‘Pokémon Go’ Craze Strong in Dickinson, Causes Few Problems

Ashley DeWitt and Alyss Kovash walked about Prairie Outpost Park on Thursday afternoon, their heads bobbing up and down between the historic buildings and their smartphones.

Soon, one pointed to the west and they picked up the pace.

After all, they wanted to catch ‘em all. Pokémon that is.

The pair — two of hundreds in Dickinson and millions around the world — were playing the augmented reality video game “Pokémon Go,” a smartphone app that makes users leave their couches and head outside to play.

“It’s addicting,” Kovash said with a laugh.

The game has taken ahold of Dickinson’s gaming community. John Odermann with Badlands Comics and Games estimates hundreds around Dickinson are playing the game. He’s even has seen multiple people of all ages playing “Pokémon Go” in the evenings at certain locations around Dickinson, including Prairie Outpost Park and Dickinson State University.

“You’ll see clusters of teenage kids, college kids and adults just walking around because there’s so many Pokéstops at those two places,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

“Pokémon Go” is a variation on the popular Nintendo video game franchise “Pokémon” (short for Pocket Monsters) which hooked gamers and casual fans 20 years ago and spawned games in multiple formats, a TV show and movies.

The game uses the GPS in a player’s smartphone to place them on an actual map of the city they’re in and has them physically walk around the area to try and find “Pokémon” characters to “catch.”

Multiple Dickinson attractions — such as The Brew coffee shop, the Biesiot Activities Center, most churches and even Walmart — are either “Pokéstops” or “gyms,” which are digital arenas overlaid on the real locations. Players must actually go to these places in order to play the game.

Dickinson law enforcement and DSU security have had a crash course in the game since it debuted earlier this month.

But unlike other cities, where law enforcement have encountered issues with trespassing, Dickinson authorities say they’ve only had a few concerned citizens call in reports of teens and 20-somethings wandering around seemingly aimlessly outside of churches and in parks late at night.

Jack Schulz, director of security at DSU, said on a nice evening, as many as 50 “Pokémon Go” players can be found traversing the campus.

“We haven’t had any issues,” he said. “The only thing we ask them is when they’re driving, don’t be using it, because it’s like texting. Watch what you’re doing.”

Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie also urged players to be mindful that someone may be watching them while they’re “hunting” for Pokémon.

“Don’t be surprised if the police show up, because people (in Dickinson) are still a little leery of people doing strange things,” Wilkie said. “In a big city, people are used to seeing people doing weird things. But here in Dickinson, if people are sitting out in front of their house or in front of a business in the middle of the night, they tend to be more on the cautious side than not.”

One thing is for certain though — “Pokémon Go” is doing exactly what it aimed for.

It’s getting gamers off the couch and outside this summer.

DeWitt, a 26-year-old from Gladstone, said she has been playing some version of “Pokémon” since she was a child and owns the first set of “Pokémon” cards. She said she downloaded “Pokémon Go” immediately when she heard it had come out and said enjoys how interactive the game is.

“When you’re little, you’re like, oh I want to be this,” DeWitt said. “Now that it’s out, you’re like, wow, I can actually do this. It’s fun. It’s something to do to pass the time.”

She and Kovash, 19, said they walked from Villard Street to Museum Drive while playing the game Thursday and had more walking to do. Along the way, they met other “Pokémon Go” players.

“There were guys walking in the center of the road,” Kovash said with a laugh. “They’re like, ‘Are you collecting Pokémon? Have you found any?’”

Nathan Jones, a 25-year-old maintenance technician from Dickinson, said there’s a lot of nostalgia in playing the game.

“Growing up as a kid, it’s every little kid’s dream to play ‘Pokémon’ in the real world and now you have the ability to do so,” he said.

Jones said he has been all around Dickinson and even went to Bismarck to play “Pokémon Go.” He and a group of friends are even discussing a trip to Las Vegas in part because of the high volume of Pokéstops along The Strip.

Jones said he’s pleased with how socially interactive the game makes users be, as well as the positivity it brings.

