WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 13, 2014, 07:25 PM

Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award given to the late Herman Stern

Fargo, N.D. (WDAY TV) -The state of North Dakota bestowed its top honor today.

By: Drew Trafton, WDAY

Fargo, N.D. (WDAY TV) -The state of North Dakota bestowed its top honor today.

The recipient is a local man who passed away more than 30 years ago.

40 people have received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota governor: "These are the people that we really feel have brought recognition and honor to the state of North Dakota."

And Herman Stern is now among them.

Stern was born in Germany in 1887.

He immigrated to Casselton in 1903 to manage his cousin's clothing store, the first Straus location.

And although Stern's journey began with what became a 130 year-old family run business, his legacy touches the very fabric of many long lived statewide organizations.

The abridged list includes founding Boy Scout chapters, the local United Way, local AAA services, the Winter Show in Valley City, the Valley City Arena and what today is the Greater North Dakota Chamber.

But his greatest achievements are measured in life spans.

Michel Stern, Holocaust survivor: "The fact is, if there were no Herman Stern, I wouldn't be here today."

In the 1930s and ’40s, Stern, with the aide of his wife, orchestrated and helped fund an effort that saw 175 to 200 German Jews, some relatives and some strangers, escape the Holocaust and come to America.

Michel Stern is one of two men at today's banquet smuggled out of Europe thanks to Herman Stern's actions.

Stern: "He gave me my life. He game my parents their lives and my grandparents their lives."

But others speaking at the banquet pointed out that Stern famously said the people he saved owed him nothing at all.

And his grandson says he would have had a hard time being the focal point of today's banquet.

John Stern, recipient’s grandson: "He would be somewhat embarrassed by all this recognition. But we, as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are here are extremely proud of him."

A brand of humility in the face of pure heroism that's landed him in the pantheon of North Dakota's most iconic faces.

The portrait of Stern will hang in the Capitol in Bismarck, along with the portraits of the other award recipients.