by Deb Seminary

It all began on January 27th, 2012. Steve Sharkey, the governor’s residence manager, arranged a coffee for First Lady Betsy Dalrymple with Bob Ritterbush (architect of the governor’s residence) and Steve’s dad, Stan, who worked for Ritterbush. “Jack and I were so interested in how this house was built and the people that lived here,” said Betsy. “I told Jack all about it that night and he said, ‘you have to invite them back. I have more questions!’”

The Dalrymples were able to meet with the men again, and the wheels began turning. Betsy realized there was a lot of history to be told and she did not want it to be lost. She decided to write a book, a history of the North Dakota Governor’s Residence. “I asked all of the living first ladies and they all graciously agreed to visit with me. Then, I asked some of their children and I kept learning more pieces.”

IMG_2598The whole process took two and a half years. Interviews were conducted from March through December of 2012, then the tapes needed to be transcribed. Putting those transcripts into the written narrative was done by Janet Daley Jury and Cathy A. Langemo. The final drafts were read by many before the book was published in time for North Dakota’s 125th celebration.

Betsy found many surprises all along the way. “I never knew the house was supposed to be located in the northeast corner of the grounds,” she said. “I never knew the legislation had been vetoed in 1951 and 1955, and overridden in 1955. Or, that they found coffins during the excavation. I learned so much and made some new friends. I really enjoyed getting to know the previous first families.”


Proceeds from the sale of the books will benefit Friends of North Dakota Governor’s Residence. First Lady Jane Sinner started Friends of North Dakota Governor’s Residence, a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation, in 1986 to help raise funds for ongoing costs of updating and maintaining the governor’s residence. Sinner saw the need for redecorating and general household maintenance. She felt preserving the appearance of the house and leaving it better for the next family was important.

Nancy Schafer used the foundation as a vehicle to raise private funds to supplement the state money given for a major remodeling project during their time in the residence. The Dalrymples have used it to acquire pieces by North Dakota artists for display in the residence.

A Sampling of Stories

Five first families are represented at the Governor's Residence with architect Bob Ritterbush.

Five first families are represented at the Governor’s Residence with architect Bob Ritterbush.

Each family has fond memories of their time in the residence. A lot of stories involve holidays, especially Christmas and Halloween. Some are about the children’s experiences, and here are just a few:

Nancy Guy remembers when Texas Governor John Connally visited the residence with his Secret Service detail. She was 5 or 6 years old at the time. The phone rang, she answered it, and the voice on the other end said it was the White House calling for Governor Connally and could he speak to President Johnson? She took the governor to the nearest phone, in the store room, where he had to shut the door to hear. The Secret Service found him, in the hot store room, sweating profusely.

Deb (Guy) Igoe recalled several things, including water rushing into her basement bedroom, the invasion of the miller moths, and on a lighter note, the neighborhood kids coming over and asking if they would like to walk to school with them.

Mary Jo (Sinner) Savageau had a Halloween party at the residence and dressed up as her father. Each guest had to sign in as their character.

And, this child apparently forgot to check in with his father – Art and Grace Link went out for the evening and when they returned, Art’s ninety-nine year old father was waiting up for them, worried because they were getting home so late.


Building a House, Making a Home: A History of the North Dakota Governor’s Residence is available for purchase at: North Dakota Heritage Center Museum Store

Prairie Creek Creations, Gateway Mall, Bismarck

Home Sweet Home, Minot

Zandbroz Variety, Fargo

Ferguson Books & More!, Grand Forks

RSVP Dakota Store, Jamestown

For information on book signing events or to request an appearance by the First Lady, please contact Sarah Johnson at 701.328.1010.