By Marci Narum | Submitted Photos
As she sits in her Edgewood Vista apartment in Bismarck crocheting baby blankets and afghans, 97-year old Margrieta Skroms has a claim to fame few people know about.
Marg, as she is most often called, moved to the United States in the late 1940s with her husband, Janis. They had come from Germany on sponsorship, and received five dollars when they arrived. They went to work on an Ohio farm, where Marg fed the pigs and took care of two thousand chickens, while Janis milked the cows and helped in the field.
But that didn’t last long. Marg and Janis had bigger plans. Born and raised in the Baltic state of Latvia, the Skroms were both doctors of veterinary medicine.
Their next move was to North Dakota. They had heard the town of Carson was looking for a veterinarian. And at a time in our country’s history when gender roles rarely shifted, Marg was a pioneer: Marg Skroms became the first female veterinarian in North Dakota.
“Our vet school had about the same program as some here in United States,” Marg says, with her strong Latvian accent. “And so when we came here we didn’t have to pass exams, nothing. Yes, we had to pass the state board to get a license to work.”
Marg says she and her husband made a good team. And although she was the first woman in this role in North Dakota, Marg is quick to say that certain jobs in the field of veterinary medicine were better left to her husband.
“Because you need the muscles,” she explains. “Helping borne calves. Sometimes there are accidents when they’re having a calf; the whole womb comes out, and this has to be put back. It’s a very hard job. My husband didn’t want me to do those things. Just those things that were not as physical. So he did the heaviest job and I did the lighter job.”
But there wasn’t any job Marg didn’t like or wasn’t willing to do as a veterinarian.
“Sure there were some that were smeary and you have to shower after. You do what comes and that’s it. You don’t think about if you like or not, you just do it.”
And Marg and Janis did this work together for decades, never having their own family.
“No,” Marg says, raising her hands, smiling, and chuckling. “You see, Sweetheart, I’m sorry, but I would say, we didn’t have time.”
From Carson, the couple moved to New Leipzig. Then in 1961, they settled in Mott, where they bought some land on the edge of town, built a house, and then a clinic two years later. They operated Cannonball Veterinary Clinic for 30 years.
During this time, Marg’s family left Latvia too. Marg and Janis sponsored her parents and one of her younger siblings to join them in North Dakota. Marg says her family, especially her father, was a major influence in her decision to become a veterinarian. Her love for animals was nurtured early, during time she spent with her father. He raised horses for the Latvian Army and produced race horses.
“And I was raised together with the horses. I liked the horses. I was the oldest in the family and was kind of the tomboy, you know, who saw what dad would do, and I could do it.”
Her father would have been proud. In 1984 the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association named Marg Veterinarian of the Year.
It has been a long time since Marg retired from her work as our state’s first female veterinarian, but incredibly, only about a year since she’s been on a horse. If not for some pain in her knees and the pacemaker in her chest, she might like to ride again. Instead, she enjoys cherished memories and stories, while she crochets hundreds of afghans and baby blankets.