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Oxbow residents losing more than a town

OXBOW, N.D. - Residents here say if the entire city succumbs to flood buyouts, they're not going to be forced away from just their homes and neighbors; they'll be walking away from family.

Oxbow residents Tami Henke, Sheri Bartels and Marie Talley
Oxbow residents Tami Henke, Sheri Bartels and Marie Talley talk about the appeal of living in the small city south of Fargo. In the background is the Oxbow Golf Course clubhouse. Dave Wallis / The Forum

OXBOW, N.D. - Residents here say if the entire city succumbs to flood buyouts, they're not going to be forced away from just their homes and neighbors; they'll be walking away from family.

As a Red River diversion moves forward, the current preferred alignment leaves the city outside its protection, with the possibility of pushing 1 to 3 feet of floodwater into the city. The small town of more than 200 banded together in January, signing a resolution demanding buyout offers be offered to everyone or no one.

Although it appears officials agree and the entire city will be bought out, residents of the state's youngest city say there is something special about the town - something that just can't be replicated anywhere else.

The land, originally part of the Bakke Farm, was bought by developers and eventually formed into the towns of Oxbow and Hickson and the Bakke Subdivision.

Oxbow's heart, a member-owned golf course - officially opened in spring 1976, after summer flooding delayed the opening the year before.


Members of the club are resident owners, but the club offers different levels of membership and residents are not required to be members, said resident Sheri Bartels.

"They try to accommodate lots of different types of people," she said.

The Oxbow Country Club now sits where the Bakke family home was built. Outside the club is a stone monument with a tribute to 15-year-old Michael Champ, who was killed in an automobile accident in 2006.

The memorial, designed by a fellow Oxbow resident, was paid for by his family, neighbors and Oxbow friends who knew Champ from his work on the golf course.

Residents Marie Talley, Tami Henke and Bartels say it is the community togetherness that serves as the heart of Oxbow and makes the thought of leaving hard.

Blocks away is Nadia's Hope, the community park built entirely by resident volunteers and donations.

The park's namesake, Nadia Losing, died at just 1 month old from sudden infant death syndrome. A memorial lies in front of the green and tan jungle gym, next to a basketball court.

"For them (the Losing family), the thought of having to leave the memorial behind is very, very tough," Talley said. "How do you do that when they've already lost so much?"


In 1978, Lyle Hornbacher and his wife, Anna, moved into the third home built in the city. The Hornbachers both taught school in Kindred. His children and grandchildren graduated from Kindred schools, and his daughter now lives in Oxbow.

Talley said that is not uncommon in Oxbow, that generations of families are living in the town.

While Hornbacher has raised his family, young families like Henke's and Bartels' were just getting started. Both women have two young children each, students in the Kindred Public School system.

Bartels said parenting in Oxbow means never parenting alone.

"I rely on my friends to take my kids after work," she said. "I don't know that I could find that kind of support anywhere else."

It is not uncommon for neighbors to call each other when an unfamiliar vehicle is seen at a home.

"People are very aware

of what goes on in the neighborhood," Talley said.


Although some would say Oxbow's lifestyle is an extension of being North Dakotan, the women say it's more than that.

"We're not just neighbors; we're truly friends," Bartels said.

"All the small towns are aging; no one new is moving in," Henke said. "This is a community where they are moving here to raise families. They're moving here because they will stay. This is a very thriving small town."

The melding of different styles and tastes is apparent driving down the streets of Oxbow. Next to a West Coast contemporary-looking home (owned by a farming family) is an East Coast Colonial.

"People come here, and they build the house they plan on retiring in," Bartels said. "As you can see, there is not a replicated house out here."

Hornbacher said he's in a precarious position, only a year or two away from downsizing. The task of selling his house with buyouts a possibility is daunting.

"The corps basically condemned my house. I couldn't find anyone to sell it to, I probably couldn't find anyone to give it to," he said.

The women say moving the community has been lightly discussed, but finding an area to move an entire city to would likely be impossible.


They say most residents are considering moving out of state.

"This is a chance to start anew. This is where we thought we would be. Now I guess we'll have to re-think it," Henke said.

Moving to Fargo is not an option for Talley.

"We're thinking of moving out of state. I will not move to Fargo. You will have to take me in my death bed to move to Fargo," Talley said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum.
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