UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Still awaiting the Conwaydome

As this column from 1995 shows, Lloyd Omdahl delighted in poking gentle fun at his hometown of Conway, N.D. — and himself

Lloyd Omdahl. UND archival photo.

Editor’s note: Lloyd Omdahl had a great sense of humor, and while that’s not rare among newspaper columnists, what is rare is that he very often let his humor show in his work. Moreover, this trait was made even more endearing by the fact that Omdahl so often poked fun at himself, as well as at — very affectionately — his hometown of Conway, N.D., pop. 23. 

Below is just one of many such columns. It appeared shortly after Omdahl’s retirement from UND in 1995, and is being reprinted here as a representative sample of — as Omdahl himself might have put it — perhaps the funniest former tax commissioner and lieutenant governor turned newspaper columnist in America.

This story in UND Today has more about Omdahl, who died Sunday, April 14, at the age of 93.

* * *

December 17, 1995

Conway would really thrive if it only had people

By Lloyd Omdahl

I am being invited out of Grand Forks.

Less discerning people would conclude that several subtle messages sent up recently are coincidental, but I know an extradition effort when I see one.

Twice the local newspaper has reported that I am moving to Conway, population 23. Then the university folks threw a second full-blown retirement event when they saw that the first modest reception didn’t get me off the campus. To me, all of this says one thing: “Go now!”

Up until now, most people in North Dakota didn’t even know where I was — nor did they really care as long as I wasn’t in the government. I get mail forwarded from Bismarck, Fordville and a variety of other locations.

Well, I skulked out of Bismarck in 1992 — pretty much as I came in. The folks in Grand Forks didn’t know where I had been for five years. Some thought I was a missionary in Amion. Others didn’t even think about it.

To set the record straight, we had an official election at our house to determine whether we would move to Conway. Mail ballots were not allowed to prevent voter fraud.

Ruth and I cast our secret ballots in person, with each person given four quarters of a vote to cast. Grand Forks won — 3/4ths to one and 1/4th. The canvassing board hasn’t met yet, but we are confident the unofficial count will stand since no absentee ballots are outstanding.

It was a close vote because Conway has some definite advantages over Grand Forks. For example, Conway has one of the few remaining ZCBJ (Bohemian Lodge) halls, the fame of which has been spread about in music by balladeer Chuck Suchy. It isn’t on the nation’s registry of historic places, but it is protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Conway is one of the few cities in North Dakota without a property tax levy for the city general fund. There is, however, the 10-mill building levy imposed in 1943 for a Conwaydome, scheduled to be erected in 1997. It will be built debt-free without going to a 6 percent sales tax as has been necessary in improvident cities.

The Conwaydome will be prefabricated and collapsible, designed by the Coleman Tent people. Since we believe all professional sports have become rackets, we don’t plan to accommodate indoor football or baseball.

Despite its planning and foresight, Conway was not ranked as one of the nation’s best small towns — only because we didn’t fit the population criteria. After talking to the folks at Brinsmade, N.D., we decided to have a ranking for towns in the 21-25 category.

All qualified cities in North Dakota were automatically entered to eliminate cumbersome paperwork. The preliminary rankings were Brinsmade, Bucyrs, Conway, Gascoyne, Kief, Overly, Perth and Wheelock. The primary criteria included social life and economic potential, with the most important being alphabetical standing. The last criterion eliminated a lot of haggling. Third place is not bad, considering our founders almost named Conway Zedalia.

Three cities were declared ineligible for manipulating population figures — Hansboro and Mylo each imported a temporary resident, and Larson kicked the drunk out of town.

Conway would be a thriving community if it had people. Sometimes the price of companionship is letting the rabbit eat the carrots.

We were especially limited when it came to Christmas caroling. By the time we got the carolers together, there wasn’t anyone home to hear us. So we had to take turns being home.

We also have a little problem staffing the government. The city designated me the chairperson of the Conway Tree Board, but by the time the other official positions were filled, nobody was left to serve on my board. According to the Peter Principle, I have become a floating apex — a sign that I have reached my level of incompetence.

For those in western North Dakota who may not know where Conway is located, it is halfway between Devils Lake and the Red River. At present, our Conway cottage is without a lake, but we expect that Devils Lake will be lapping at our door before the government plan to lower the lake is implemented. Of course, by that time Lake Agassiz will probably be back.

In any case, we are expecting a beach eventually, and when that happens, we will have another election at our house.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired professor at UND.