf Broten just before World War II, and that they’d moved to this particular farm at Dazey in part because of its beautiful “T” shaped livestock barn. Olaf had farmed through the war years, and succeeded through work and conservative living, and died in 1998. In Helen’s obituary, I learned that she’d grown up at Hannaford, N.D., where she excelled in high school. She worked in Indianapolis, and came back to work as the first Clerk of the Draft Board in Griggs County at Cooperstown.

I remember Helen keeping a photo on the wall of Olaf, stuck in a frame on the wall, amid her grandmotherly memorabilia. To me, this picture is emblematic of everything I love about the true strength and dignity of the Dakotas, about its inter-generational respect. Jim talked about his father’s example, and what seems important today: “You’d work like heck all week, go to church on Sunday, see your mom, sleep the rest of the day and go back at it again.” There it is — the meaning of life.

Tags: