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Vogel left a 3-generation legacy

William Langer's chief political adviser became the patriarch of three generations of statewide officeholders in North Dakota.

Frank A. Vogel was a teacher and banker who served as floor leader of the state House, tax commissioner, highway commissioner and manager of the Bank of North Dakota. He also ran for lieutenant governor and governor.

Vogel's son, Robert Vogel, was U.S. attorney and a justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court. His granddaughter, Sarah Vogel, became the country's first female state agriculture commissioner when she was elected in 1988.

Frank Vogel was born in 1888 in central Minnesota to Abraham and Sarah Jane (Brown) Vogel. He was raised and educated in St. Cloud, where his father was a construction engineer.

Vogel came to North Dakota about 1909, and for the next few years was a teacher and school administrator in Anamoose, Underwood and Dazey. He married Louella Larsen and, in 1917, purchased the bank in Coleharbor, a small unincorporated town in McLean County.

Almost all of Vogel's clients were farmers who struggled to keep up with payments on their loans. At that time, there was a new political movement, the Nonpartisan League, which organized farmers. Even though the NPL was critical of bankers, Vogel joined the movement and encouraged his clients to join.

Vogel successfully ran for the North Dakota Legislature in 1921 as a member of the NPL. He was re-elected in 1923 and 1925 and, during that last session, was elected floor leader for NPL legislators. Having made a name for himself as a champion of small farmers, Vogel received considerable support to be appointed U.S. senator when Edwin Ladd died on June 25, 1925. Gerald P. Nye, a Cooperstown newspaper editor, was named Ladd's successor, but Vogel was viewed as a statewide leader in the NPL.

In 1928, Vogel tossed his hat into the ring as a candidate for lieutenant governor. His chief opponent in the Republican primary was Jamestown's John W. Carr, speaker of the state House. In the primary, Vogel carried most of the rural areas, but Carr carried the cities and defeated Vogel 83,506 to 77,456.

Because of Vogel's strong support among farmers, Langer made Vogel his chief adviser as he prepared to run for governor. Langer was elected governor in 1932.

After taking office in January 1933, Langer appointed Vogel state tax commissioner. Langer then eliminated the three-man highway commission, and on March 15, 1933, named Vogel state highway commissioner while retaining him as his chief adviser.

Langer appreciated Vogel's "liberal political philosophy, his administrative ability, and his judgment." Vogel was not a "yes" man, and frequently challenged Langer's decisions. Shortly after he assumed office, Langer started encouraging all state employees to sell subscriptions to his newspaper, The Leader. Vogel thought it was a "rotten" idea and told Langer, but the governor didn't listen. Because it appeared the money collected was used for personal and political purposes, an investigation was begun in March 1934.

In the spring, a federal grand jury indicted Langer, Vogel and seven others on charges of soliciting and collecting money from federal employees for political purposes and of conspiring to obstruct the orderly operation of an act of Congress. The trial began in Bismarck on May 22. Langer, Vogel and three other Langer appointees were found guilty on June 17. Vogel was sentenced to federal prison for 13 months and fined $3,000. He, Langer and the others appealed their convictions, but Vogel was forced to give up his position as highway commissioner on July 22. After three more trials, Langer and Vogel were cleared of all charges.

When Langer was re-elected governor in 1936, he named Vogel manager of the Bank of North Dakota. Vogel continued with the State Bank when John Moses replaced Langer as governor in 1938. Vogel was forced to resign in 1945 when Fred Aandahl - a member of the Republican Organizing Committee, which opposed the NPL and anyone associated with Langer - was elected governor.

During Vogel's eight years as manager of the State Bank, total resources climbed from $23 million to $78 million. Perhaps the most lasting legacy left by Vogel was the student loan program he created with his associate, Martin Stenehjem.

Langer was elected in 1940 to the U.S. Senate. After Vogel left his position with the bank, he joined Langer as his chief adviser.

Langer persuaded Vogel to run for governor in 1950. During the campaign, Vogel was very ill and spent most of his time at home or in the hospital. Vogel was easily defeated in the primary by Republican Organizing Committee candidate Norman Brunsdale. Vogel died in 1951.

"Did You Know That" is a Sunday column that focuses on interesting people, places and events that had an impact on North Dakota, or even the country. It is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net

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