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Erik Burgess, Published December 26 2013

'Anti-dome’ NDSU student now cancer researcher

EDITOR'S NOTE: As a new year begins, The Forum is checking back on former subjects of stories who've made us cry, smile, laugh – or all three. They’re people who made a mark on the region in one way or another. We’ll tell you where they are now.

FARGO – Elaine Linke can remember a time when her phone rang off the hook and reporters hung around her home like it was the Watergate Hotel.

It was the late 1980s, and everybody was clamoring to talk to her son Steve, a quiet student at North Dakota State University, who one day decided he was going to face off with city leaders who wanted to use public funds to build a $48 million Fargodome.

In a recent interview, Steve Linke remembered the phone calls, too, some of them from nameless voices suggesting he “get a job or get out of town.”

More than two decades later, the 45-year-old Linke now lives in Carlsbad, Calif., with his wife and their 5-year-old son. He’s the director of research and development at Prelude Corp., which develops diagnostic tests to guide cancer patients to optimal treatments.

“I guess I ended up taking the advice of those anonymous callers,” Linke joked.

After graduating from NDSU with a double major in microbiology and biotechnology in 1991, Linke left Fargo and headed to the University of California at San Diego to attain his Ph.D. in biology. He also spent a couple of years as a research fellow at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland before returning to California in 2002.

“He’s going to cure breast cancer and colon cancer,” his father, Murl, said, a notion that Steve quickly dismissed.

With a family of his own now, Linke said he’s tried to stay out of politics, a difficult task for a guy who likes to argue.

In 2010, he was one of thousands of upset Sony customers whose expensive LCD TVs displayed random blotches of color. At the time, Linke wrote a 27-page report and devoted an entire website to the issue, according to a KGO-TV report out of San Francisco. Linke eventually won a small-claims case against Sony.

Then, earlier this year, Linke led a charge against AT&T, whose deregulated rates in his area have gone up 260 percent since 2008.

“All my life, when I see something I don’t think is right, I will take action to try to make it right, especially if there’s a lot of people affected,” he said.

The battle with AT&T is similar to Linke’s first consumer advocacy tussle in Fargo. Before the Fargodome, a 20-year-old Linke wrestled with city leaders about the price of cable.

Then, when the city passed a half-cent sales tax in 1988 to help pay for the dome, Linke and his so-called “anti-dome” group – the Dome Reassessment Committee – collected thousands of signatures to call for another vote on the sales tax or to use the funds for another cause.

The phone calls started pouring into his parents’ home in north Fargo.

“It was really unusual, and it got kind of tiresome after a while,” Elaine Linke said. “That’s the way he was, I guess. He found something to fight for.”

Steve Linke said he was never “anti-dome” and remains a Bison fan to this day, but he thought the public had the right to vote on the sales tax again after more information on the dome proposal was released.

The North Dakota Supreme Court struck down Linke’s call for a second vote in 1989. The next year, Linke ran for City Commission and lost. The dome opened in 1992, a year after Linke left Fargo, and the rest is history.

Despite the dome’s success, Linke still believes his cause to better inform the public and push the city to think about the investment was legitimate.

“I am proud of what my group and I did, and I would not change anything, including learning from some important mistakes,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518