FARGO-Melissa Dixon drives a beloved Nissan Murano, a mid-size SUV that she jokingly refers to as a "four-wheeler" just like any other non-semi vehicle.

But there's no denying her drive for the trucking industry, both through her work with an insurance company as well as her recent rise to become the first female president of a state organization that represents the industry.

Dixon became president of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association in late May following several years of serving on the board and various other organizations.

The group has been around since 1934 and aims to support the trucking industry-a major effort in a state like North Dakota where it says one in nine jobs are related to trucking.

Arik Spencer said her ascent is "notable historically" in the typically male-dominated trucking industry. But Spencer, the executive vice president of the association, said Dixon got there because of her background and hard work, not her gender.

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"I think it's exciting that they can look to Melissa as an example of a strong female leader in the trucking industry who's eminently qualified," he said.

Dixon didn't set out to shatter a trucker version of a glass ceiling-she said she never thinks about "being a woman in a man's world," even if that's how some might see it.

"Not that I don't feel about myself as a woman, because I most certainly do, but I've always been blessed with a strong desire and ability to move myself forward, so I think that it is important to many people that this is the situation," she said.

Family legacy

Dixon doesn't have a commercial driver's license, though she has driven a truck and several large motorhomes in the past.

Even if she's not behind the wheel, her passion for the industry started at a young age. Her grandfather, George Dixon, was inducted into the North Dakota Highway Hall of Honor in 1975 for founding the Good Roads Association in the early 1940s. James Dixon, her father, founded Fargo's Dixon Insurance Inc., 3101 39th St. S., in 1953.

She fondly remembers going to the office as a little girl to see her dad's work catering to the trucking industry. But she certainly didn't plan to go into insurance. She said she dreamed about being a veterinarian, or a lawyer, or maybe a veterinarian-lawyer.

"And then, life happens," she said.

After spending nine years in Alaska, where she worked with National Car Rental and Alaska Airlines, Dixon was asked to temporarily come home and start a sister organization of Dixon Insurance to handle licensing and registration. She agreed, and within a year, she was ready to leave after founding Interstate Truck Licensing.

But her dad asked her to stay for another couple years, and Dixon decided to become an Interstate Commerce Commission practitioner to work on more interesting things in her job.

Around the same time, she said she grew fascinated with the rapid changes in trucking as a result of deregulation and multi-state compacts.

"I came to love the industry," she said.

Dixon has been with Dixon Insurance ever since and now serves as president. She said her time in the industry has made her passionate about educating truckers and the general public for the benefit of everyone.

"She really is a big promoter of the trucking industry and the transportation industry," said Mark Wolter, immediate past president of the Motor Carriers Association.

Dixon is well-versed in the important issues facing trucking, Wolter said, and also brings a "passion" for the work that should suit her well for the remainder of her two-year term as president.

"She's, to me, the ideal, perfect candidate," he said.

Dixon said she has several goals, including a primary objective of getting the association's message out so the general public can understand the importance of the industry-and the need to be safe around trucks.

More than 70 percent of truck accidents are caused by a car or non-semi, she said, but many drivers don't understand the large blind spots that truck drivers must operate through on crowded highways and city streets.

Dixon said she'd like to help people see these vehicles as the "backbone" of modern life because of their vital role in delivering goods and products across the nation.

"We shouldn't look at them with disdain when we're on the highway," she said. "We should look at them with appreciation."