BISMARCK When talking to Kyle Martin, you get the feeling he has the same passion for the North Dakota Wheat Commission as he does for politics and photography.
Martin, 25, a Minot native, is the communications director for the wheat commission, succeeding Sandy McMerty. He began his duties in the Bismarck office on May 1.
Martin is already in the process of developing T-shirts for pasta month in October and is looking at adding a producer angle to the wheat commission's newsletter called "Dakota Gold."
Submitted Photo •
North Dakota Wheat Commission communications director Kyle Martin shares a laugh with White House correspondent Helen Thomas. Martin met Thomas while he was working as an intern for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. in 2006. Thomas has been a White House reporter since covering president-elect John F. Kennedy in November 1960.
He said it's important to keep producers in mind since it's their checkoff dollars that pay his salary.
"Every decision I make, I ask myself if this is for the producers' benefit," Martin said. "If not, it's not worth it."
As an example, Martin believes "Dakota Gold" is a popular and effective publication but a personal element is missing. And because there are different wheat production methods from east to west, he wants to interview producers across the state so they may provide others with their expertise on growing wheat.
"I'm starting to find some niches here and what can make us stand out," Martin said. "We have to stand out because we have something special here in North Dakota."
Since joining the wheat commission, Martin has learned some interesting facts about North Dakota and its wheat.
As an example, he was surprised to find that Italy, a country that has romanticized pasta, gets its durum from North Dakota. In addition, Japan purchases most of its hard red spring wheat from North Dakota.
"The only other state that compare to that is Kansas," Martin said. "We have an international reputation and a lot of people don't even know that."
Martin is meeting some of those international wheat millers and researchers and because of it, looks at the wheat commission as a sort of agricultural United Nations. He's already met people from Japan and South Africa.
Martin interviewed for his job on April 2, a Wednesday. He was offered the position two days later on April 4. In the days leading up to his interview he said he tried to learn as much about wheat as he possibly could.
But the interesting thing is, April 4 was the day Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., were in Grand Forks for political rallies and Martin just happened to be in the Alerus Center that day working as a photographer for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Mathern.
He met Obama and Clinton that day and got a call from North Dakota Wheat Commission Administrator Neal Fisher and was offered the communications director position.
Thus, for young Mr. Martin, April 4 will always be a benchmark in his career. Not only did he get the job he wanted, he met two of the most powerful politicians in the world in Grand Forks and he was chronicling the event with his camera.
"I didn't know what to expect. There was a rumor about Oprah (Winfrey) showing up," Martin described. "There was an electricity in the air and 20,000 people just waiting and here I was with a press pass. The whole day just flashed by so quickly. It was like the Beatles had arrived in North Dakota. It was insane."
Martin had actually met Clinton and Obama, as well as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., while he was interning in Sen. Kent Conrad's D-N.D. office in 2006.
In fact, he had photographs taken with Clinton and Kerry. He said Clinton looked incredibly tired while campaigning in Grand Forks and he actually felt sorry for her because of her fatigue.
But Obama looked refreshed, his staff looked refreshed and he conveyed that message to the people, from Wishek to Winnipeg, who came to see him speak.
"Is this how young people felt when JFK (John F. Kennedy) ran for president?" Martin said. If I had to make a prediction, it will be Obama hands down. He just has that fire. He struck a chord with young Americans and it's that energy that he's got. If he wins, it will be an interesting time in history. I certainly had a front-row seat to history in the Alerus Center."
Martin also talks highly of North Dakota Sen. Dave O'Connell, D-Lansford. O'Connell, the Senate Minority Leader, needed an aide for the 2007 Legislature and Martin got the job, staying with his sister in Bismarck during the session.
He said it was a great learning experience and he made a lot of great contacts in both political parties. And if he learned one thing during that time, the North Dakota Legislature has a genuine compassion to do anything for North Dakota.
Martin called O'Connell a role model.
"He's not your typical politician," Martin said. "He has a sixth sense as minority leader and I was privileged to work in his office. He's not a career politician. He does it because he loves North Dakota."
And to top things off, while Martin was a student at North Dakota State University in 2005, he met President George W. Bush while Bush was speaking in Fargo.
Martin took a copy of "Time" magazine with him to the event. It was the copy with a photograph of Bush on the cover in the wake of 9/11. Martin thought that if by chance, he would get to meet the president, perhaps he could get his autograph.
As it turned out, Martin was able to walk right up to the barrier where the president was speaking and nobody questioned him.
As Bush worked the crowd, Martin boldly asked the president for his autograph and Bush granted it, signing his copy of "Time." Martin said it happened so fast.
But politicians are only one third of Martin's repertoire with famous people. One third belong to journalists.
One of them is Pablo Martinez Monsivais, the Associated Press photographer assigned to cover the president in North Dakota. Martin said Monsivais is the one who got him interested in photography in the first place and the two stay in contact through emails.
He also corresponds with Chip Reed, of CBS News. Martin met him while interning for Conrad. He said he has a tremendous amount of respect for Reed who didn't have to be personable to a young student from North Dakota, but he was. Martin met Reed when the veteran newsman was working for NBC Nightly News.
And finally, Martin has had personal conversations with White House correspondent Helen Thomas, one of the most famous reporters in American journalism.
"A lot of people my age don't know who she is, but they should," Martin said. "Talk about a front-row seat to history. She has worked in the White House since JFK."
Thomas, who will be 88 on Aug. 4, hasn't filed a story since May when she developed complications from a stomach ailment. She began her White House career covering president-elect John F. Kennedy in November 1960. She spent many years working for United Press International.
The final third of Martin's repertoire is his family. He said the Martin family has always been close knit and it's his parents, sister and brother, who brought him to where he is today.
If it weren't for his sister Alyssa, he wouldn't have worked for O'Connell where he made contacts on both sides of North Dakota's political fence. He slept on an air mattress on her apartment floor during the session and said he was stiff most of the time, but he will always be grateful to his sister for allowing him to live in Bismarck.
If it weren't for his mother, Jody, he wouldn't have gone to intern in Conrad's office. If not, he wouldn't have met Conrad, Clinton, Obama, Kerry and McCain. Nor would he have met Reed or Thomas.
If it weren't for his father, Myron, he wouldn't have studied wheat so much in the days leading up to his interview with the wheat commission and his brother William helps keep him interested in farming and ranching.
"My parents instilled a work ethic in me and I have a lot of admiration for them," Martin said. "My mom taught dance all across the state and I got to go with her. I was a lucky kid who got to see the small towns across the state. It made me who I am."
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)