“It gives a good reason to bring people together,” he said. “Most of the time it’s people sharing secrets, or little tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way. There’s a whole ’nother aspect of it.”

Odermann, who is also the head football coach at Trinity High School, called the game “a great opportunity for people to get outside and do some physical activity.”

He also believes the game could bring forth a change in how some video games are played.

“Nintendo, a couple years ago with the Wii, revolutionized gaming,” he said. “This may be another way they’re doing it. You’re not sitting on a couch anymore playing this game. You’re actually out walking around getting some physical exercise.”

Aging of the Guard: Color Guards in southwest ND consist of mostly retired veterans

BELFIELD — Larry Johnson points to a grouping of six 4-by-6-inch photographs taped to a wall of a room in the Belfield American Legion Hall.

The photos show the Belfield Legion Color Guard in formation at different funerals.

After a moment, Johnson looks at fellow Legion and Color Guard member Larry Ewoniuk and says, “a lot of those guys are gone now.”

It’s the same story everywhere in southwest North Dakota, where aging veterans organizations mean fewer young members — especially those willing and able to be involved in activities such as Color Guard for funerals and holiday services.

Eleven members of the Belfield Color Guard showed up for Monday’s Memorial Day services. “A perfect number,” Johnson said. There was a common theme amongst the group though.

Almost all are retired. The two youngest members there Monday were 50 and 33 years old.

“Are any of these people coming after us, are they going to be there for us?” Johnson asked. “We don’t know.”

Color Guards in southwest North Dakota are typically run by the American Legion. The group’s duties are to advance and retire the colors, perform Taps, and often present American flags to family members at funerals.

All Legion Color Guards consist of veterans who served in a branch of the military during a time of war. But, as Vietnam War-era veterans age, there are concerns that a looming struggle to get members will become an enduring challenge.

Art Wanner, who organizes the Dickinson (N.D.) Legion Color Guard, said he’s fortunate enough to have a “good core group” that turns out 10 to 14 members for Memorial Day, Veterans Day and funeral services.

“The fellas who start doing it, they don’t want to give it up,” Wanner said. “They’re dedicated and the folks we do it for, they appreciate it and that’s what it’s all about. But it’s hard. It’s hard to find the people.”

Recruiting the next group of veterans may require some waiting.

Wanner and other Color Guard leaders in southwest North Dakota said they try to get non-participating veterans involved in the services with little success.

Two of the biggest challenges is convincing potential Color Guard members that they don’t have to be at every funeral or holiday service, and getting their employers to allow them more freedom to take off work for those services.

“The biggest thing that would help us is if the employers pushed it,” Wanner said. “They have those individuals working for them. If they allowed them a little bit of flexibility to give them some time off to perform that service as a patriotic thing to do, that would be the key. A lot of those employers are hesitant to give them that time off.”

Jessica Clifton, the veterans service officer for Stark, Billings, Dunn and Hettinger counties, said it’s a struggle for younger veterans to become involved in organizations such as the Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars because of the demand placed on them at home.

“They’re just too busy working and raising families,” she said. “They don’t have the time to join veterans organizations and Color Guard.”

Clifton, who is retired Air Force and has young children at home, said she would enjoy doing more with veterans organizations, but sees that as a part of her future.

Billy Hanson, the 84-year-old Legion commander in New England, said he speaks to younger veterans he knows, sends them letters and has even gone as far as having the club pay their yearly dues in an effort to get them more involved.

“We’ve got several of them here that were in different wars,” Hanson said of his local veterans. “They just don’t want to get involved.”

Hanson said, so far, his club has been lucky. They still get enough people together to perform Color Guard duties. Seven is the average number, he said.

“They’re all in their 60s or 70s that are all participating in the Color Guard,” Hanson said.

Kevin Carvell, Mott’s Legion commander, said about six months ago he convinced another veteran, a recent retiree, to join the club’s Color Guard. But that man came in on the heels of the group losing one member to health problems. Another, an 88-year-old World War II veteran, participated in Color Guard for the final time Monday.

“We’re maintaining,” Carvell said.

