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Kevin Bonham, Published June 30 2009

Binford, N.D., shows that little doesn't mean irrelevant

BINFORD, N.D. — As co-chair of a national rural revitalization committee, John Leininger travels around the country, trying to spread the word that rural vitality begins at home.

So, he was beaming this past weekend during Binford Days, which attracted 1,900 people for a Professional Bull Riders competition and hosted the final leg of the 40th Annual Fort Seward Wagon Train.

“It was such a great weekend, a chance to show off what we’ve got here,” said Leininger, a semi-retired teacher and long-time Binford-area resident.

Leininger currently serves as co-chairman of the National Community Education Association’s Rural Revitalization Task Force. He also is project director for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which includes 14 schools, based in Cooperstown, N.D.

“Our town slogan is ‘The Biggest Little Town in North Dakota.’ For a town of 185 people, we’re doing some pretty amazing things,” he said.

Binford residents launched a successful $300,000 campaign to build a new community-owned grocery/hardware store after fire destroyed the business about 3 years ago. The community also owns the Binford Café and a mini-mall, which houses three businesses. All are leased to private operators.

He notes that the community has 30 businesses, including three banks, adding that Binford has more banks per capita than any town in the country.

“I’ve said that all over the country, and nobody’s challenged me yet,” he said.

Saturday’s PBR Bull Riding competition was a tribute to the late Darrel LaPlant, a longtime Binford businessman who died this past winter after a long battle with cancer. LaPlant was a local rodeo club member who helped organize and had been part of the annual event since its beginning 43 years ago.

About 150 wagon train participants ended their 75-mile trip from Jamestown to Binford on Friday night by parading their wagons and horses through town before setting up tents and spending a stormy night in the community.

Leininger also made a family connection with a couple of bicycle riders from Archbold, Ohio., who stopped for a bite to eat on their way through town.

Marylyn Krueger and Bea Briggs are participating in the American Cycling Association’s Northern Tier Bicycle Adventure, a trip from Anacortes, Wash., to Bar Harbor, Maine.

They’re making the trip in sections, traveling to and from their starting and ending points on an Amtrak train.

“It’s a great way to see the country and meet people,” Krueger said. “It’s great for the senses, the sights and sounds of nature. In a car, you can’t hear the ducks.”

Last year, they biked across Washington and Idaho, to Glacier National Park in Montana.

On this segment, they traveled along the Northern Tier route between Glacier and Fargo, where they hopped back on Amtrak to return home. The route takes them along U.S. Highway 2 through northwestern North Dakota to Rugby, then southeast through Esmond, Minnewaukan, Warwick, Pekin, Binford, Cooperstown, Hope and Page.

They ran into Leininger outside the Binford Café.

“The bikers were visiting with somebody outside of the café,” Leininger said. “I overheard that they were from Ohio, and they were retired school teachers. I said my ancestors came from a little town, Archbold. They couldn’t believe it.”

He explained that his great, great grandfather was one of five brothers who settled in Archbold after the family emigrated from Alsace, Germany, which now is part of France.

“We taught there for 30 years,” Krueger said. “We had a lot of Leiningers in school. They’re all musical, good students, and some good athletes, too.”

“There must have been some mischievous ones in there, too,” Leininger added.

Krueger and Briggs have been surprised by the vitality of small towns.

They spent one night in nearby Pekin, N.D., which happened to be hosting its annual Pekin Art Show.

“We’re so impressed with the people in the towns, in Pekin, in Binford.” Krueger said. “It’s such a community.”

Leininger loves to talk about rural development and education, and about family. They talked until the two visitors insisted they had to hit the trail to catch the train in Fargo.

Binford is home to Midkota Elementary School, with grades K-6. Binford had a K-12 school until 1991, before the community became part of Midkota School District. The Binford High School Classes of 1980 through 1991 also held a reunion in town over the weekend.

“My goal is to make sure that our grandchildren, if they want to, have the opportunity to go to school in Binford,” he said.

Today, the Cooperstown-based 21st Century Learning Centers is serving as a model for cooperative community and school projects.

He said the other rural revitalization task force co-chair is from New Mexico. Some of the North Dakota project’s programs now are being introduced there.

In November, the national organization also will conduct a forum on rural revitalization at its convention in Phoenix.

“We haven’t turned the corner on saving rural America,” Leininger said. “We have to connect schools and rural communities. It’s getting communities more involved in schools, in getting kids, students more involved in entrepreneurship and rural communities.”

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.