by Jessie Veeder
“We came here looking for big peanuts,” she said, smiling under a long wave of hair died deep shades of reds and pinks. Her skin is tan and the denim vest she wears shows off the muscle tone in her arms.
When you look at Marcy Rapette, you know she spends her days under the big sky, in the North Dakota sun, in the weather, working.
And even though she admits that “big peanuts” haven’t quite rolled in for her and her boyfriend and business partner, Jeff Prince, who came from Michigan to North Dakota after they both lost their jobs working for the city of Howell, Michigan during the economic downturn, it’s clear Marcy wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the work. I love getting my hands dirty,” she says when asked what her favorite part about her job as a carpenter for Prince Engineering. And then she’s quick to go on to discuss the projects she’s worked on and the people she’s met along the way.
Marcy’s road to new employment and making a life in Western North Dakota has been everything but a straight shot. Her success comes in the form of a story about being open to opportunity and coming to understand a community by getting to know the people in it.
And it starts with knowing that after her job as a GIS Specialist ended, that she, Jeff and Jeff’s son Nate wanted to try their hand in the booming economy they heard about in Western North Dakota.
“Jeff reads like 16 papers a day, so he knew what was happening out here,” she laughed. “He would bring up the satellite map of the area and we would see all the flares.”
So in May of 2012 they made the decision to head to the heart of the Bakken, right in the middle of all that action.
But first they wanted to find a place for a little downtime where they could sit by the water, fish and regroup. And that’s how they found themselves setting up a camper at Tobacco Gardens resort and marina on the edge of Lake Sakakawea, about 30 miles from Watford City.
“I didn’t even know Watford City existed,” said Marcy as she recalled the long trip from Michigan to North Dakota pulling the camper that would be their home for the summer. “We pretty much got rid of everything we owned and lived in this big camper near the water. When we pulled into Tobacco Gardens, the road was terrible at that time, and it was in the middle of the night and it was raining. I was like, ‘where are we?’”
Marcy, now 53, was no stranger to rural living, having grown up in a small town on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with five brothers. Her father was in the concrete industry his entire life and she has fond memories of helping her parents build their dream house, an influence that helped her eventually choose a degree in construction management.
“Back then there were no girls in the field,” recalled Marcy, who added, when she went to apply for jobs in construction management out of college, she didn’t get many call backs. “Oh, it was definitely because I was a girl.”
Talk to Marcy for ten minutes and you’ll quickly understand that this spirited woman doesn’t back down from an obstacle.
That attitude, coupled with her life and work experiences served her well in planting roots and finding her way to steady work in Western North Dakota.
So it’s not surprising that three weeks into their down time on the shores of Lake Sakakawea, Jeff began helping the groundskeeper of the campgrounds and then both got involved in helping the contractors finish a new restaurant and C-store in the marina that needed to be complete by Memorial Day weekend.
“They were getting down to the nitty gritty and so we met the crew and started helping out,” recalls Marcy, who also took up a waitressing job there for a couple months when the project was complete.
Marcy, Jeff and Nate’s work with the contracting crew then took them out to a job on a farm sputh of Watford City where they were hired to build a 100‘ x 50’ barn with 20’ sidewalls. But as they got further into the project, it became clear that the contractors they were working for weren’t going to fulfill their obligation on timing and supplies.
Marcy, Jeff, Nate and another crewmember took on the task of finishing the project. “We were just laborers, hoping to get paid,” said Marcy who recalls digging holes in the frozen ground and finishing the project without adequate power tools, extension ladders and rope in the middle of winter. “It got frustrating because we didn’t know what we were getting into, but we wanted to fulfill the promise that was made to Brooks, our customer.”
And as it turns out, fulfilling that promise paid off. That winter Brooks and his wife Carol, offered the trio a chance to finish out the winter living in their basement. From there the relationship grew, and the work kept rolling in.
“It’s all been word of mouth. We’ve worked basically for Brooks’ entire family and everyone down the road, ” says Marcy who went on to move Brooks and Carol’s old house off its foundation and help build the family a new home.
Marcy and Jeff then worked to purchase some land from the couple and moved the old house on a new foundation where they are now living.
When Marcy isn’t busy hanging sheet rock, or high in the air of the lift attaching soffit to a building, she is home working on her car or remodeling their home.
The couple also helps out around Brooks and Carol’s ranch when needed.
“I once drove a whole herd in by myself in the winter on a 4-wheeler,” recalls Marcy. “It was so cool.”
As for their future in Western North Dakota, Marcy is happy to report that they have no intention of leaving, even when the weather gets cold and the work frustrating.
And she’s quick to tell her friends and family about the potential of this place.
The mother of three recently helped move her oldest daughter, Miranda, from Arizona to Watford City where she currently works as a social worker.
“Sometimes I get lonely out here. I’d like to start volunteering, but there’s only so much you can do in a day,” says Marcy who has observed the need for new businesses and would like to one day open a resale store. “There’s just so much opportunity.”
Opportunity that Marcy proves, with perseverance, guts, muscle and lots of hard work, will likely turn small peanuts into big peanuts in time.
Jessie Veeder is a singer, writer and photographer who lives and works on her family’s cattle ranch in Western North Dakota with her husband, Chad.