Wanner said while the Dickinson Color Guard gets a new member every so often, there’s a nearly universal fear of what they’re committing to. He said some are hesitant to join either because of the time commitment, or a fear they’ll be unable to properly carry out the duties.

“The older folks who have been away from the military for a while, they’re scared to try it,” Wanner said. “They don’t know if they can do it.”

Increasing age hasn’t stopped the Belfield Color Guard.

Minutes before the town’s Memorial Day services — and with a thunderstorm looming to the west — Johnson led seven riflemen, two flaggers and a bugler on a three-block march from the Legion Hall to the Belfield Theatre.

Along the way, the few people on the streets — including three young boys — stopped, removed their hats and paid respect to both the men and the American flag they were marching behind.

“I’m proud of my guys,” Johnson said.

Missing the ‘life of the party’: Dickinson businessman DJ Charbonneau remembered after cancer claims his life at 42

The happy hour crowd at Liquid Assets bar in Dickinson had a solemn tone for a few moments on Wednesday evening before giving way to laughter, backslapping and storytelling.

The atmosphere was just the way DJ Charbonneau would have liked it.

Charbonneau, the Dickinson businessman who co-owned both Charbonneau Car Center and Liquid Assets, died Wednesday morning at just 42 years old following a 15-month battle with cancer.

“There’ll never be another one like him,” said Brent Haugland, one of Charbonneau’s oldest friends.

Charbonneau, one of Dickinson’s most energetic and bombastic personalities, was diagnosed with appendix cancer in January 2015.

The extremely rare form of cancer initially affected Charbonneau’s appendix before spreading to his liver, colon and peritoneum — the thin layer of tissue covering abdominal organs and the abdominal cavity. Eventually, it reached his lungs and bones, his wife, Michelle, said on Wednesday.

“He was a fighter,” she said. “He was trying to beat it. He did everything he could. Everything. He kept saying, ‘I’m going to beat this.’”

In his final months, Michelle and many of DJ’s friends said he rarely revealed that his health was failing.

“As close as I was with him, he never really let on how he was feeling,” said Jason Fridrich, who co-owned Liquid Assets with Charbonneau. “… He never complained about it. You’d never know. He’d always still have a big smile on his face and we’d chat just like old times.”

Fridrich said one of his best memories happened last November when Charbonneau surprised him at his wedding in Arizona.

“He told me he wasn’t going to be able to make it,” Fridrich said, his voice breaking. “He ended up showing up in Arizona. He had a blast that night. It was so fun.”

Michelle laughed and said DJ was often the “life of the party,” even playing off his cancer for jokes.

She said he’d always tell her “Fireball kills cancer,” referring to the popular cinnamon-flavored  whiskey and DJ’s drink of choice.

“When he went to Houston, they told him he couldn’t drink anymore,” she said. “And when things got worse, he said, ‘See, I told you, Fireball fights cancer.’”


Community leader

DJ and Terry Dvorak bought Charbonneau Car Center from DJ’s father, Don Charbonneau, in 2009. Dvorak said Friday that the dealership will remain in the Charbonneau family name “as long as I’m affiliated with it.”

“Don trusted (DJ) and I to carry on the legacy,” Dvorak said.

He said the dealership had seen “a lot of sadness” it the past few days, including from customers who he said would often come in just to see DJ and chat.

“He’s going to be missed,” Dvorak said.

That was made obvious online throughout the week as hundreds of condolence messages were posted to DJ’s Caring Bridge website, and throughout Dickinson’s Facebook community.

Fridrich’s post, “Heaven just became a better place. I am gonna miss you my friend,” was shared by more than 150 people.

“He was just loved by so many,” Michelle said. “The outpouring of people, it’s just crazy. Everybody just loved him. He loved life. He loved to enjoy life.”

DJ was heavily involved in the Dickinson community outside of his businesses.

He was a past exalted rule of the Dickinson Elks Lodge No. 1137 and remained president of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation Board throughout his battle with cancer.

His legacy of giving back to his community will carry on through the Team DJ Memorial Fund, which is being set up to help cancer patients and families in the community.


Lasting memories

Friends and family said DJ lived life to the fullest in his final months.

