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Bob Lind, Published January 14 2012

Lind: Immigrant demonstrated both business mind, kind heart

The question of illegal immigration remains a hot topic. But there’s no debate on this: Immigrants played integral parts in the settlement and growth of the Fargo-Moorhead area.

This is the story of one of them.

Harry A. Simon was an emigrant (a legal one) from the Ukraine who came to Moorhead-Fargo and established furniture stores.

And he’d jump at the chance to help others. Including, in one case, a boy with polio.

Fargo to Chicago

Harry was born in 1884. His father was a merchant. He attended school for about eight years and then in 1902, when he was 17, immigrated to the United States, going first to Baltimore and, a month later, to Fargo, where his brother Joe was living. Harry also had a homestead for a while in Bowman County, N.D.

Soon, the kid was off and running in the business world. His first job was at Nate Harris’ grocery store in Fargo. He then bought a consignment of merchandise (exactly what is unknown) and sold it farm-to-farm, all the while learning English from a Fargo real estate agent.

Harry started his first store in 1906 in Kindred, N.D., but sold it after a year and moved to Chicago, where he was engaged in several businesses and where he married Pearl Eisenberg.

He formed a company that turned out small bottles of ketchup, mustard and other items; formed the Harry A. Simon Wholesale Grocery business; and then organized a chain of 10 small grocery stores, all in the Chicago area.

Chicago to Moorhead

Harry came down with the flu in 1918. But being confined to a bed couldn’t keep him from conducting business. While he was hospitalized, he sold his businesses to the A&P Tea Co.

Once he was well, he headed back to North Dakota, this time to Wheatland, where his brother then lived. Then it was on to Wolverton, Minn., where he bought a general merchandise store.

Then he sold his Wolverton store and opened a furniture store in Moorhead in 1926.

The store, initially called Standard Furniture and later Simon’s Home Furnishings, sold second-hand items at first. Later it sold new furniture and had its own furniture manufacturing plant.

Pearl died in 1945. In 1947, Harry married Hermena “Rasha” Gross of Minneapolis.

Harry was active in community affairs in both Moorhead and in Fargo, where he lived. He belonged to the Moorhead Chamber of Commerce, the Moorhead Rod and Gun Club, the Moorhead Automobile Club, Temple Bethel and B’Nai B’rith.

In 1959, Harry became ill and spent time in St. Ansgar Hospital, Moorhead. It was there he met another patient named Donisio.

A flight home

Donisio, 6, the son of migrant workers from Texas, developed polio and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Even though Donisio knew no English, he was befriended by Harry, who was on the same floor and took a liking to the boy.

Well, the summer ended, the migrants’ work was over, and the family was about to return to Texas.

But they’d be traveling in a pickup, with Donisio likely riding in the back end.

Harry, hearing of this, said no way, and he paid for plane tickets for both Donisio and for a St. Ansgar nurse to fly with him to take care of him.

A Forum reporter asked him why he was doing this.

“Why not?” he said. “I can walk. He can’t.”

Harry died at age 81 in 1965. His sons and grandson continued to operate the business, which grew to have stores in both Moorhead and Fargo and in Reno, Nev., before closing in 1989.

But it had a long run, this brainchild of the emigrant from the Ukraine who proved he had both a business mind and a kind heart.


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com