FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A businessman and community leader who founded what is now the Greater North Dakota Chamber and was instrumental in helping his friends and family escape Nazi Germany will receive the 40th Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Wednesday.
The state’s highest honor will be presented to the family of Herman Stern on March 13 in Fargo. Stern died in 1980.
Stern, who came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, was known for his work in a family clothing store that has been in business for 130 years. He first became manager of the Straus Clothing Store in Valley City in 1910, where he remained for 70 years.
His accomplishments outside the workplace were equally impressive, Dalrymple said.
“When you think of a leader and visionary whose contributions have impacted generations of North Dakotans, Herman Stern rises to the top,” Dalrymple said. “In addition to building a successful business, he made pioneering contributions to North Dakota’s economy and communities, and initiated programs to support youth and those in need, contributions that are still making a difference today.”
Stern in 1924 founded the Greater North Dakota Association, now known as the GNDC, and served as the organization’s first president. He also was pivotal in starting the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City, which after 77 years is the oldest and longest running agriculture show in the state.
Stern was active with Boy Scouts of America and helped establish councils in Fargo, Valley City, Wahpeton and Grand Forks, councils that later formed the Northern Lights Council. Stern received many prestigious awards from the group, including its highest honor, the Silver Buffalo.
Stern was born in Oberbrechen, Germany in 1887, the youngest of eight children. He came to America at the age of 16 to work at the Straus Clothing Store in Casselton, a clothing store established by his cousin, Morris Straus. In addition to Casselton and Valley City, the company operated stores in LaMoure, Carrington, Grand Forks, Jamestown and Devils Lake.
It was during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party when Stern embarked on a mission to bring family and friends from Germany to America. With assistance from state leaders and the U.S. State Department, Stern made it possible for between 175 and 200 German Jews to escape the Holocaust and come to America.
Each individual required a visa, a process that took weeks or months. Stern tracked each visa and contacted different agencies throughout the process to ensure the application was moving forward. He had to personally guarantee that none of the individuals would become wards of the state.
In 1967, on Stern’s 70th birthday, several of those whom he helped bring to America honored him with a framed resolution of appreciation for his inspiring generosity. He was also honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York for his extraordinary deeds.
Straus Clothing still has a store in Fargo with a third generation of Stern family members running the business. John and Rick Stern have succeeded their father, Ed Stern, in running the family store.
“We are so honored to accept this prestigious award on behalf of our grandfather, Herman Stern,” said John Stern, spokesman for the Stern family. “His contributions to our family and our state are significant and his vision continues to guide Straus Clothing and the state of North Dakota still today.”
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