He took several trips, including a family honeymoon trip to the Dominican Republic a year ago — which was initially supposed to be he and Michelle’s wedding trip. While doctoring in Houston in April, he was even able to watch the North Carolina Tar Heels — his favorite team — play in the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game.

“He always kept saying, ‘I’m going to keep fighting until there was no fight left,’” Fridrich recalled. “He knew he had the odds stacked against him, but he was stubborn. Until the last day, he said, I’m not going to quit.”

That stubborn streak was balanced out by DJ’s willingness to help others, his friends and family said.

Matty Lyons, who for several years was the manager of Liquid Assets, said he’ll never forget how DJ “took a chance” on him.

“He believed in you before you believed in yourself,” Lyons said Wednesday.

Lyons, sitting at the bar, pointed behind it and laughed about the time DJ — who Lyons said rarely meddled with the bar’s staff — jumped behind the bar to help on a night when a Liquid Assets customer bought more than 200 shots.

“It’s little things like that you don’t forget,” he said.

Haugland, who said he became better friends with DJ after they both moved back to Dickinson following college, sat next to the bar at Liquid Assets on Wednesday surrounded by friends and colleagues, all remembering DJ’s life.

Just a few feet away, the usual spot at the far end of the bar where DJ often perched sat empty.

Haugland looked ahead quietly and did his best to hold his feelings together.

“He’s one of those people who could always make you laugh, no matter what,” he said. “Always there to cheer you up when you needed him. Always there to laugh and joke. I had a lot of fun times with him. I’ll never forget him.”

DJ Charbonneau’s funeral is at noon Monday at Stevenson Funeral Home with a prayer service at 4 p.m. Sunday. Visitation at the funeral home will be held from 1-7 p.m. Sunday and from 9 a.m to noon Monday.

Permanent fix: Richardton-Taylor school officials propose $15 million remodel

Brent Bautz walks out of his office at Richardton-Taylor High School and points to the ceiling.

There, the school superintendent shows where brick is cracked, displaced and appears to be pulling away from wooden beams, some of which have large cracks in them.

The school building that houses the district’s 130-plus junior high and high school students is 55 years old and, Bautz and others believe, needs to be replaced.

“A lot of people, they don’t realize when you walk down the hall and you see that stuff,” Bautz said. “When people come here most of the time, it’s just for games. Of course we always want everything to look nice. People say, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong with the school, it looks fine.’ But foundationally, we have some issues.”

Bautz said Wednesday the school district is in the early stages of discussing a possible $15 million remodel of the existing school, which would include tearing down the south wing and reconstructing a two-level building in its place, and an almost complete overhaul of other parts of the building.

The project, which would require a bond issue, includes adding a multipurpose gym that could double as a cafeteria and commons area, a new band and choir room, a remodel of existing locker rooms, and a new secured entrance near administrative offices.

EAPC Architects Engineers, a Bismarck firm, recently finished a 40-page assessment of the building and described its issues in plain terms.

“In general, the high school buildings have significant structural and foundation deficiencies that include life safety concerns,” the firm wrote in its executive summary.

The report also found multiple areas of the school out of compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Duane Zent, Richardton-Taylor’s school board president and an area farmer, said the board believes the plan to tear down the south wing and build a new structure in its place is the most cost-effective way of ensuring the school’s future.

“The board feels like we need to build a new building because our building in such bad shape that to pour more money into it, it’s going to be an unending project and we’ll still have an old building at the end of the day,” Zent said.

Zent, who graduated from the school in 1976 when the building was just 15 years old, said he remembers hearing the school was meant to last 30 years.

“These old buildings are not designed for any of this,” he said.

Why the need

Despite the oil slowdown in western North Dakota, Richardton-Taylor’s enrollment remains up compared to five years ago and it’s still steadily growing with nearly 300 total students.

There are 134 kids in the 7-12 building, and 164 kids in grades K-6.

Preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders are in the old St. Mary’s Catholic School building in Richardton, which is leased by the district for thousands of dollars a month, and second- through sixth-graders are in Taylor. The junior high and high school students are in Richardton.

