N.D. native returns after 19 years in Scotland

Dennis Gumke called Scotland home for close to two decades, but he never forgot where his heart was.

Gumke, who grew up in Tower City, just outside of Fargo, always knew he didn’t want to be a farmer, but beyond that wasn’t sure what to do with his life. He did have the travel bug, however, and figured that would probably have something to do with his future.

“I figured out quite early on that I wasn’t really cut out for farming. At that point in my life, as well, I also realized that it seemed like the younger generation was actually moving away (from North Dakota). I didn’t necessarily want that, but at the time I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do in the future. I had an idea that I wanted to travel and probably work in some kind of travel environment, but not exactly where.”

He tried the Army for two years, but found military life was not to his liking. After his discharge, Gumke earned a business management diploma at Interstate Business College in Fargo in the mid-1980s.

He then dived right into the travel industry, working for travel companies in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Although he didn’t have any formal training in hotel management, it was during this period of his life that Gumke started to learn about the good and not-so-good aspects of the hotel industry.

“In one of my positions I did so much travelling around the U.S., and staying in hotels I started to learn about hotels and what I liked about certain ones and what I didn’t like about certain ones,” Gumke said.

Gumke went on to meet a Scottish woman, marry her and move to her native Scotland, where they had a son, Matthew. With his extensive travel industry experience, Gumke was hired right away as a manager in a hotel.

“And I just found this was my calling. It was something that I had to learn everything, but in the same sense I felt this was the thing that I was to do,” Gumke said. “And that made me even more determined to learn everything I could about it and ask questions and do everything. I’m the type of person that I’ll try and do everything.”

Gumke and his wife eventually divorced, and Gumke found himself a single parent doing most of the raising for Matthew. Rather than come back to the United States, Gumke decided to stay in Scotland, the only home his son had ever known.

“I just felt at that time it wasn’t right to uproot him and bring him back to the U.S. I was comfortable over there, I had a good job,” Gumke said. “The education was so good over there, the quality of life was good, so I decided to make that commitment to him to stay.”

Matthew is now 18, and Gumke, who eventually gained dual citizenship with Scotland in addition to the United States, felt it was finally time to move back to his native North Dakota. He asked Matthew to move back with him, but his son declined. Even with 25 percent unemployment among youth in Scotland, Matthew prefers to stay in his native country, which he is fiercely proud of.

“I can’t convince him to come back. I think he’s scared, because it is a different culture, it is a different type of place,” Gumke said. “I would love for him to come over here, but he’s adamant he’s going to make it there. And I believe he will.”

Gumke has a definite but subtle Scottish accent, which is in stark contrast to his son, who has a thick Scottish brogue. Gumke said his son’s accent is so pronounced that Gumke actually has to translate when Matthew speaks to his grandparents because they can’t understand a word he’s saying.

He chose Minot because of the booming hotel industry, and moved here in April of last year. By May, he had a job managing My Place, which he helped to open. Although he enjoyed his time there, Gumke wanted a hotel he could add his personal touches to and have more control over.

That led him to manage another new hotel in Minot, the Noble Inn, an independent hotel that just opened in January. It gives him more flexibility to run things the way he sees fit, which is exactly what he was looking for.

“I just didn’t find it was maybe the challenge it was going to be because (My Place) was full within two weeks, and the hotel wasn’t designed for someone that can come in and just have a personal service,” Gumke said. “It’s an economy extended-stay hotel. I mean it was a lovely hotel and everything, but this (Noble Inn) is more suited to me.”

While Gumke is a North Dakota native, moving to Minot after living in Scotland for 19 years meant he had to reacclimate himself to new surroundings all over again.

“When I went over there it was a whole new learning experience, and when I came back here, after being away for 20 years, it’s a whole new learning experience again because the U.S. has changed that much in 20 years,” Gumke said. “But it’s a new challenge, as well. And you get a new drive, you get a new energy.”

Although he has definitely enjoyed being back home, the transition hasn’t been without its difficulties. Gumke said language was probably the biggest stumbling block, specifically common words in Scotland he would use that people in Minot had no knowledge of.

“You have to think about what you’re saying a lot of times because I’ll come out with a saying that everything will look at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And it’s because the Scottish words can mean different things to different people,” Gumke said.

There were many terms he used that had North Dakotans scratching their heads. Instead of dollars he would say quid or pound, and in place of fuel or gas he would use petrol. Other terms he used that were different included referring to a car’s boot instead of its trunk, a lift instead of an elevator, and the loo instead of bathroom or restroom.

“You get so used to saying these things, so now I have to really think about what I say beforehand,” Gumke said. “But in the same sense you don’t want to lose that because it’s kind of unique. It can set you apart as being a little different.”

Comparing his lives in Scotland and North Dakota, Gumke said there aren’t really any big differences. He said it’s the similarities that actually stand out more to him. One of the biggest similarities Gumke said the two places have is the people who live there. He said both are hard working, caring and respected.

While Gumke is proud to be North Dakotan, he is also extremely proud to be Scottish. He said each place is beautiful, and he would love nothing more than to bring a little bit of Scotland with him to his native North Dakota.

“The Scottish people have been absolutely wonderful. And if I can just bring back any of that warmth and hospitality here, it’ll be a nice place. I’ll be successful. I’ll always be successful, I have no doubt about that,” Gumke said. “I’m so happy to be back in North Dakota and be able to do the job I love, and I hope that I can live the rest of my days doing this, and doing what I enjoy.”

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 mdnews@minotdailynews.com.