Neighbors has carried a number of items you folks have sent in concerning “The North Dakota Song,” which begins “You otta go ta North Dakota…”
It was written by Leon C. Sorlien. But little was known about him.
But now a man who says he enjoys genealogy has dug, dug, dug into Leon’s history, and sent what he found to Neighbors.
He’s Phililp Felde, Fargo. And here’s what he found about this musical guy and his musical wife and daughter.
Leon, a native of Bode, Iowa, was a 1921 bachelor of arts graduate of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa; a bachelor of music graduate of Concordia College in 1933; and he earned a music master’s degree from Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., in 1946.
He taught music in Bismarck from 1923 to 1926 and at Fargo Central High School from 1926 to 1950. “At Fargo Central,” Phil writes,” he was Mr. Music Man, directing band, orchestra and vocal groups, and he was a well-loved person.”
Leon managed the Daveau Music Co. in Fargo in 1950-1954, was a Prudential Insurance Co. agent in 1955-1959, then taught music at Moorhead North Junior High School in 1959-1965. He also taught at Grandin, Arthur, Hunter and Gardner, N.D., after retiring.
He arranged and wrote many songs, including the Bismarck High School pep song, the Fargo Central High alma mater song, the North Dakota official centennial song and the “Kiwanis Hymn.” He directed a Presbyterian church choir, organized and directed the Fargo Park Board band, directed the Fargo-Moorhead Women’s Chorus and formed and directed the Fargo Men’s Glee Club.
Phil also found that Leon was captain of the Luther College basketball team in his junior year and was elected to the Luther Athletic Hall of Fame in 1946.
He served in the Army during World War I, training at Fort Sheridan, Ill., and becoming a military instructor with the rank of first sergeant until the war ended.
He was athletic coach and principal at Hankinson, N.D., from 1921 to 1923 before moving to Bismarck.
Leon was a fine golfer. He won several tournaments and was runner-up in the 1932 North Dakota state tournament.
He was honored at the Fargo Central High centennial celebration in 1986.
Phil also found that Leon’s wife, the former Norma Devol, a native of Toledo, Ohio, graduated from Fargo Central High in 1923, attended the North Dakota Agricultural College, now called North Dakota State University, for two years, earned a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Dakota, then attended the school of speech at Northwestern University, Evanston. She then taught at St. Peter, Minn., and at Agassiz Junior High School and Jefferson Elementary School in Fargo.
She and Leon were married in 1932.
When they retired in 1975, they moved to Bella Vista, Ariz., where Norma died at 84 in 1990 and Leon died at 94 in 1993.
Their daughter Barbara inherited her parents’ musical genes. She was a “super violinist,” Phil says.
She was a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, then took additional studies abroad. She then was a violinist with the New Orleans Philharmonic, the National Symphonic out of Washington, D.C., the Santa Fe Opera orchestra and the Philadelphia orchestra from 1963 to 1999. She also taught music in public school systems for 16 years. She died in 2003.
And there, thanks to Phil, you have some of the story of this North Dakota musical family.
If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email email@example.com.