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'Dakota Attitude' brings the stories of people from all 53 ND counties

Fargo author Jim Puppe drove to 400 North Dakota towns. When he was done, he had a book full of people's stories.

FARGO — Imagine traveling more than 113,000 miles across the state of North Dakota. To visit all of the state's 53 counties, and talk with hundreds of people across the state, putting their stories to paper.

Jim Puppe still has the photos of all 617 people he met on the trip for his book. He can't forget the faces and the highlights of the visit.

"I wanted to take a photograph of both of them, but she said her hair was a mess and said I should come back after her hair was done," Puppe said of one couple he interviewed on his trip across the state.

Puppe, who grew up on a farm in North Dakota, is the author of "Dakota Attitude." The thick, heavy book is packed with stories of the people of North Dakota.

"(I) identify the unsung heroes in North Dakota and hear their voice," Puppe said. "I want to have a pulse of the people of North Dakota — what the people are about — and study the resilience of the people."

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Sometimes sleeping in his car, Puppe drove to every county in the state. He interviewed a person in each town he visited.

People like Rogers resident William Cruff. The following is part of a transcript of Puppe's interview with Cruff on Aug. 25, 2015.

Jim: How far from the school did you live?

Bill: Mile and a half.

Jim: How did you get there every day?

Bill: Usually, a horse and buggy or, or dad took us on the sleigh in the winter.

Jim: Did you have a good experience in school?

Bill: I hated it every day. I didn't like school.

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There's also the story of Pauline Roll of little Heil.

"She had 21 children and 20 survived," Puppe said. "She is just an amazing, amazing lady. By the way, she is still living."

Puppe, who retired from the VA, served in Vietnam, so when he stumbled upon a couple in Hunter, their story nearly left him breathless.

"Well, the fellow from Hunter, North Dakota, lost his son in Vietnam — he was there the same time I was," Puppe said "He was killed in December — just before Christmas — and he had a knock on the door from the the military to advise him and notifying him that his son died. He was buried on Dec. 31, 1968. He said the temperature was 30 below."

The research for his book has become a collection of great faces and voices.

"The next day (after her wedding), my brother drove the little Ford tractor and I and Egidi picked rocks. That was our honeymoon," said Strasburg resident Lydia Roehrich during an interview with Puppe on June 10, 2012.

One favorite from the book is the story of a woman who graduated with a total class of two students. Asked if they ever had a class reunion the woman said, "We did, until I divorced him."

"Well, sometimes I drove away with a laugh and say, 'Wow, how (would) I ever be able to accomplish this,'" Puppe said. "I give a credit to the people because they trusted me. And other times I would cry because I was so touched."

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Since Puppe spent 14 years on the project, nearly half the heroes in the book have passed.

"Dakota Attitude" is available at the North Dakota State University Bookstore, Zandbroz Variety, and other retail bookstores.

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