Share Your Spirit
Owning the Farm
In a 1995 interview for the TNT special Football America, former UND football coach Dale Lennon, ’85, famously went on record saying, "If you want to go into farming you go to NDSU … if you want to own the farm you to go UND."
Rick Burgum, ’68, is a prime example. "Everything I learned about farming, I learned at UND," he said.
Though the University of North Dakota isn’t known as North Dakota’s agriculture school, Burgum, a partner in his family’s successful agriculture business, believes the liberal arts education he received here prepared him for his future career just as well as an ag degree would have. "It taught me how to see the big picture. It taught me how to think," Rick said.
UND President Robert Kelley said those critical thinking skills are invaluable and continue to make UND alumni such as Rick competitive in multiple arenas. "It prepares you for the sciences, humanities, fine arts, social sciences. A core liberal arts education is a foundation for learning you will use for the rest of your life. If you are a well-rounded and thoughtful individual like Rick Burgum, you can take those skills and apply them to any career you may pursue and be a success," Kelley said.
In appreciation for the education they received, Rick and his wife, Jody (Stibbe), ’74, along with their children, Katie, ’03, and Brooks, ’06, have given back in a big way, investing $3 million in UND’s core college, Arts & Sciences, to endow faculty and scholarships to support what they believe to be the most important college to shape well-rounded professionals. The Burgums gave an additional $1.5 million to support a new Alumni Center. "My whole family has strong, positive feelings about UND and we thought this was a good fit," Rick said of the gift.
When Rick came to UND in the mid-1960s, he, like most 18-year-olds, wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life – though he knew becoming involved with the family business was probable. "I had been taking classes all over the place. I guess my expectation was that I would go back (home) someday," Rick said.
Following a brief stint in law school and the Army after graduation, Rick returned to Arthur, N.D., where the family business, collectively called The Arthur Companies, was well underway.
It all started with his grandfather, J.A. Burgum, who had been managing Arthur Farmers Elevator since 1911. Rick’s grandfather possessed many of the critical thinking skills his grandson has since displayed. J.A. Burgum stabilized the town’s struggling elevator and brought light to Arthur by installing an electric generating plant at the elevator.
Rick’s father and uncle share similar entrepreneurial traits. They helped farmers endure the Depression by offering credit and sharecropping arrangements. The company built North Dakota’s first retail bulk fertilizer business and the state’s first anhydrous plant. And, in the 1970s, they helped establish the sunflower industry in North Dakota, which is now the state with the highest sunflower acreage in the nation.
When Rick arrived at The Arthur Companies in 1970, he hit the ground running. "This is an ever‐changing business and you have to be able to read the signs of what’s going on to do well in it. UND prepared me for that," Rick said of the transition from college to the family business.
Today, under Rick’s leadership, The Arthur Companies includes two shuttle loading facilities, various grain elevators, farms, a bird seed company, and a wholesale fertilizer company. Besides these diverse agribusinesses, The Arthur Companies was principal in the growth of Great Plains Software, maker of the highly‐acclaimed accounting and business management software now part of Microsoft.
The family also owns multiple farms, most of which are share cropped with second and third generation farmer partners. Like many in the ag industry, Rick likes the fact that each day is different and rewarding. "Providing food for the world is a worthwhile thing to do and I am happy to be a part of it." Kelley added, "The Burgums are great friends of the University and we are very proud of how Rick has used his UND education to be a success."