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Famous North Dakotans

Cari Jean resides in North Dakota, where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.

Freezing cold winters, wide open plains, farming, cattle and Red River flooding are things you might associate with North Dakota. Some might hear the phrase, "the middle of nowhere," and think North Dakota. But did you know that besides being a state that produces coal, oil, lots of wind and some of the best spring wheat and beef in the union, we have also helped produce a few of the biggest names in sports, entertainment and writing? Don't believe me? Please, read on.

Roger Maris

Roger Maris was actually born in Hibbing, Minnesota but grew up in Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, which is where he attended high school. Besides excelling at baseball he also played football and still holds a high school record at Shanley High in Fargo. He made his Major League Baseball debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He was then traded to the Kansas City Athletics then to the New York Yankees, which is when he broke Babe Ruth's single season homerun record, with 61 homeruns. He helped to lead the Yankees to win the World Series in 1962 and also won the World Series in 1967 and 1968 with the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 2005, because of allegations of steroid use by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds who all broke Babe Ruth's record, the North Dakota Senate urged Major League Baseball to recognize Maris' 61 home runs to be the single season record.

The Roger Maris Museum is located at the West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo, ND where it can be visited for free. Out of humility he didn't want to have the museum but after being pressed, he said, "Put it where people will see it, and where they won’t have to pay for it.”

Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson was born in Deer Lodge, Montana. He attended high school in Williston, North Dakota, where he played varsity basketball and led the team to two state titles. In college, Jackson played with the University of North Dakota where he helped the Fighting Sioux earn third and fourth place finishes in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 1965 and 1966. In 1967 he was drafted by the New York Knicks.

Jackson is best known for coaching the Chicago Bulls. He began as assistant coach in 1987 and was promoted to head coach in 1989. As head coach of the Bulls, Jackson won six NBA championships, with two "three-peats." In 1998, Jackson was named one of the 10 greatest coaches in league history. In 1999, he became the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and ten years later, Jackson won his 10th NBA championship as a coach when the Lakers defeated the Magic.

In honor of Phil Jackson, Williston named their sports complex the Phil Jackson Fieldhouse.

Louis L'Amour

Louis L'Amour was born in 1908 in Jamestown, North Dakota. He is one of the most prolific authors of our time. He wrote a total of 89 western novels and is one of the best-selling authors of short stories. He also completed two nonfiction works and a book of poetry. Many of his writings have been transformed to the screen, including The Quick and the Dead and How the West Was Won.

Louis L'Amour's writing awards include the Western Writers of America's Golden Spur Award, North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, and his novels Hondo and Flint were voted among the 25 best Western Novels of all time. He surpassed John Steinbeck with 41,300,000 copies of his books being sold. Five years later, he sold his one hundred millionth book. He was also the recipient of the Western Writer's of America's Golden Saddleman Award.

In 1972 he was awarded an Honorary PhD by Jamestown College acknowledging his literary and social contributions. In 1983 U.S. Congress voted him the National Gold Medal, and a year later the Medal of Freedom. Louis' books have been translated into over fifteen languages and are sold in English in almost a dozen countries.

Louis L'amour book collection.

Louis L'amour book collection.

Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee was born in Fargo, North Dakota in 1943. As a child Bobby spent summers on the Tuomala Family Farm in Perth, North Dakota.

Bobby Vee's career as a singer began when he was 15 years old after having to fill in for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper after their plane crashed on February 3, 1959 - "The Day the Music Died." Their plane which was en route to Fargo, North Dakota crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. Vee and his hastily assembled band of schoolboys from Fargo called themselves The Shadows. The performance was a success and his singing career began.

In Bobby Vee's career of over forty years, he has attained seven gold records and 38 top 100 hits. Bobby Vee was also a pioneer in the music video genre and appeared in several musical motion pictures. He had a brief musical association with Bob Dylan. He has also been recognized for his contribution to Rockabilly music by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Angie Dickinson

Angeline "Angie" Brown Dickinson was born in 1931 in Kulm, North Dakota, where her father was the newspaper editor and publisher. When she was eleven years old, Angie and her family moved to Burbank, California. Angie's intentions were to become a writer. In 1953, she came in second place in a beauty pageant and soon after marrying Gene Dickinson she decided to pursue an acting career. Frank Sinatra became a good friend of hers in her early days of acting and she would later play his wife in Ocean's Eleven. Four decades later she made a brief cameo in the 2001 version with George Clooney.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Dickinson worked with many major directors and played opposite of several leading men. In 1974, after appearing in many movies, including several westerns, Dickinson began playing a character on a television episode of Police Story. The episode "Lisa" was so popular that NBC created a weekly detective series called Police Woman. In her role of Sgt. Leann "Pepper" Anderson, Dickinson became the first woman to successfully star in an hour-long television drama. Dickinson continued to act throughout the '80s and '90s in various movies, mini-series and on television. As recently as July 2009, at the age of 77, she was back on the small screen for the Hallmark movie, "Mending Fences."

