Al and Johnne Bierdeman both come from humble beginnings in rural North Dakota. Johnne grew up in Dickey, ND, where her parents both worked at the bank. Al was born and raised on a family farm near Sykeston, ND, and was one of six kids.
After graduating from high school, Johnne went to North Dakota State School of Science, Wahpeton, ND, to earn a degree in nursing. She then moved to Fargo and was an LPN at St. Luke's Hospital. Al moved to Fargo after high school, too, and found a job working construction.
According to Johnne, they met when they were both invited to a part by a mutual friend.
"My side of the story is that she was the last one there and I felt sorry for her," Al said, the twinkle in his eye and half-smile on his lips evidence of his ever-present sense of humor.
Regardless how it began, they hit it off, dated, and got married. Al was drafted into the arm three months after the wedding. After serving for two years (one of them in Korea), Al came back to Fargo and worked construction. In 1982, he along with his brother and friend, started MinKo Construction. A few years later, Johnne joined the company as the Office Manager.
And that's where they learned about the Ranch.
Al said, "MinKo built the Fargo Youth Home, and then a few years later we built a Ranch thrift store in South Fargo. I got to know Larry Knutson, [the Ranch Executive Director at the time], and from him, I learned more about the Ranch and what they did. One day, Larry came over and asked if I would be on the board of directors. I told him I was just a construction worker and wasn't sure I belonged on the board with attorneys and everybody else. He said, 'Well, we need you too,' and invited Johnne and I to tour the Minot facility."
"That really opened up our eyes," Al said. "That's when I really got to know about the Ranch, and I fell in love with it. I joined the board and served roughly 15 years. I was Chairman of the board two or three of those years. I was nervous at first, but I enjoyed it and made some good friends."
Johnne remembers attending one of Al's first board meetings in Minot. "It coincided with Confirmation, so we were able to go to the service. There were three or four kids being confirmed and they had no parents or sponsors there. It just tore my heart apart. I wanted to jump up and say, 'We will be your sponsors. We'll throw a party for you.' It really inspired me and showed me that these kids really, really need us."
Seeing the incredible needs of these kids inspired the Bierdemans to become long and loyal supporters of the Ranch. In 2014, they made a significant gift to the Red River Valley Campaign to build the Fargo residential treatment center, and the building was named in their honor, "The Al and Johnne Bierdeman Center for Hope and Healing."
More recently, they've been donating through their IRA. "We were giving a certain amount to the Ranch each year," Al said. "When we started drawing off our IRAs, we decided to give through those because of the tax benefits."
In addition to their regular gifts throughout the year, Al and Johnne make a special donation at Christmas so the kids who can't go home can go out for a Christmas meal and have a few presents to open.
Al and Johnne are both retired, and they celebrated 52 years of marriage in August 2021.
Why have they continued to give to the Ranch all these years?
Al said, "Johnne and I don't have any children. And we just felt a need here. Our nieces and nephews are all doing well and don't need our money. These kids need it."
This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Winter 2021.
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