This year three county commissioners from Otter Tail County accepted an invitation from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital. They met on Aug. 20 with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House with fellow commissioners and mayors from Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Topics with federal officials in Washington, D.C., included economic development opportunity zones, USDA financing, housing, education, efforts to curtail opioid addiction and other issues.

Vice President Pence led the discussions.

Representing Otter Tail County were Board Chairman Doug Huebsch of Perham and County Commissioners Betty Murphy of Maine Township and Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls.

They shared challenges and opportunities with fellow commissioners and mayors.

All three commissioners are sharing information derived from the White House gathering with Otter Tail County’s Community Development Agency.

The purpose of the agency, governed by a 9-member board, is to strengthen the communities of Otter Tail County by expanding housing opportunities, promoting business development and fostering the coordination of public and private resources.

County board members talked about the White House gathering during the Aug. 27 county board meeting in New York Mills.

That’s when county board members heard presentations from county land and resource director, Chris LeClair, county administrator, John Dinsmore, public health director, Jody Lien, county assessor, Doug Walvatne, communications director, Nick Leonard, county highway engineer, Chuck Grotte, solid waste director, Chris McConn and county auditor-treasurer, Wayne Stein.

More about county board of commissioners

Otter Tail County is divided into five districts with one commissioner from each district. Each commissioner is elected by the people of his/her district and serves four-year terms.

The county board vision is to strive to help make Otter Tail County a place where people want to live, work and enjoy a county that is home to more than 1,000 lakes.

Commissioners have a county board mission to enrich lives. Values include serving county residents with integrity while adhering to fiscal responsibility.

Ron Tate rides the rails

Riding the train and working as a porter for three summers, from 1962 to 1964, resulted in lasting memories for 1961 Fergus Falls High School graduate Ron Tate.

He worked as a train porter from St. Paul to Seattle on the Great Northern Railway.

The role of a porter is to assist passengers at railway stations and to handle the loading, unloading and distribution of luggage and parcels. Some porters also assist passengers who have arranged for sleeping cars while traveling by train.

“After completing my second summer on the Great Northern Railroad, and completing two years at Fergus Falls Junior College, I was ready to venture to college at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee,” Tate said.

He bought a large green footlocker and, with the help of his mother, began packing.

“My mom, dad and two younger brothers took me to the Fergus Falls train station to see me off,” Tate said. “My grandmother, who lived near the train depot just north of downtown Fergus, walked over to be part of the goodbye contingent.”

Tate rode the train all the way to Tallahassee, Florida for free on his Great Northern employee pass.

“The trip was interesting because it was my first travel below the Mason-Dixon line,” he said. “I took one train, the Great Northern, from Fergus to Chicago with a switch of trains in St. Paul.”

He then switched to another rail line, the Illinois Central, that took him from Chicago to Birmingham, Alabama. He then traveled along a third rail line from Birmingham to Jacksonville, Florida, and then the Seaboard to Tallahassee. 

“The Jacksonville to Tallahassee leg had cars full of mostly black students, like me, heading for Florida A&M (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University),” Tate said. “Other rail cars were full of mostly white students heading for Florida State. The two schools were less than a mile apart.”

Tate later worked for AT&T in Chicago and then joined the faculty at Florida A&M.

Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.

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