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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published August 03 2012

Coming home: Changes from oil activity bittersweet for native North Dakota musician

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -Jessie Veeder has a story for every hill and tree on her family’s ranch on the edge of North Dakota’s badlands.

Now the land that’s been in her family for nearly 100 years has an oil well, three pipelines and other signs of oil development Jessie doesn’t recognize.

But as much as Jessie would like to see fewer trucks driving through the ranch that inspires her as a musician, she’s grateful for the opportunities the oil industry is giving her family.

Oil development is providing new revenue sources for the ranch her parents once struggled to support.

It’s created job opportunities that have allowed Jessie and her two sisters to return home to the Watford City area for the first time in their adult lives.

And at 28, Jessie and her husband are building a house on the ranch they love and dreaming about buying cows.

“Our world has gotten a little more dusty. It isn’t as quiet as it was,” Jessie said. “But for all of these ways that it’s frustrating, there are about 1,000 ways that it there are about 1,000 ways that it is exhilarating, especially for people in my age group.”

Jessie, who calls herself a singer/songwriter/writer/ photographer/pet-a-holic, grew up on the 3,000-acre ranch in rural Watford City, just down the road from the site of her great-grandfather’s original homestead and the tiny house where her father, Gene Veeder, grew up.

Since she was “30 miles from anything,” Veeder spent her childhood riding horses, climbing hills and writing poetry and short stories about the ranch.

“I was influenced by all of this landscape around me,” Jessie said.

Gene, a musician, gave Jessie a journal when she was 10 to capture that creativity, and soon she was picking up a guitar and putting those thoughts to music. That led to Jessie playing festivals and concerts with her father and eventually recording her first original album at age 16.

Jessie left the ranch in 2001 to attend the University of North Dakota, knowing she wanted to return someday but unsure when that’d be possible.

“People weren’t moving back because there weren’t jobs and there weren’t as many opportunities to make a living,” Jessie said.

While earning her communications degree, Jessie continued performing and was hired by a Nashville agency to tour college campuses across the country. She recorded her second album in Fargo, and it was released as she was graduating from UND.

In 2006, Jessie married her childhood sweetheart, Chad Scofield, a “town kid” from Watford City who shares her love for the Veeder Ranch. As the couple planned their future, Chad decided working in the oil industry could allow them to build a life on the ranch.

Chad started working on drilling rigs as a floor hand, but between his long hours and Jessie’s touring schedule, they rarely saw each other. He then took a job in oil production with Marathon Oil, and the couple lived in Dickinson for two years.

A job transfer to New Town allowed the couple to return to the ranch about three years ago. Jessie juggles several jobs, working as a communications specialist for McKenzie County, working with her father, the county’s economic development director, and doing freelance writing and photography.

Jessie’s older sister, Lindsay Wingerter, 36, also was able to move back to Watford City from Olympia, Wash. Her husband, David, works as a directional driller for Halliburton. Lindsay teaches yoga and ballet, works in the downtown department store their mom, Beth, bought last fall and raises their son, Sylas, who is almost 2.

“I knew that I wanted to raise my kids here,” Lindsay said.

Most recently, Alex Veeder, 23, moved back to Watford City after graduating from North Dakota State University. She will work this fall as a counselor and teacher in the neighboring town of Alexander.

“There’s no way that those kids would have moved back here five years ago,” Gene said. “It’s not because of oil money. It’s because they have good jobs.”

Since returning home, Jessie found renewed inspiration and began songwriting again and sharing her creative writing and photography on her blog, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.” She expects to release a new album this fall that she recorded in Bismarck with her father’s band, Lonesome Willy.

Jessie plans to do an early digital release of “Boomtown,” a song she wrote about the oil activity and the stories behind people coming to North Dakota to pursue job opportunities.

While it’s bittersweet for Jessie to see a pumping unit and white pipeline markers marring the landscape she loves, the oil activity is the reason she gets to be there.

“The industry has made it so that we can have a more comfortable life out here,” Jessie said. “It’s not what my parents went through. Now we both have as much work as we could ever want.”

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.