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RED RIVER ROAD TRIP: Northwood rebuilds, flourishes after 2007 tornado

NORTHWOOD, N.D.--In 2007, Enoch Thorsgard, then 90, was working on his memoir. The self-published "Enoch's Saga" detailed the changes to the farm landscape that he had seen as one of Northwood's oldest residents.

Kent Gronlie, left, and Willard Pedersen enjoy breakfast most mornings in Cool Stuff's cafe in Northwood, ND. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

NORTHWOOD, N.D.-In 2007, Enoch Thorsgard, then 90, was working on his memoir. The self-published "Enoch's Saga" detailed the changes to the farm landscape that he had seen as one of Northwood's oldest residents.

The farmer with the biggest cattle ranch in the area wrote that it "hurt for the once twenty-something young man, now almost at the end of his life, to see beautiful groves of trees bulldozed and farmhouses, outhouses and barns being demolished to make room for more cultivation."

Similar change came for the town of Northwood that same year, by way of Mother Nature.

A tornado ripped through the heart of the town, leaving $50 million in damage in its wake.

Kent Gronlie, who owns a farm seven miles out, remembers walking into town the morning after the devastation and seeing quite the barren landscape. Luckily, the town made a speedy recovery by the following year, Gronlie said.


"But I do miss our big majestic trees," he said. "We've been regrowing them. But that was kind of sad."

Yet no amount of technology or natural disaster can alter the spirit of Northwood, according to Gronlie and Thorsgard. Northwood has flourished in the eight years after the tornado and is still home to a "great business climate," for its 953 residents, resident Noren Meland said.

One of the many businesses in Northwood is Meland Lumber Company, which Meland started in 1949. It is now the only formal lumberyard in rural Grand Forks County, he said.

After the tornado, the lumberyard was essential to helping Northwood get back on its feet; ironically the business did well when others did not.

Now, his sons and grandson operate the yard.

Meland said the yard owns 56 different lots, rebuilding and tearing down countless houses as well.

"We also furnish lumber for building in Fargo, Grand Forks and Devils Lake," Meland said, citing his grandson, Ben Meland's, involvement with construction firm Enclave Development.

Bilden's Pharmacy is open six days a week consistently, and five generations of Bilden men have operated it. People from surrounding towns even come to get their prescriptions refilled.


"We've only been closed (not on schedule) for one day," owner Wade Bilden said. "And that was the Monday after the tornado."

Other businesses include Krabbenhoft Auto Supply and Service, Miller's Fresh Foods, the Northwood Inn, Korsmo Brothers Trucking, AGVISE Laboratories, the two bars-The Hut and Brass Rail-and new clothing store, Spice of Life.

Cool Stuff Drive Inn, a former drive-in restaurant that still serves food, is also a place where Gronlie and his longtime friend, Willard Pedersen, gather in the mornings.

Gronlie said the city has done a great job of rebuilding its infrastructure. A new school sits a mile out. In place of the old schoolhouse, the Ebenezer Free Lutheran Church is an additional church for the small religious community to attend. A war memorial was also recently erected.

In recent years, Northwood's population has increased as "transplants" move to the area for cheap housing. It is a small town that is primarily a bedroom community now, Meland said. Many of the people living in town commute to Grand Forks for business.

It's reminiscent of the way people also left the farming business as technology changed, with many moving on in the 1980s, Thorsgard said.

The annual Old Fashioned Saturday is usually when residents come back to reunite. The event is reminiscent of the days when people from farms came into town to grocery shop and socialize with residents; Gronlie remembers coming with his mother, usually on Saturdays.

"Ice cream cones were five cents back then," he said.


At the event, held this past Saturday, Thorsgard rode in a car and threw out copies of "Enoch's Saga" during the parade, a tradition that has gone on for several years.

"I've thrown out over 6,000 copies," he said.

He can't remember how many times he's rode in the parade, but he does it for the residents who want to remember how far they've come.

"It's an awful good town to be in," Meland said. "We're really proud of our town."

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