Virgil Hill

Virgil "Quicksilver" Hill was born in Missouri but he grew up in Grand Forks and Williston, North Dakota. At 20 years of age, Virgil began his rise in boxing by winning the silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. His first major title as a pro boxer came in 1987 when he defeated Leslie Stewart of Trinidad to take the World Boxing Association (WBA) light heavyweight title.

Virgil adopted Bismarck, North Dakota as his hometown and chose to fight there instead of Las Vegas, where he had opportunities to box professionally. In 1992 Hill took the WBA 175-lb. title by defeating Frank Tate, his 1984 Olympic teammate. In 2006 at the age of 42, Hill won his fifth world title. With a record of 50 wins (23 KOs) and 5 losses, Virgil Hill has retired from boxing.

Virgil Hill stays invovled with the Native American Community and has made helping kids to stay alcohol and drug free a priority. Hill is an inductee in the North Dakota Sports Hall of fame in Jamestown, ND and is also an honorary member of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He is a ND National Leadership Award winner, and North Dakota Sports Writer Athlete of the Year. Of North Dakota Virgil Hill has said, "North Dakota people are genuine, hardworking, the best you'll find anywhere...I love the place."


Lawrence Welk

Lawrence Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota in 1903. The Welk family spoke only German and the children attended school in a parochial school staffed by German-speaking nuns. At the age of ten, he suffered acute appendicitis. Due to the long recovery and subsequent peritonitis he quit school and focused on farm work and teaching himself to play his father's accordion. When Welk was seventeen, he convinced his father to buy him his own accordion for $400, and promised he would stay and work on the family farm until he was 21 years old.

During the 1920s he performed with various bands before leading his own orchestra. During the 1930s, Welk led traveling big bands. Because his music sounded "light and bubbly as champagne" his music was dubbed "Champagne Music." In the early 1940s, the band began a 10-year stint in Chicago. In 1951, Welk made his home in Los Angeles and began producing "The Lawrence Welk Show" which became a local hit. In 1955 ABC picked up the show which, despite what skeptics said about it, remained on the air for 31 years.

In 1972, he served as Grand Marshal for the Rose Bowl's Tournament of Roses. In 1994 he was inducted into the International Polka Music Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1920. Of Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, she was the seventh of eight children. Her mother died when she was just four years old. Her stepmother tormented and beat her which is why she left home and traveled to Los Angeles when she was 17. After little luck in California, she decided to move closer to home and her career as a singer began on WDAY in Fargo. Her popularity increased after she moved to Minneapolis. She eventually made her way back to California where she developed her trademark style - "soft and cool." In July, 1942, Peggy Lee recorded her first smash hit, "Why Don’t You Do Right?" It sold over 1,000,000 copies and made her famous.

As rock 'n' roll became more and more popular, Peggy Lee was one of the mainstays of Capitol recordings. From 1957 until her final disc for the company in 1972, she routinely produced a steady stream of two or three albums per year which usually included standards, her own compositions, and material from young artists. In the 1990s she continued to perform, sometimes from a wheelchair. She died at the age of 81. Her marker bears the inscription "Music is my life's breath."

Peggy Lee was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning Best Contemporary Vocal Performance in 1969 for "Is That All There Is?" In 1995 she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1999 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Other North Dakota Notables

Sam Anderson Born in Wahpeton, ND in 1945. Attended University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Anderson has appeared on several popular television shows including: Perfect Strangers, ER, Lost, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Growing Pains and WKRP in Cincinnati.

Shannon Curfman Born in Fargo, ND in 1985. She is a blues-rock guitarist and singer. She released her first album, Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions when she was 14. She has toured, recorded or played with: John Mellencamp, The Indigo Girls, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, George Thorogood and several other popular entertainers.

Josh Duhamel Born in Minot, ND in 1972. He is an actor who attended Minot State University and played quarterback for their football team. His acting credits include: playing Leo du Pres on All My Children and Danny McCoy on Las Vegas. He also played Captain William Lennox, in the box office hit Transformers well as its sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In 2005, Duhamel became the co-owner of 10 North Main, a restaurant located in downtown Minot, which features dishes such as elk and pheasant.

Darin Erstad Born in 1974 in Jasmestown, ND. Erstad graduated from Jamestown High School in 1992 and played baseball for the University of Nebraska. He is an outfielder/first baseman for the Houston Astros. He played with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 1996-2006. In 2002, Erstand played a major role in the Angels winning the World Series, hitting a key home run in Game 6 and catching the final out of Game 7. When the Angels won the World Series in 2002, Erstad became just the second player hailing from North Dakota to be on a World Series winning roster. Roger Maris was the first. He has a billboard in his honor off Interstate 94.

