In his time playing football at North Dakota State University, Clint Gjellstad learned a great deal about himself.
“I like competition, and I want to be the best in whatever I do,” he said.
It’s a mindset that came in handy 11 years after he hung up his cleats. Gjellstad and his wife Jamie left their comfortable life near the Twin Cities — they lived on a lake — and headed to rural Velva, where the two took over the Gjellstad family farm.
Since moving home, the couple has had two children — a 4-year-old son named Odin and daughter Isabelle, who turns two this month. Clint said he wanted his children to grow up on the farm.
“I thought it was an irreplaceable experience growing up as a kid on the farm,” said Clint, who also became McHenry County Farmers Union vice president. “I just love the farm. I guess I always have. It’s where I grew up, and I really wanted to offer that for my kids.”
Gjellstad was a standout linebacker and running back on Velva’s high school football teams in the mid-1990s.
After performing well as a redshirt freshman in spring practice at NDSU, he won a job on the defensive line in the fall. He held down his position for four years, starting every game for the Division II-Bison from 1997-2000. As a freshman, Gjellstad said he remembers his “eyes wide open, and everybody being bigger, faster and stronger.”
But as he grew into his role with the Bison, Gjellstad’s leadership responsibilities increased. Admittedly, Gjellstad wasn’t the most-liked player on the team, because he wanted to lead others the way he pushed himself.
“I wasn’t looked at as the nicest guy around — some call it tough love,” Gjellstad said. “You had to push to make it happen on the field. If you don’t push, you’re getting passed.”
Gjellstad said the leadership he learned was a mix of getting it done by example and speaking up when needed.
“I liked to make it happen on the field, because leading by example definitely speaks words,” he said. “But I always wanted to say what was on my mind. I always had something for a pep talk.”
Gjellstad’s performance over four years at NDSU hasn’t gone unnoticed. Over the summer, he was named to NDSU’s Division II All-Fargodome Team, which honors the best players at each position since NDSU started playing at the Fargodome in 1993.
“That was kind of cool,” Gjellstad said. “You try to leave a little bit of a legacy and hope people remember you made a difference.”
One particular game sticks out in Gjellstad’s mind that tested him emotionally and physically. As a freshman, he lined up nearly the entire game across from future Minnesota Viking and Carrington native Jim Kleinsasser, who was starring at tight end for the University of North Dakota at the time.
“He was averaging about eight to 10 pancake blocks a game,” Gjellstad said. “Lining up against him for 62 plays as a redshirt freshman — I was like ‘Wow!’”
However, Gjellstad’s play on the field wasn’t the only experience at NDSU that shaped who he has become. The team often did off-field events, whether for charity or just to improve quality of life for a patient in a hospital.
“We’d go and read to first and second graders during the week, go to classrooms or go play on the playground with kids — there was a lot of that stuff,” Gjellstad said. “A couple of times there was a kid who was really sick. You’d throw a jersey on and go visit him in the hospital, and that makes a difference.”
After graduating, Gjellstad moved to Minneapolis and became a mortgage banker. That’s where he met his wife Jamie Kuba, and the two eventually married and started a life down there.
“Dad (Cliff) said go get an education and go figure out what you want to do,” Clint said. “‘You don’t need to feel that you have to come home and farm right away or ever’ and so I moved down there and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed selling because it was a challenge. Closing a deal was a lot of fun.”
His father asked one more time if he wanted to come home and farm in 2007 and Clint declined, leading to an auction sale of the family farm’s equipment. The land was rented out.
But over the next four years, Gjellstad grew less comfortable with life in the city.
“I still had my eye on farming, and I was getting burned out in the cities,” Clint recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s go and try and make this happen’ and here we are. We picked up and moved. It was a big deal.”
The Gjellstads have had to make do as best they can with their farm, as they’ve had to scrounge together equipment at times. But they’re not to be denied the life they want on the farm — it means that much.
“I just love the farm, I guess I always have,” Clint said.
Gjellstad is a fifth-generation farmer, living not far from where his family homesteaded in 1883. Growing up, his family raised barley, wheat, durum, sunflowers and some canola. It’s different now, though, as Gjellstad grows corn, wheat, soybeans, yellow peas and even pinto beans.
He’s taken an active role in Farmers Union, having gone on multiple fly-ins. He attended the national convention in San Diego last March.
“Those are some of the coolest things to do,” Gjellstad said. “To be able to go to Washington, D.C., and sit across from these congressmen and actually tell them what’s going on up here in North Dakota, that’s huge. If it was just me walking the halls, they (wouldn’t care). You say you’re with Farmers Union, and they recognize that.”
Farmers Union was a part of Gjellstad’s youth, tagging along with his dad to meetings and attending summer camps at Mouse River Farmers Union camp.
“I remember it as a kid, going to meetings and (NDFU President Mark Watne) was McHenry County president then,” Gjellstad said. “And we had our (summer camp) family. Those are great memories.”
Cliff Gjellstad was heavily involved in co-ops throughout his life, making an imprint on Clint’s life. And though much of Clint’s time is spent farming and raising a young family, he hopes to get involved with cooperative leadership at some point, though he said he has a lot on his plate right now.
“I want (Farmers Union Oil Company of Velva) to stay there, and so eventually you need to step up and help out,” Clint said. “You have ownership with a co-op system.”
Being raised on the farm made a difference on the field for Gjellstad. Likewise, playing football for the Bison has made a difference on the farm.
“Growing up on the farm, work ethic is a huge thing — you didn’t do the fun things until the work was done, and you carry that mentality and background through to athletics,” Gjellstad said. “And there’s no question Bison athletics had a huge amount to do with shaping me into who I am today, getting me mostly mentally prepared. Goal setting and being able to achieve it is definitely an attribute I learned at North Dakota State University.”
— Chris Aarhus, NDFU