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Former NDSU president, his wife contribute to new community in various ways after retirement

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Jim Ozbun and his wife, Sonja, have never considered themselves completely retired. Since he stepped down as president of North Dakota State University in 1995, the Ozbuns have immersed themselves into the Dickinson community a...

Sonja and Jim Ozbun relax in their home at Hawks Point in Dickinson, N.D., on July 11. (Linda Sailer / The Dickinson Press)
Sonja and Jim Ozbun relax in their home at Hawks Point in Dickinson, N.D., on July 11. (Linda Sailer / Forum News Service)


DICKINSON, N.D. -- Jim Ozbun and his wife, Sonja, have never considered themselves completely retired.

Since he stepped down as president of North Dakota State University in 1995, the Ozbuns have immersed themselves into the Dickinson community after purchasing a ranch and, more recently, moving to a retirement village called Hawks Point in Dickinson.

"Our plan was to buy a little ranch and enjoy life after administration--raise a few Hereford cattle and some horses and gardening, and we did that," Jim said from their home. "The key is to plan ahead, to know what you want to do and to make a plan and follow it the best you can. That's what we've done throughout our career."


Jim, who is approaching his 79th birthday in September, grew up on a farm near Lark, now a ghost town between Flasher and Carson in Grant County. He attended a country school and then Flasher High School. Sonja also attended a country school near Starbuck, Minn., before attending Starbuck High School.

Ozbun attended NDSU from 1955 to 1961, completing studies for his undergraduate and master's degrees. After earning a doctorate degree at North Carolina State University at Raleigh, N.C., he accepted an administrative positions at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., spent a sabbatical year at the University of California, Davis, and then it was off to the University of Minnesota, Kansas State University, Washington State University and back to NDSU.

"When we first drove back into North Dakota, it was sort of like coming home," Jim said.

Several years prior to leaving NDSU, they started looking at ranch property in Montana, Minnesota, Kansas, South Dakota and Washington.

"We wanted a place where Sonja could enjoy her gardening and flowers," JIm said. "I wanted a place that could handle about 40 cows and some horses. We didn't want a big place, but a place that was easy for us to manage at that time in our life--where I could ride my horse out in the pasture."

By chance, Jim was hunting pheasants when a fellow hunter mentioned they were driving by the ranch where he grew up. The ranch is 11 miles north of Dickinson and 4½ miles east of Highway 22.

"That was the kind of place we were looking for and it turned out it was for sale," JIm said.

In the meantime, Sonja was looking at property in Washington, but liked the North Dakota ranch the best.


"We told the Realtor we liked the (North Dakota) place and were interested in buying it in a year or two when I retired," he said. "A few months later, the Realtor said we'd better make an offer."

With faxes back and forth over the course of an evening, Jim noted, "By the time we got to the dance at the country club, we owned a ranch."

The Ozbuns spent the next 16 years living on the ranch.

"I loved it after being in a high-profile job in Fargo for seven years," Sonja said. "It was so nice to be out on the ranch with wonderful neighbors."

The Ozbuns immersed themselves in the community, playing cards or dancing at New Hradec.

"It was probably the most enjoyable time in my career," Jim said. "We were able to relax and have a good time and do the things we wanted to do."

Five years ago, the Ozbuns decided it was time to sell the ranch and move into Dickinson. Southwest North Dakota is, ironically, a halfway spot between their children. Their son, Terry, and his wife, Patty, and daughter, Hannah, live in Portland, Ore. Their daughter, Karen, and her husband, Phillip Farrington, and their five children and two grandchildren live in Huntsville, Ala.

"Our grandkids were graduating and getting married--those things interfered with ranch work, but they were a higher priority than the ranch," Jim said. "We'd experienced ranch life and had fun, but it was time for other things, like attending weddings and graduations."


The Ozbuns liked the housing options provided at Hawks Point and their access to Dickinson State University's campus life.

They live independently, but can transition to assisted living when needed.

"In our case, our kids live a long ways away and we wanted to have a place where we didn't depend on our kids having to worry about us," he said. "We wanted to make sure we weren't a burden on our kids. That's part of the plan--to plan for decisions before you have to make them."

The Ozbuns have chosen to remain in Dickinson for a number of reasons.

"We've lived in Dickinson area long enough to have lots of friends here," Sonja said. "At our age, we didn't want to start over in a totally new community. It’s different if you have a job and a ready-made group of people."

Sonja is active in the PEO program and is a volunteer at the Friends of the Library used book store. She's also a member of several book clubs and volunteers at her church.

Jim also has immersed himself in various organizations.

"I've had an interesting career and have some skills I can offer to other organizations," he said. "I feel guilty if I don't offer to help. It sometimes keeps me busier than I like."


He referenced his governor's appointment as chairman of the North Dakota Racing Commission, which manages race tracks at Fargo and Belcourt.

He resumed his membership with the Rotary after moving to the ranch. He served as district governor in 2007-08 and just completed another half-term in July. Highlights of his Rotary work included a service trip to Guatemala, where he and Sonja helped construct a school.

He initiated the Rotary's Pancake Karnival to raise funds to eradicate polio. To date, a live polio virus has been reported in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nigeria hasn't had a case in more than a year, he said.

Representing the Rotary Club, Jim has worked with DSU in sponsoring the Triple Crown rodeo. He worked to get a Great Western Cattle Trail marker at Medora.

Jim and his friend, Jack Olin, also are credited with initiating the Roughrider Roundup--a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.

"We hosted the first Roughrider Roundup dinner out at the ranch," JIm said. "Since then, we've raised more than $100,000 for the endowment to support the Heart Butte Camp."

The couple has enjoyed multiple cruises, including the Caribbean and Alaska. They recently returned from a cruise along the Dalmatian coast between Croatia and Greece.

When asked for advice regarding a successful retirement, Jim said, "The secret is to do something you have some talent to offer and go with it. Again, you can do these things if you plan."


What about their bucket list of things yet to do?

"Who knows for sure," Jim said. "We'd like to spend more time with the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. You never know when you're not able to do these things any longer."

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