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Pioneer N.D. ag manufacturer Eugene Dahl dies

Eugene Dahl, a schoolteacher turned entrepreneur, played a pivotal role in some of North Dakota's largest manufacturing businesses, including Bobcat and Steiger.

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Eugene Dahl, a schoolteacher turned entrepreneur, played a pivotal role in some of North Dakota's largest manufacturing businesses, including Bobcat and Steiger.

Dahl, 83, died Wednesday in Fargo after battling cancer for the past year and suffering a heart attack a month ago, said his son, Howard Dahl.

"Gene Dahl was a world-class entrepreneur who gave farmers the tools they needed to succeed," said Bruce Gjovig, the director of UND's Center for Innovation.

Dahl also mentored and supported young entrepreneurs for decades, beginning long before entrepreneurship was fashionable, Gjovig said.

Dahl was inducted into the North Dakota Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 1990.

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UND connection

A board room at the Center for Innovation is named for Dahl and Roger Melroe. Dahl was the first chairman for the Center for Innovation's advisory board.

The Dahl and Melroe families also established endowments within the UND Foundation to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among UND faculty.

Dahl loved innovation and entrepreneurship, said Howard Dahl, president of Fargo's Amity Technology, which manufactures sugar beet harvesting equipment.

"Dad always said, 'What are you doing that's new?' " he said.

He described his father as "a coach who enjoyed putting his best team on the court and watching them shine. He loved to see employees do well."

Eugene Dahl, the son of a Norwegian immigrant who ran a grocery store in Gwinner, N.D., served at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

He returned home and received a degree in math and chemistry from UND.

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Dahl taught school for a year before his father-in-law, E.G. Melroe, persuaded him to join the fledgling Melroe Manufacturing Co. in Gwinner.

Melroe is known today as Bobcat.

Dahl and his four brothers-in-law built up the company before selling it to Clark Equipment Co. in 1970.

Dahl then joined Fargo's Steiger Co., a pioneer in big four-wheel-drive tractors, providing both leadership and capital to the company.

At its peak, Steiger employed more than 1,200 people in Fargo.

"Few people anywhere in the world have grown two Fortune 500 companies," Gjovig said Wednesday by

e-mail. "Gene changed the economic landscape of North Dakota, employing thousands and providing exemplary leadership for business, community and statewide interests."

Jack Johnson worked with Dahl at Steiger.

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"He was my teacher, my mentor and my best friend," Johnson said.

Besides teaching school, Dahl also was a teacher in business, Johnson said.

"He always wanted people to learn and succeed," Johnson said.

Steiger, under Dahl's leadership, established one of the first employee stock ownership plans in the nation.

The former Steiger plant in Fargo is now operated by CNH.

Barry Batcheller, now a Fargo entrepreneur, began his career as an electrical engineer at Steiger who wanted the company to develop a revolutionary computerized tractor control system.

Dahl's vision and support allowed that to happen, Batcheller said.

"He was a great guy," Batcheller said.

After leaving Steiger, Dahl helped his sons Howard and Brian launch Concord Inc., which became a leading manufacturer of air seeders.

Concord Inc. later was sold to Case Corp.

Dahl also served two terms in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

Norm Jones, a retired Fargo bank executive, knew Dahl for 45 years.

"Gene was a man of faith and family, and he did a great deal for his community," Jones said.

"And of course he accomplished so much in business."

The Herald and the Forum are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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