She wears many titles - wife, mother, lobbyist, magazine editor, public relations officer, advertising manager and most recently communications director, but now Julie Schaff Ellingson adds the feather of executive vice president to her North Dakota Stockmen's Association hat.
The NDSA, based in Bismarck, was formed in 1929 by a group of cattle producers. At their first meeting they instituted a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of cattle rustlers a statute that still stands almost 80 years later.
The organization, which represents 2,700 producers, acts as a watchdog group by enforcing livestock laws, promoting adult and youth education programs and advocating for the general welfare of the 2 million cattle in the state.
Submitted Photo •
Julie Schaff Ellingson poses with her husband Chad on their Angus ranch southeast of St. Anthony. Ellingson will take over as vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association when Wade Moser, the organization’s longest serving executive vice president, retires in December after 26 years.
Ellingson's childhood background has helped her deal with "the bull" of Washington and the bureaucracy within the beef industry.
She was raised outside of St. Anthony, which she calls "a progressive community with a small population," just south of Bismarck. She is a fourth-generation rancher whose great-grandfather homesteaded nearby. Today, she lives only a few miles from where she romped as a child.
"This is where my family operates," Ellingson said. "They came from Germany and carved out a life here in the U.S."
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In fact, her parents own some of the original homestead land, and she and her husband, Chad, lease some of it too. Together, the couple operates a ranch with 200 registered Angus, with a few acres devoted to raising feed grains.
Entering North Dakota State University, however, Ellingson said, she was torn between her love of communication and agriculture. There was no course that combined her two passions at the time, she said, so she decided to major in mass communication, with an emphasis in print media and minor in general agriculture.
"The combination of classes and networking was how I made my own communication-agricultural (degree)," she said.
After graduating from NDSU, she and then-fiancee, Chad, thought of ways to return to the Bismarck area.
"We always wanted to come back to where I grew up. My heart is in agriculture, but I wanted to use my communication skills in the agricultural field," she said.
Her hopes came to fruition after she received a call from the former NDSA communications director, who informed Ellingson she would be leaving the position and encouraged her to apply. Ellingson's family had been longtime members in the organization, so she said she knew what the group stood for when she began working there in 1995.
Since then, Ellingson has served as the communications director for NDSA, serving as a public relations official, lobbyist as well as editor and advertising manager for the organization's magazine.
"It's been a wonderful journey with a variety of tasks and responsibilities. I work with the best people in the country. They take care of their land, their animals and the country."
As the communications director, she was also instrumental in the progress of two of NDSA's activities: Spring Roundups and the Beef Industry Military Appreciation Day.
Each June, association staff members travel to each of the organization's six state districts to meet with members and provide an educational workshop with expert speakers who cover a wide range of topics. Ellingson said the program was created so that members who could not afford to travel to the annual convention could still have their concerns addressed.
"It's important to hear from members and have an open dialogue about the burning issues in the region," she said.
Other "members" the group focuses on are military.
Sponsored by the NDSA and other beef industry organizations, the North Dakota State Fair in Minot has held a Military Appreciation Day for the last five consecutive years.
"We wanted to do something after 9/11 and the current Iraq war to salute them. They enable us to do what we do." Ellingson said. She added that an average of 1,200 people attend the event each year.
After 13 years as the communications director, Ellingson was hired as the NDSA's first female executive vice president, a fact she takes in stride.
"We have had a strong contingency of women in leadership," she said. "We represent livestock people many of whom are husband and wife teams that actively participate in discussions." She noted that there are two women in similar positions who are currently serving in separate South Dakota cattle organizations.
"We encourage everyonemen, women, young and old to get involved in the cattle industry because the more diverse our background, the better decisions we will make," she said.
As the executive vice president, Ellingson will be responsible for the supervision of staff, will act as the chief financial officer and lead lobbyist and will be the liaison between the board, staff and association members.
Ellingson will replace Wade Moser, a staple in the organization who served for 26 years, when he retires in December.
"He is a model of what the beef industry is," she said, "His common sense approach to issues enabled him to talk to (NDSA) members, legislators and others in the industry. Not only is he my boss, but he is a mentor in so many ways and a true friend."
Building membership numbers, providing programs and resources for members, protecting private property rights and promoting youth programs are just a few of the goals at the top of her vice president "to do" list, Ellingson said. She added that the youth programs are especially important in getting young people interested in the cattle industry and getting them to return to North Dakota.
"We are providing new opportunities for the next generation," she said, "Opportunities for families like mine."
As for the Ellingson family of five, she said they are focused on 4-H, spelling words, and bumps and bruises from helping out in the field.
"I'm so excited to see that our kids have taken an active role in our industry. It makes me proud," she said.
Living in North Dakota" is a little slice of heaven," Ellingson said. She said she loves the wide open spaces and the cleanliness of the state as well as the hard-working, straight-talking people, adding that it's also a great place to raise her young children.