Photos by Hillary Ehlen and special to Bison Illustrated
Former Bison wrestler Rob Wilson has taken the lessons instilled in him at NDSU and applied them to a career’s worth of service to the city he has spent his life in.
Rob Wilson will be the first to admit that he was not the best athlete in North Dakota State’s history. By the end of his NDSU wrestling career, his overall record was 19-18. That mark will not be found in the Bison wrestling record book. Wilson does not care. He is far more concerned with riding his bike after work or enjoying the fading days of summer and fall in North Dakota.
What he also cares about are the lessons that were instilled in him by head wrestling coach Bucky Maughan. It is with these teaching points and moments from Bucky and NDSU that Rob Wilson became who he is today. In his estimation, that is a far greater accomplishment than being immortalized in the lore of NDSU wrestling.
“I think a lot of us owe a lot to Bucky,” he said. “I mean, he was a motivator, he kind of had his own way of motivating people. Sometimes it was hard and sometimes it wasn’t, but he knew how to press the right buttons to get you to work hard.”
Wilson found his way to North Dakota State and Maughan’s wrestling program thanks to a successful career at Fargo Shanley High School. He won the EDC crown twice and was a state runner-up for the Deacons. Coming in as a 118 pounder for the Bison in 1973-74, Wilson finished 7-7 overall as a freshman. Over the course of the next three seasons, Wilson went a combined 6-6 overall with one pin. Throughout the 1976-77 season, Wilson suffered “painful rib injuries” per the 1977-1978 wrestling media guide.
In that same media guide, Coach Bucky Maughan referred to Wilson as “experienced, tough and hungry for the 118-pound starting assignment.” That starting assignment was awarded to Guy Kimball. Kimball finished that season with a 15-7 record. However, Wilson had his most successful season as a Bison.
He finished with a 6-5 record with two pins, amassing his career pin total to that point.
Wilson then went on to graduate with a business degree, but he had remained a university studies major throughout his time at NDSU. Either way, Wilson knew wrestling and Coach Maughan had better prepared him for the real world. “I think wrestling, for one, is you have to have a real dedication. You have to be real focused on doing what you’re doing,” he said. “I think between wrestling and Bucky helping us stay focused that it really helped all my careers.”
That’s not to say Wilson was in love with school to begin with. He feels indebted to the university for allowing the opportunity to advance himself in life. “NDSU was really good to me,” he said. “I really didn’t love school, but NDSU gave me the opportunity to do something I loved to do and get an education at the same time.”
He was also able to learn valuable life skills from NDSU. Skills that paved the way for the success he would find in his professional life. “The best thing for me was management of time,” he said. “At NDSU, I would get up, go to school, go to wrestling practice, go to work, a lot of times run home from work, study and get up the next day and do it again. So once you learn how to do that in life, a lot of other things get pretty easy.”
With the business degree, Wilson was interested in the restaurant business. After he graduated, he says he managed the Cork ‘N Cleaver restaurant in town for two years. It was at this time that Rob Wilson began his life of service to the community, outside of serving up steaks at the Cork ‘N Cleaver.
“I got a job at the fire department and worked my way through the ranks to assistant chief,” he said. “Again, it’s the same thing, you have to have a dedication and a drive to do that and do the job. Wrestling and Bucky, his leadership, was a part of my life and where I went.”
It is the ever-prevalent leadership of Bucky Maughan and the sport of wrestling that drove Rob Wilson to the assistant chief position at the Fargo Fire Department. It is a position he held for 30 years. “We had to stay in shape so we could do it, that’s another thing wrestling helped with,” he said. “I was kind of small for a firefighter but being a wrestler I knew what it took to stay in shape to be able to do the job.”
Fargo Fire Department is where Rob Wilson found his second family, one that he had not intended to have. When asked about his favorite memory at the fire department, Wilson reflects upon his Fargo Fire family. “It’s a family. What’s really different about that job is that I thought it was the only place where you could have a family like that,” he said. “The fire department, we’re with each other for 24 hours a day when we’re there. You get to know everybody as well as your family and every time we went on a run we had to think on our feet and get things done on our feet. There were always family things that went on. Cooking meals together or fighting the biggest fire together, it was always a real team effort and Fargo should be very proud of what they have.”
