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Dale Binde shows off the plaque that he received at his last meeting as a member of the Lake Park-Audubon School Board on Dec. 17. The rural Lake Park farmer retired from the board this month after 16 1/2 years of service. Photo by - Vicki Gerdes

Binde ready to retire from LP-A School Board

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Though there were admittedly some "rocky times" during his 16½-year tenure on the Lake Park-Audubon School Board, Dale Binde said that ultimately, "it's been a fun time."

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Binde attended his last meeting as a member of the LP-A board on Dec. 17, after declining to run for re-election in November.

"I made it known early on that I wasn't going to run this time (for re-election)," Binde said. "I figure it's time to move on."

After the meeting, a farewell reception for Binde was held at the new high school in Lake Park, at which Board Chair Vicky Grondahl presented him with a plaque commemorating his years of service.

The sentiments written on that plaque -- a heartfelt tribute authored by Grondahl herself -- made Binde a little emotional.

"It kind of brought tears to my eyes," he admitted.

"I'm going to miss it, no question, but it's time to move on to another stage of my life," Binde added.

Over the years, as Grondahl alluded to in her presentation, Binde has been a calm and stabilizing presence on both the board's finance and negotiations committees.

"I enjoy those kinds of issues -- and I believe I've been fair to the staff while trying to keep the district financially stable," Binde said.

He first agreed to run for the board in 1996, at the behest of then-board member Kathy Johnson, of Lake Park.

It wasn't too long after he joined the board that Binde began to hear rumblings about the need for improvements to the school facilities in both Lake Park and Audubon.

It took more than a decade -- and several failed attempts -- for voters in both Lake Park and Audubon to pass a school building bond referendum and fulfill that need.

"I was going through my desk this week and clipping out some of the old newspaper articles," Binde said. "I forgot how contentious some of those meetings were."

He recalled one meeting in particular where the purchase of a new copier at the Audubon elementary building was on the agenda.

The motion to authorize the purchase was approved by the Lake Park board -- but not the Audubon board. (At that time, both communities still had separate school boards.)

"Some of those meetings were pretty tense," he said.

When Binde decided to run for re-election four years ago, he said that one of his main reason for doing so was "I wanted to stay on the board until we got the building issue solved. Before that, I still had kids in school."

In November 2008, a $20 million bond referendum was approved by LP-A voters -- and this fall, the new high school in Lake Park opened its doors to students for the first time (the renovations at the elementary building in Audubon were completed last year).

Mission accomplished.

Binde also saw all seven of his children graduate from LP-A High School (though he and Debbie lost daughter Deanne in a car accident 4½ years ago).

Though not a native of Lake Park, Binde has been a resident of the area since 1978, when he and his wife moved from the family farm -- about 50 miles north of Williston, N.D. -- to become partners with another farmer, Leland Erickson, on his farm near Lake Park.

He decided to make the move because after his father passed away in 1975 -- the same year he and Debbie got married -- he and his mother couldn't come to agreement on who would run the family farm operation.

"My mother and I both wanted to be the boss," Binde explained.

So he placed an ad in the "green" (agriculture) section of the Fargo Forum, saying that he was looking to partner in a farm operation -- and Erickson answered.

Binde went to look at the farm operation, and decided that Lake Park "was a good fit."

He and Erickson continued to work as partners even after Binde purchased his own 160-acre farm south of Lake Park in 1983 -- where he and Debbie continue to live, and have no plans to relocate anytime soon.

"I'll farm 'til I die," Binde said, only half jokingly. "I don't know that I'll ever retire. It's in my blood, I think."

Though Erickson retired a few years ago, he continues to rent some of his acreage to Binde, who besides his own 160, also farms another 490 acres of rented land.

"I farm wheat, soybeans, corn, and some alfalfa hay for horses," said Binde, adding that while he doesn't have horses of his own, he has several neighbors that he sells the hay to for feed.

Though he has always known he wanted to be a farmer, Binde has a bachelor's degree in agronomy from North Dakota State University -- which is where he met his future wife.

"My mother insisted that all of us (Binde is the oldest of 11 children) get a college education," he said. "She was a school teacher, and she valued education pretty strongly."

As does Binde, who said that the only advice he had for his successor on the board, Cara Bjerken, was that "there's just one thing you've got to remember -- you're there to represent the kids."

Binde's philosophy, whether negotiating teacher contracts or hammering out the school budget, has always been that "the kids come first. I tried to always keep that in perspective."

He expects that local residents will still find him sitting on the sidelines at the occasional Raider sporting event or other school activity -- and that he might even be persuaded to continue taking tickets at home football games come next fall.

"I enjoy being with people," he said.

"I might even show up at a few board meetings in the future."

After all, Debbie is still a teacher at the elementary school in Audubon, where she teaches both Title I and physical education.

But don't count on seeing him around too much after the snow flies.

"I want to be down south for several months in the winter," he said, adding that if his six children and five grandchildren want to spend time with them once the temperature starts to fall below freezing, "they can come visit us (down south)."

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers and editor of MN Boomers magazine for the past 13 years. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 847-3151
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