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Jack Zaleski, Published September 18 2011

Zaleski: A Rough Rider Award for a man of agriculture

Several years ago, my wife and I were guests at a C-400 dinner at Concordia College. It was the annual event at which the college honors outstanding alumni. Ron Offutt was among the honorees that night.

Offutt was in the news last week when North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple presented him with the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award. Offutt is chairman and founder of RDO Equipment Co. and R.D. Offutt Co., which are among the most successful agribusiness companies in the nation. The Rough Rider Award recognized Offutt’s achievements in his fields of endeavor, with emphasis on how his work has brought credit and honor to the state and the people of the state.

But as I read about last week’s award, I thought about that night at Concordia. Like all the honorees, Offutt gave a brief acceptance speech. But instead of listing his business achievements, he talked about the influence his father had on his life.

People who know Offutt a lot better than I do say he’s not one to make speeches. He’s uncomfortable in the spotlight. He’s a private guy. But when he talked about his youth and his father, he allowed us a brief glimpse into Ron Offutt, the man and the son, not just the CEO, entrepreneur and philanthropist. With some emotion, he framed his success in the context of his early days with his father.

I listened and thought about my own dad. I wondered how many sons in the audience that night were as touched as I was by Offutt’s very personal insights. There were several after-dinner speeches that night at Concordia, but only his stuck with me.

Back to last week’s award:

A Rough Rider for Offutt is highly appropriate because of the 38 people who have been honored since 1961, he is the only one to be directly involved in agriculture and agribusiness. That’s a startling fact considering North Dakota’s farming history and heritage.

From his modest start with a farm implement outlet in Casselton, N.D., Offutt’s companies have become the largest network of John Deere equipment dealerships in the U.S. and the nation’s largest grower of potatoes. A major regional employer, Offutt has been a leader in adapting farming to the techniques and technology of modern production agriculture.

It was also a nice touch that Gov. Dalrymple, himself a Red River Valley farmer whose family’s agriculture heritage predates statehood, presented the Rough Rider Award to Offutt. It was Dalrymple’s first Rough Rider designation, and it was a good one.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.