It’s the above statement by Wilson that forces him to pause after answering and take a deep breath. With his eyes lightly welling up, it became evident how much passion for the city of Fargo Wilson has. However, after 30 years devoting his life to the citizens of Fargo, Wilson retired. Luckily for him, a fellow teammate on the wrestling team helped him find his second passion, helping high school students.
“It was actually another wrestler named Jim LeDoux, who became a Fargo police officer. He was working up at North High, doing what I’m doing now and he said ‘when you retire, you have to look at this. You’re made for this job.’ So that’s what I did, we have to have a little bit of something to do when you’re retired, you know,” he said, laughing.
That position was to become the proctor at Fargo South High School. “I looked into it and found out the main part of my job was steering kids to do the right things, make the right choices, get to class and things of that nature,” he said. “It’s kind of coming out of helping people at the fire department and getting to work with the young kids.”
While Wilson assumed the fire department was the only workplace he would find a family, he was pleasantly surprised to see the same family dynamic unfold at Fargo South High School. “I was at the fire department for 30 years and when I got to the school, it surprised me that you have a family there too,” he said.
Wilson is happy to spend his time at the school, steering kids in the right direction. However, he is also delighted to have his summers off, often traveling to the Duluth and Pelican Rapids areas to bike and camp with his family. Regardless, both of his careers have had similar rewards. Wilson gets a smile on his face recalling some of his most rewarding moments throughout his lifetime.
“If you’re on a medical run or a fire run and you’re in the grocery store, someone will say ‘Hey, I remember you, you were at my house fire. While it was traumatic, you guys were great’. Hearing stuff like that is nice,” he said. “It’s kind of the same with the school. We always laugh because the kids that we kind of chase around the most and have the most issues with, when you’re out in public, they’re the first ones to go ‘Rob! How are you doing?’ That’s always gratifying too.”
Outside of his work, Wilson has a love for Fargo, the city he has spent his entire life in. Whether high school, college or professional life, Wilson has done it here in the Red River Valley. When asked the simple question of “Why Fargo?” he had an even simpler answer. One that is relatively static throughout the community.
“I think the people. The people, whether it’s the restaurant business, the fire department, the school, the people in Fargo are incredible,” he said. “It’s a safe place, a good place to raise a family, it’s just an all-around nice place. Except for winter.”
”You have to have a dedication and a drive to do that and do the job. Wrestling and Bucky, his leadership, was a part of my life and where I went.”
In his time as an NDSU wrestler, Wilson was a part of Bison teams that competed in Division II’s North Central Conference. Since he left the school, the wrestling program has seen an ascension to Division I and Power Five competition in the Big 12 Conference. Wilson, who remains an avid fan of NDSU wrestling, only sees the program growing from here. He is impressed by how far the program has come since his time with the Bison.
“Back when I wrestled, we’d have the Bison Open and we’d have Minnesota there. I wrestled a Minnesota national champion, an Olympian from Iowa State, so we did wrestle a lot of those people even way back when,” he said. “I think it’s awesome for the program though and I think they will compete very well as time goes on. They have some people coming up now who really look like they can compete. I’m very excited that they’re wrestling at this level and hopefully we can get up to the level of some of the other teams.”
Those who attend or are fans of North Dakota State athletics are often referred to as “the herd”. It’s a self-explanatory moniker. The bison travel and live in herds, the same rings true for the North Dakota State faithful. Rob Wilson is a member of that herd and many others. He has a herd from his time at NDSU. Wilson has another herd from his three decades at the Fargo Fire Department. Now, he has a herd at Fargo South High School.
When it comes down to it, Rob Wilson calls not only North Dakota State his herd, but the city of Fargo too. Wilson has spent his entire life in the city and has never felt an inclination to leave. In turn, he has devoted his life’s work to the safety, well-being and prosperity of his herd. That alone goes beyond anything he or any of his teammates could have ever done on the mat for Bucky Maughan.