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Lloyd Omdahl, Published April 29 2012

Omdahl: The kids from ND did well

Bill Scouton knew Kari Wigton before Dick Clark even knew she existed. So who is Bill Scouton, and who is Kari Wigton?

Raised in Inkster, N.D., and my roommate at the University of North Dakota, Scouton reported for the Grand Forks Herald and eventually became a Washington staff member for Sen. Quentin Burdick in the early 1960s.

When Rollie Redlin was elected to Congress in 1964, Scouton moved over to his office to organize and head up his new staff.

Now retired and living in Washington, Scouton is involved with a small circle of writers. In that role, he has been writing some memoirs about his life experiences.

Recently, he provided me with copies of some short articles he had written, including one that told about a couple of North Dakota girls who appeared in Washington to work for Sen. Burdick as temporary interns. They had been recommended to Burdick by one of their very influential sorority sisters.

In his draft of “The Girls Who Couldn’t Type,” Scouton explained how Charles Plante, Burdick’s chief of staff, hoped that Scouton could use the two girls – Betty Kay Bitterman of Medina and Kari Wigton of Steele – on Redlin’s staff.

They had no secretarial skills, Plante confessed. Scouton declined the offer.

“Betty Kay and Kari were resourceful,” Scouton wrote in his essay, “and soon found better jobs than working for a freshman congressman.”

Betty Kay was hired by Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, who became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Meanwhile, Kari joined the staff of Wayne Hayes of Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Not long afterward, Hayes was involved in a scandal and resigned in disgrace.

Then Betty Kay and Kari felt ready for a new adventure and joined a road trip around the country with the “See America First” program inspired by President Lyndon Johnson. Their assignment was to promote such annual events as the Kentucky Derby and the Apple Blossom Festival in Virginia.

Scouton wished them well the day they left, and they were off. After doing the circuit, they both ended up in Los Angeles.

“I lost track of the girls,” Scouton wrote. “But a few years later I came across Betty Kay at a reception at the National Press Club. She was on her way to France to attend the annual International Cannes Movie Festival.

“Later, I was told that she was working on the Merv Griffin television show. So I tuned in once and watched the credits that listed Betty K. Bitterman as the executive producer of the show.”

Merv Griffin was a talk-show host and creator of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”

The intern from Medina had done well for herself.

Then Scouton made another surprising discovery.

“One Sunday a few years ago, when I opened my Washington Post I was startled to see Dick Clark and Kari on the front cover of Parade magazine; inside was a story of their happy marriage.”

In case you missed the news, Clark, nationally known for his long-running television production of “American Bandstand,” died recently. He had married Kari in 1977, and they had remained together for the past 35 years.

A hard-driving business manager, Clark ended up a multi-millionaire.

The intern from Steele had done pretty well, also.

How did Scouton feel about the whole thing?

“These were the girls I rejected for jobs in our congressional office because they couldn’t type,” he concluded with an air of nostalgic remorse.

Omdahl is former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmattters@q.com