Forty-three North Dakotans have been honored with the rank of colonel in the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders since North Dakota began giving its highest award to its highest achievers in 1961. It’s time to make it 45.
The award was created by former Gov. William L. Guy as part of North Dakota’s commemoration of the Dakota Territory Centennial, to recognize current or former North Dakotans “who have been influenced by our state in achieving national recognition in their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor on North Dakota and its citizens.”
Its first recipient was Lawrence Welk, famous for bringing his music and his North Dakota German-Russian accent into the national spotlight. It was presented by Gov. Guy just eight months into his first term as governor, in August of 1961, followed closely by Broadway actress Dorothy Stickney just three months later.
Its ranks include 10 people who have excelled in the arts, a few journalists, a couple of high-ranking military officers and educators, nine business leaders and just four athletes. There are 33 male colonels and just 10 females.
Gov. Doug Burgum can change a few of those numbers — and make history — by appointing twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando to the North Dakota Rough Riders Hall of Fame.
As athletes, they would join Roger Maris, Cliff “Fido” Purpur, Casper Oimoen and Phil Jackson — pretty heady company. You know about the achievements of Maris and Jackson. The Lamoureux sisters have something in common with the other two. Purpur was the first North Dakotan to play in the National Hockey League and later was the hockey coach at the University of North Dakota, where the sisters played hockey in college. Oimoen was a ski jumper who competed in the 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics. He did not win a medal.
Only one North Dakotan other than the Lamoureux sisters has won a Winter Olympics medal : Ken Purpur, younger brother of Fido, was a member of the 1956 men’s team that took silver. Three others have won medals at the Summer Olympics: track stars John Bennet and Cliff Cushman and boxer Virgil Hill. All won silver. Oh, two more won silvers in the Winter Olympics in 2010 — a pair of sisters named Lamoureux, neither of whom had a hyphenated last name at that time.
But until last month, no North Dakotan playing for a U.S. team had brought home a gold medal from the Olympics. I’m qualifying that statement with the words “U.S. team” because in 1928, a woman named Ethel Catherwood, who was actually born in the small town of Hannah, N.D., along the Canadian border, but raised in Saskatchewan, won the gold in the high jump at the Summer Olympics competing for Team Canada. So she doesn’t count.
Olympic gold medalists. Two of them. The first ever for North Dakota. And they didn’t just win them for themselves — they won them for their country. In a very big way. Monique tied the score with Team Canada near the end of regulation play to send the gold-medal game into overtime, and Jocelyne scored the winning goal in the subsequent shootout. If any pair of North Dakotans has ever “reflected credit and honor” on their home state, it is these two.
Burgum’s been in office nearly 15 months and hasn’t yet nominated anyone to the Rough Riders Hall of Fame. Now he can make history by inducting two people at once.
Guy, who created the Hall of Fame, made 11 appointments, the most of any governor. Art Link made eight, Allen Olson just three, George Sinner four, Ed Schafer six, John Hoeven event and Jack Dalrymple six. Interestingly, Burgum himself is a member, appointed by Hoeven in 2009 for his business achievements.
In fact, of the all the appointees (13) since Hoeven took office in 2001, seven have come from the business world and only two of the 13 were women — Sister Thomas Welder, president of the University of Mary, and author Louise Erdrich. Old white men were the colonels of choice of Hoeven and Dalrymple, although Hoeven did appoint the first Native American, Medal of Honor winner Woodrow Wilson Keeble. You can look at the whole list and read their biographies here.
But those are not the reasons to give the honor of colonel in the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders Hall of Fame to the Lamoureux sisters. They have earned this honor in a way no other recipient of the award has earned it.
Their former UND coach said, “Those kids worked so hard for so many years to be prepared for that moment. They put in predawn workouts. They sprinted around the Cushman Field track when nobody was around. They found ice time at Ralph Engelstad Arena to hone their skills.”
And another UND coach said, “Those two deserve it more than anybody else. They’ve worked longer and harder than anyone. They’ve dedicated their lives to winning a gold medal.”
No other North Dakotan has won more than one medal at any Olympics. The Lamoureux sisters now have a gold hanging beside their silver. I hope Gov. Burgum will honor them. Right now.