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Longtime Logan County, N.D., clerk retires after 40 years

ISMARCK -- Dennis Schulz watched a lot of changes while serving as Logan County clerk of court and recorder, but no change has been complete as the change in the gender of the people holding his positions across North Dakota.

Longtime Logan County clerk and recorder Dennis Schulz looks at memorabilia from his time in the offices while his grandson stands by. Schulz retired last week after 40 years on the job. (AP Photo/Bismarck Tribune, Jenny Michael)

ISMARCK -- Dennis Schulz watched a lot of changes while serving as Logan County clerk of court and recorder, but no change has been complete as the change in the gender of the people holding his positions across North Dakota.

Schulz retired recently after 40 years in the Logan County Courthouse. Now, there are no men serving as county clerks of court or recorders in North Dakota.

Schulz first ran for the positions of clerk of court, register of deeds and county judge in 1970, taking office Jan. 1, 1971. He had been out of high school seven years and had been working as the assistant manager at the grocery store in Napoleon. Newly married that August, he thought the advertised salary for the elected positions looked better than that of his grocery store position. At the prodding of others in the community, he put his name on the ballot and won.

Schulz would be re-elected to nine more four-year terms, the final coming in 2006. The county judge position disappeared years ago, in favor of law-trained judges, and register of deeds became known as recorder.

When he started, men outnumbered women in both the clerks' association and the register of deeds, now recorders association. But that changed over the years.


By 1986, Wanda Knutson, president of the North Dakota Clerks of Court Association and Mercer County clerk, said there were only three or four male clerks. Over time, the number dwindled until only Schulz was left.

"He has been the last male clerk we've had for probably the last five or so plus years," Knutson said. "And we're going to miss him."

Schulz, who has been active in the clerks' and recorders' associations, would lead prayers at the clerks' association meetings and always had a different point of view than the other clerks, Knutson said.

"It was always interesting to have him around, even though he was the lone male in our crowd of females," she said.

Sheila Dalen, president of the North Dakota Recorders' Association and Ward County recorder, said it's similar in her association, where Schulz and fellow male members Tom Strand, Dickey County recorder, and Dwayne Oster, McLean County recorder, retired recently. Together, the three men had more than 100 years of experience, Dalen said.

"They were our last three gentlemen in our association," she said. "That's a lot of knowledge going out the door, too."

Knutson, Dalen and Schulz are unsure why the positions have shifted from mostly men to all women. Schulz said as men have retired, they often have been replaced by their deputies, who were usually women. Even when newcomers to the office run, they tend to be women.

Of course, many other things have changed since 1970, too. Schulz has seen a lot of transformations in how the clerk and recorder positions operate.


"It was simpler back in the old days," he said. "It was more time consuming."

He's gone from using a mimeograph to a photocopier, and from mail to faxes to some documents arriving on his desk via e-mail. He used to file documents produced on manual typewriters, which became electronic typewriters, which became computers.

The sizes of files went from legal-size to 8½ by 11 files color-coded on open shelves. Soon, the files may be completely gone as the state courts move toward a computerized, paperless system. Schulz is glad he'll miss out on that development.

"That, I can't comprehend. I'm used to having a document in front of me in a manila envelope," Schulz said. "I'm sure that will be good, too. New things are always a little scary."

Logan County remains one of the only counties in the state to not have land records online, something Schulz assumes also will change soon for the recorder's office.

The process for summonsing jurors has changed, too. When Schulz started, township boards and city councils within jurisdictions would supply clerks' offices with lists of 10 to 20 names of people they thought would be good jurors. Usually, that meant the same older, retired people were on the list year after year.

"It wasn't a very wide-open process like it is now," he said. Eventually, juries were summonsed using lists of voters in the last general election and people with drivers' licenses.

Today, Dawne Marquart will take over Schulz' positions. He's given her a crash course in how things operate, and he expects her to do well in the jobs. Schulz is not sure yet how he'll spend his time. His wife will retire from teaching at the end of the year. They'll spend more time with their grandchildren and will enjoy not being on schedules anymore.


He said they're not big travelers, and though he thought in his younger days he would spend retirement hunting and fishing, that has lost some of its appeal to him.

"It's funny how those priorities change as the years go by," he said.

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