Chris Coste Born in 1973 in Fargo, ND. He is a catcher with the Houston Astros. Upon joining the Astros, Coste and Erstad became the first two players born in North Dakota to play together on the same team in major league baseball history. Coste played with the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he became very popular from 2006-2009. He was written two books, the first Hey...I'm Just the Catcher, was published in 1997. The book covers playing with independent baseball leagues, mainly the Red Hawks of Fargo. His second book, The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors, was published in 2008.

Phyllis Frelich Born in Devils Lake, ND in 1944. Her parents were deaf as were all eight of her siblings. She graduated from North Dakota School for the Deaf in 1962 and went on to Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Frehlich won a Tony Award in 1980 for her leading female role in Children of a Lesser God.

Jonny Lang Born Jon Gorden Langseth, Jr. in 1981 in Fargo, ND. Lang is a grammy-award winning American blues, gospel, and rock singer, songwriter and recording artist. Lang has toured with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, B.B. King, and Sting. In 1999, he was invited to play for the President and Mrs. Clinton. Lang's younger sister, Jesse Lanseth was a semifinalist in the 8th season of American Idol.

Casper Oimoen Born in 1906 in Norway, Oimoen immigrated to the United States in 1923 and settled in Minot, ND. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he entered over 200 skiing tournaments and won over 95% of them. In 1928, he was selected for the Olympic ski team, but a misspelling of his name on his citizenship papers caused them to be invalid. President Calvin Coolidge tried to intervene but it was too late. In 1936, he was named Captain of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team placing 13th out of 80 competitors. In 1963 he was elected to the National Ski Hall of Fame in Michigan.

Cliff “Fido” Purpur Born in 1912 in Grand Forks, ND. He is the first person born in North Dakota to play for the National Hockey League (NHL). There were only six NHL teams at the time and an American playing on any team was not very common. He played for five seasons with the St. Louis Eagles, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. After his hockey days were over, Purpur returned to North Dakota and became a coach at Grand Forks Central High School and the University of North Dakota. He was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.

Era Bell Thompson Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1905. She moved to Driscoll, ND when she was nine years old. Being African American, Thompson was often ridiculed in school and she would skip class on the days they discussed slavery. She graduated from Bismarck High School where she had excelled in sports and pursued journalism. For two years she attended University of North Dakota then Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa where she earned a degree in journalism. In 1946 her autobiography, American Daughter, was published. She went on to help develop Ebony magazine where she worked as an editor for forty years. The multicultural center at the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks was named after her. She was inducted into the UND Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.

Larry Woiwode Born in Carrington, ND in 1941. After living and working in New York and Chicago for several years, Woiwode returned to North Dakota in 1978. He has been the state's poet laureate since 1995. He has authored eight novels, one of which sold over 2,000,000 copies. He resides in Mott where he raises registered quarterhorses.

Roxanne Henke Born in Wishek, ND. With the exception of attending the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, Roxanne "Roxy" Henke has lived in Wishek her whole life. Henke is an Inspirational Christain Author whose first novel, After Anne became the Favorite Book of 2002. After Anne was the first in a series of five novels which take place in the fictional town, Brewster, ND. Since the Coming Home to Brewster series, she has had three more novels published. Publishers Weekly has dubbed her "a novelist to watch."


Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on April 20, 2013:

Gcrhoads64 - thanks for your comment! There are some amazing people from our great state!

Gable Rhoads from North Dakota on April 17, 2013:

I'm a native North Dakotan and didn't know many of these. Great hub!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on December 16, 2010:

Charlene - thank you for giving me her name - I will have to check her out and add her to the list!

Charlene on December 16, 2010:

Here's another famous North Dakotan....Carla Christofferson orincipal owner of LA Sparks, women basketball team.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on October 13, 2010:

April - would be interested to know who that might be. I might try to do some more digging.

April M on October 13, 2010:

I did goggle to and got nothing. I just thought maybe you heard of something. Some one told there was a very good male athlete that came from ND and he couldn't remember what town he came from either Anamoose or Fessenden, ND. He knows he came from one of these 2 towns. Just thought I would ask. Thanks for the help. Like the page!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 30, 2010:

April - I don't know off the top of my head. I tried to google it but didn't come up with any results.

April M on September 30, 2010:

Do you know if there were any famous athletes that were born in either Fessenden or Anamoose, North Dakota?

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on October 07, 2009:

Ken - thanks for reading!

Ken R. Abell on October 07, 2009:

Thank you again, Cari Jean. Louis L'Amour is a favorite author - a great storyteller & always a satisfying read. A half-read copy of "Hondo" is presently on my desk.

And as a lifelong Yankees fan, Roger Maris was a childhood hero, born in Dylan's hometown, but grew up in North Dakota. As far as I'm concerned, his 61 homeruns in 1961 will ALWAYS be the single season record.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 09, 2009:

A Texan - thanks for reading! I think my dad has probably read every single one of his books - he is the best in his genre!

A Texan on September 08, 2009:

Louis L'Amoure! Many hours spent reading his Westerns, none better!