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A history career ‘as rich as history itself’

Plaudits pour in as Gordon Iseminger, retired UND history professor, receives State Historical Society of North Dakota’s top award

This archive photo from 1988 shows History Professor Gordon Iseminger in his book-lined office at UND. Last week, the now-retired Iseminger was given the Heritage Profile Honor Award, the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s highest honor. UND archival image.

“As a student of history myself, I have very few regrets in life,” said the speaker in the tribute video to Gordon Iseminger, retired UND history professor.

“But one regret I do have is that as someone who went to North Dakota State versus UND, I never had the opportunity to take a class from you.”

Kind words. And the fact that they were delivered by Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota, lent majesty to the occasion, which was the ceremony conferring upon Iseminger the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s top award.

And the governor wasn’t alone. Also congratulating Iseminger in the video were North Dakota’s U.S. senators, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer — “Dr. Iseminger, your contributions to the study and promotion of history are as rich as history itself,” Sen. Cramer said — as well as North Dakota Congressman Kelly Armstrong and UND President Andy Armacost, who also attended the ceremony in Grand Forks.

“Gordon, we’re so very proud of you,” Armacost said in the video. “Congratulations.”

At the Myra Museum in Grand Forks last week, Gordon Iseminger (left), retired Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of History at UND, was given the Heritage Profile Honor Award by Bill Peterson, director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Image courtesy of Matt Dunlevy.

Heritage Profile Honor Award

The State Historical Society named Iseminger, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of History, as the recipient of this year’s Heritage Profile Honor Award, the most prestigious award that the Society gives.

Iseminger accepted the award at a ceremony on Aug. 24 at the Grand Forks Myra Museum.

Iseminger retired in 2019 after 57 years of teaching at UND. At the time, he was the state of North Dakota’s longest-serving employee.

Along with teaching, Iseminger has been a prolific researcher. Over the years he has won numerous awards, including UND’s Outstanding Teacher Award, the Center for Western Studies Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Preservation of the Heritage of the Northern Great Plains, and the Larry Rowen Remelle Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Northern Great Plains History Conference.

But despite his long list of honors, “I never even gave a thought that I might be considered for this one,” the Heritage Profile Honor Award, Iseminger said in an interview with UND Today.

“Wow. So I was really taken aback when I received word that I had gotten this award.”

Iseminger was named a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, UND’s highest faculty honor, in 2003. In his letter of reference for that award, UND History Department Chair Jim Mochoruk — who shared the letter with UND Today — noted several aspects of Iseminger’s character and career that stood out.

For one thing, Iseminger early on pioneered the study of popular culture, ethnic history, local history and environmental history — “four fields of historical inquiry which were barely in their infancy in the 1960s, but would come to dominate the profession,” Mochoruk noted.

For another, Iseminger kept reinventing himself, researching and writing in depth and in entirely new fields long after he could have rested upon his full professorship and other laurels.

For example, Iseminger had been at UND for close to 40 years when he began researching Orin G. Libby, the first chair of UND’s History department. Yet over the course of that work, wrote Mochoruk, “I have seen several audiences spell-bound as Dr. Iseminger introduced them to the man who, more than any single individual, shaped the researching and writing of North Dakota history.”

Then there was Iseminger’s collegiality: his respectful treatment of colleagues, readiness to help with civic and departmental projects and love for the idea of the university. “‘Distinguished’ is indeed the only word that describes his career at UND, and I hope you will cap it for him by conferring precisely that official status upon him,” Mochoruk wrote.

North Dakota’s history all-stars

This year, Iseminger was nominated for the Heritage Profile Honor Award by Matt Dunlevy, a former student who’s now CEO and chairman of SkySkopes and a State Historical Society board member.

“I enjoy some success in the world of business,” Dunlevy said in the tribute video, which he produced for the award ceremony.

“And I absolutely attribute it to the skills that you taught me in undergraduate and graduate courses in the University of North Dakota’s Department of History.”

Those classes, and the office hours where student and professor would talk, are “experiences I would trade for nothing in this world,” Dunlevy continued.

Previous recipients of the Heritage Profile Honor Award include the late Elwyn J. Robinson, former UND history professor and author of “History of North Dakota”; the late Jerome Tweton, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of History; and former North Dakota governors Allen Olson, William Guy and Art Link.

Distinguished company for Gordon Iseminger, right?

“You bet,” Dunlevy said after the ceremony.

“And now they’re in great company, too.”