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Renowned music educator posthumously awarded North Dakota's highest citizen honor

Originally from Maddock, Merton Utgaard established the International Music Camp at the International Peace Garden in 1956 as a way to bring music education to his home state during the summer. The camp started with about 100 students in its first year, but it grew rapidly as students from around the world flocked to the North Dakota-Manitoba border.

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Merton Utgaard, the founder of the International Music Camp, directs a group of musicians.
Photo provided by the North Dakota Office of Governor
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DUNSEITH, N.D. — Merton Utgaard, the founder of an influential youth music camp in the International Peace Garden near here, finally received an immortalizing award many North Dakotans believe he should have gotten during his lifetime.

Utgaard's three children received the North Dakota Rough Rider Award on behalf of their father from Gov. Doug Burgum during a ceremony at the Peace Garden on Friday, July 29. Utgaard, who died in 1998 at age 84, is the 47th recipient of the state's highest citizen commendation. His portrait will be hung in the North Dakota Capitol at a later date.

Originally from Maddock, Utgaard established the International Music Camp at the Peace Garden in 1956 as a way to bring music education to his home state during the summer. The camp started with about 100 students in its first year, but it grew rapidly as students from around the world flocked to the North Dakota-Manitoba border.

Since its founding, the camp has hosted more than 140,000 students and directors from 84 countries. In addition to music education, the summer camp now offers programs for other fine arts disciplines, including dance, creative writing, painting and theater.

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Merton Utgaard, the founder of the International Music Camp, poses for a portrait.
Photo provided by the North Dakota Office of Governor

Burgum said Utgaard's passion and vision led him to craft a unique educational opportunity for aspiring musicians in North Dakota.

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"Under Dr. Utgaard’s guidance, the International Music Camp has grown into a nationally and internationally known program supporting arts and culture in our communities and sharing North Dakota with the world," Burgum said in a news release.

Utgaard’s daughter Karen Rolston said her father loved North Dakota and would have been honored to receive the award.

"He was a man of few words, but someone who made his voice heard with his love of music," Rolston said in a news release. "He never stopped sharing this love of his, with the citizens of North Dakota, the United States, Canada and many places around the world."

Before his music education career took off, Utgaard served as an officer in the Army Air Corps for several years and stayed on as a reserve for the next two decades.

Early in his teaching days, Utgaard worked as the music director for Carrington Public Schools. He later sought advanced degrees, including a doctorate in music, and taught at the University of South Dakota, Ball State University and Northern Illinois University. Utgaard took the helm at the camp in 1960 and continued as its full-time director for 28 years.

Utgaard's posthumous reception of the Rough Rider Award coincides with the 90th anniversary of the International Peace Garden. The ceremony was followed by a concert performed at the camp.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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