One morning last week, I had a very nice surprise phone call from my cousin, Dale Niewoehner. He was on his way to Grand Forks from his home in Rugby, N.D., where he and his wife, Marilyn, own and operate Niewoehner Funeral Home.
Dale is one of my favorite first cousins. His late father, Henry A. Niewoehner, was my late mother’s beloved brother. Down through the years those two remained very close siblings which only seems to bind the tie between Dale and me.
When Dale got to Grand Forks that day and had completed his purpose for coming, I met him for lunch at the Great Wall Buffet on Gateway Drive. We had a wonderful hour or so of catching up on one another’s lives. He always, always, amazes me with the things he’s interested in and the things he accomplishes.
His latest has to do with our Flickertail State. Quite timely since Sunday is North Dakota’s 125th birthday.
With his latest project all said and done, Dale wrote and submitted a news release to the North Dakota Newspaper Association. It has to do with the state’s very first governor, the Honorable John Miller, and the restoration of the mausoleum where Miller is entombed in Green Hills Cemetery, Dryden, N.Y.
There’s erroneous Information on a website that states Mr. Miller is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Duluth, Minn. Dale has contacted the sexton there and has verified that this is not true.
Dale gave me permission to share his news release here. Its headline states:
North Dakota First Governor’s Mausoleum Restored.
The release reads:
John Miller was a wealthy bonanza farmer in the Red River Valley in North Dakota, but his legacy extended beyond this rich farmland.
In 1878, Miller came from Dryden, New York, located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He purchased 17,000 acres of land in Richland County, North Dakota. Mr. Miller had no political ambitions, but after serving in the Constitutional Convention in mid-1889, he was persuaded to run for Governor, and was elected in November, 1889.
Miller was known as a strong and honest leader for the new state. He would not be bribed or swayed by the many powerful political forces forging their thoughts in the new government and organization of North Dakota. Miller served in office until January 1891 then returned to his business to manage and expand his farming and grain operations in the Red River Valley.
He was a partner with Herbert F. Chaffee in an operation of milling flour, feed, and other agricultural services. The company had offices in North Dakota and Duluth, Minnesota.
On October 26, 1908, Miller died in Duluth, three days short of turning 65. His family and Mrs. H. F. Chaffee accompanied the body on a train from Duluth to Dryden (N.Y) for burial in Green Hills Cemetery.
In 1910, a grand mausoleum constructed of light gray granite was built on the Miller lot for the burial of Governor Miller. Over the years, his wife and their two daughters also were entombed in the mausoleum. The fact that a state governor is buried in the Green Hills Cemetery has long been a sense of pride for the cemetery.
For some time the tomb has been in need of minor repairs. Rugby funeral director, Dale G. Niewoehner became aware of these needs while in communication with Ray Harris, Sexton of the Green Hills Cemetery. Harris informed Niewoehner that two windows needed replacement, a bronze door hinge was in need of repair and the buildup of 100 years of tree sap and dirt needed to be cleaned from the outside of the building.
The cemetery also asked that a bronze plaque be mounted on the outside of the mausoleum to inform visitors of the occupant. A flag pole outside the mausoleum proudly displays the North Dakota flag.
A modest fund drive, orchestrated by Niewoehner, was successful in raising the necessary funds for the restoration of the Miller mausoleum. Among the supporters Niewoehner contacted was Grace Link, widow of former North Dakota Governor Arthur A. Link. Mrs. Link was proud to participate in the project, adding “that our state’s history must be preserved and this would certainly be a way to honor our state’s first governor.”
Additional generous contributions from former U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and former Governor, now U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), generated the necessary funds for the restoration project.
Also an interesting piece of history is that Herbert and Carrie Chaffee were first class passengers on the R.M.S. Titanic in April, 1912. Mr. Chaffee died in the sinking of the ship and Mrs. Chaffee is buried in the Amenia Cemetery, north of Casselton, N. D.
See what I mean? Every meeting, every conversation with cousin Dale becomes a history lesson. I love history and look forward to the next time we break bread together.