After a remodel, fifth grade and up would likely be sent to the Richardton school with the rest of the kids going to Taylor, which would also have air system improvements through the use of grants funding and mills, Bautz said.

“With the Taylor facility, structurally it’s fine,” Bautz said.

Richardton Mayor Frank Kirschenheiter said he’s a proponent of the remodel because the school system is a big reason why people choose to live in and around the community. Richardton-Taylor has a history of success in both its academic and athletic programs — notably Student Congress, speech, one-act play and, of course, football and basketball.

“Before the oil boom, the only draw we had to get people to town was that school system,” Kirschenheiter said. “It’s a school system that’s as good as any in the state and we have to keep it that way.”

However, Bautz, the board and city leaders like Kirschenheiter aren’t sure how taxpayers will react to the remodel plans, especially in the wake of the oil slowdown and current low ag commodity prices.

Alongside the school project, the city of Richardton may be faced with a large street reconstruction project in the near future that would require special assessments.

Minor street work in the town of about 550 people started three years ago, Kirschenheiter said, when cost estimates were much higher. Now that it’s easier to find engineers and contractors to do the work, the city wants to push forward with projects.

Like the school, the city’s streets were completed in the 1960s. Kirschenheiter said they’ve only had one chip-and-seal project done since.

“We don’t want it to be a burden on our taxpayers,” Bautz said of the proposed school project. “And that’s what’s so frustrating about it.”

Bautz and Zent said the school wants to have its plans for the remodel in order before they’re present to the public. No discussion for the project outside of regular board meetings has been set.

“We want to make sure … when we start going out and talking to the public that these are the right numbers, this is what we’re looking at, this is what it’s going to do to your taxes and that it’s a doable thing,” Bautz said.

Kirschenheiter, who said his grandfather told him “I paid for the school to educate you,” said he has similar feelings now that he’s in that position.

“It obviously is in need of repair,” Kirschenheiter said. “It has outlived its useful life in my opinion. Something has to happen.”

Year of change in Oil Patch: City leaders move forward after unexpected crude price declines in 2015

An oil well pumps on the outskirts of northwest Watford City on Oct. 14. Despite the decline in oil prices, a hectic way of life continues in many Oil Patch cities, though some city leaders say 2015 brought many changes
An oil well pumps on the outskirts of northwest Watford City on Oct. 14. Despite the decline in oil prices, a hectic way of life continues in many Oil Patch cities, though some city leaders say 2015 brought many changes

Leaders in western North Dakota’s Oil Patch cities say life didn’t change as abruptly as many expected it to in 2015 as crude prices bottomed out, oil rigs disappeared from the landscape, and oilfield workers packed up and left the area in droves.

As traffic slowed, crew camps closed and apartments emptied, Williston, Dickinson and Watford City continued to build infrastructure and work on long-term projects while keeping a close eye on the industry for even the slightest changes.

“As a city, we haven’t had a chance to take a breath yet,” Williston Mayor Howard Klug said. “We had $100 million worth of projects going on. We’re finally getting them all buttoned up.”

In McKenzie County, which produces more oil than any county in the state, Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said “it’s really business as usual.” But, he said, challenges are neverending, despite the creation of what city and county leaders believe is a long-term industry through both oil and natural gas production jobs.

“People are still busy,” he said. “There’s not a lot of job loss in Watford City, comparatively, and there are still job openings. There are still employers who are still trying to figure out plans for hiring the right amount of employees and the right employees.”

Dickinson, meanwhile, has fallen back on its manufacturing industry to soften the blow of massive oilfield job loss after what City Administrator Shawn Kessel said after the city experienced multiple years of 10 percent growth.

“I think people really have to look the whole thing in perspective. … That stuff is really not sustainable in the long term,” he said. “What the downturn has done has allowed our manufacturers to take advantage of the economy. They had a hard time expanding because of such a low unemployment rate. They couldn’t find employees. Now they can. Rather than having expansions happen in other communities, they can now look at Dickinson again. I think that’s great. I’m really glad to see that. It further diversifies our economy. It makes us more resilient in managing the back side of the boom.”

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