DICKINSON, N.D. — “You no workee, you no eatee,” is a piece of advice longtime Dickinson, N.D., resident Peggy Rixen-Kuntz learned growing up in the intermountain West as a young girl and still holds true to that pioneer concept of productivity and discipline.
Though she is 90 years old, Rixen-Kuntz puts on her working shoes throughout the summer and greets travelers at the Dickinson Convention & Visitors Bureau with a sharp smile and a “Welcome to the CVB, and how may I help you?”
Hired as the first summer employee back in 2000, Rixen-Kuntz continues to welcome tourists, hunters and potential new residents and educate them on Dickinson and what the city has to offer. With a pristine memory of Dickinson’s yester years, Rixen-Kuntz points newcomers to the Museum Center next to the CVB, hotel lodging and restaurant information and surrounding attractions from the Enchanted Highway, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Medora Musical and the Pitchfork Fondue.
Rixen-Kuntz has received recognition for her dedication at the CVB and was awarded the Front-line Tourism Employee award during the North Dakota Travel Conference in 2012 by former Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Though most people over the age of 90 are enjoying retirement, Rixen-Kuntz said it’s vital for her to keep working because it keeps her grounded.
“First of all, it’s not hard for me to sell North Dakota. I believe so implicitly and emphatically in the people. I love the job; I love the people I work with. I’m so grateful and they’re so good to me,” she said, adding, “... I could work until I’m 102 if I stay off the ladder and (if) I don’t change the lightbulbs.”
Throughout her life, she has served many jobs from being a telephone operator, pharmacy technician for 42 years, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother — in addition to welcoming people at the CVB for the past 20 years.
“For me personally, it is just a question of making sure that first of all they’re comfortable once they walk through that door and that whatever it is you can do to make their visit memorable in the visit itself is important to me.
“(It’s important) for people to understand that this is a down-home culture. We are still sole godly blessed in that if we shake your hand, it’s a deal. And for many, many people they’ve never ever had that; they’ve never lived where it was just normal procedure. So that’s my primary message to people who come to our door,” she remarked.
Born Sept. 7, 1930, in Osakis, Minn., Rixen-Kuntz moved to North Dakota when she was 4 years old with her father, mother and brother to the hamlet of Lehigh where her father worked in a coal mine. Two years after moving to southwest North Dakota, her father purchased a building in New England and opened his own garage and machine shop and they moved into the first house where they had running water and electricity. In the summer of 1941, Rixen-Kuntz moved with her family to Oregon where she spent the rest of her childhood and teenage years. By age 15, she was working the lunch counter.
Upon moving back to North Dakota in 1949 and settling in Dickinson, she met her first husband and they were married Aug. 3, 1953. Later on in her life, she married a rancher in the Richardton area and learned the facets to ranch life. Through the years, she has come up close and personal to tragedy from losing two young sons, two husbands to experiencing the terrors of world events from the Korean War to the Kennedy assassination. But she considers herself a happy person.
"It’s not hard for me to sell North Dakota. I believe so implicitly and emphatically in the people. ... I could work until I’m 102 if I stay off the ladder and I don’t change the lightbulbs.”
— Peggy Rixen-Kuntz, 90, on her continuing work at the Dickinson Convention & Visitors Bureau
If a person’s life is nothing but glorious, they don’t know how to develop “deep strength or deep faith,” she said, adding that even disappointment is life changing.
“I don’t believe in sadness; I believe in the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Rixen-Kuntz looks forward to welcoming new guests to the Dickinson area and does not consider this a “job-job,” she said, noting that this is just “an extension of what you like to do.” Tourism is somewhat of a newer custom to North Dakota, and the job is so simple yet so important, she added.
“You look back on the different area jobs that covered different parts of your world and how you take something — hopefully — with you that enriches your life, adds to your life and you can pass along to somebody,” she said.
With three adult children, 10 step-children from her second marriage and lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Rixen-Kuntz continues to be a teacher for her descendants whether it’s filling them in on life advice or ordering them to let her live in independence. As somewhat of a “bionic woman” and with several surgeries in her past, she persists to live at home and keep tidy with house projects and reading a good book when she’s not at the CVB.
Being a front-line tourism employee is how she stays young and in the loop of what’s happening in the town. Whether she’s stocking the literature racks, wiping the front glass on the lobby doors or filling convention packets, Rixen-Kuntz is ready to greet the next newcomer to the area and provide them with over a lifetime of knowledge.
“If you’re lucky enough to have a job and you don’t like that job, you go down the road because you’re not doing yourself or that job any good. And those are two basic things for young people because there’s so much of the give-me mentality today that somehow your parents, society or somebody owes you a living,” Rixen-Kuntz said. “Nobody owes you a living. If you’re lucky enough to get to young adulthood, then you owe society to be as productive and with integrity that you can manage.”