Something like 40 years ago, just out of North Dakota State University, I was keen to take what I had learned as a young photographer and writer working on student publications and explore the larger world.
I’d traveled quite a lot in Europe already and had the idea to find, photograph and interview a dozen people who had lived within the circulation area of The Forum who’d gone off to far-flung countries living interesting lives. The editors were game, agreed to pay my way, and off I went with a passport, my Leica and a notebook with a few tips from friends and Forum staffers on people to look up.
Upper Midwesterners are an adventurous bunch. You can find them in every state and probably every major city in the country. We’re famous for exporting bright, well-educated and adventurous folks all around the world. I set out to find some of them and tell their stories. Why’d they go? Where and for how long? A semester, a three-year corporate posting, a lifetime?
Among the first subjects I tracked down, I hit the jackpot with a nice guy many in Fargo remembered as The Popcorn Man. Mike Boosalis’s modest popcorn stand in the parking lot of the Fargo Theatre had won him lifelong fans. When he retired and began to lose his sight, he moved back to the tiny village in southern Greece where he was born.
When I finally tracked him down in the rugged mountain village near Sparta, he said, “You came all the way from Fargo? Why the hell for?"
Howard Nelson from Devils Lake, N.D., was enjoying a 30-year career as the lead baritone of the Zurich Opera. That one was easy.
Chris Vogel from Fargo was one of the first scientists in the world to be hired to find solutions for cleaning up industrial waste. I tracked him to the giant BASF chemical company at Mannheim on Germany’s Rhine River.
I found a seminarian from Cardinal Muench in Fargo doing research at the Vatican in Rome.
I got a good start on the project with the four pieces The Forum published in 1977, to wonderful reader reaction. But for reasons which most likely had to do with timing and budgets, the project got shelved, leaving me with a notebook full of untold stories.
Recently, I had the opportunity to pitch Forum management about letting me take up where I left off, way back then, and to my great delight, they’ve agreed.
This time, though, I won’t be traveling all the way from Fargo. Handily, I now live in Amsterdam.
A North Dakota expatriate who grew up on a farm near Hope, I expended many a Eurail Pass traveling around Europe for years before finally settling down here in The Netherlands. It’s the smallest of the world’s great cities, and I’ve found plenty of opportunities to bring a “prairie sensibility” to graphic design, photography, publishing and writing projects.
As I embark on this new round of expat stories, dear reader, I need your help. If you know, or know of any former Great Plains people now living in Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East or North Africa — as long as their story and setting might be interesting, I would be grateful to hear from you. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.