By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, MN In commemoration of the (roughly) 35 years he served as an elected official, and for his work in preserving Dassel history through the book “First Dassel Battlefield Casualty in World War I,” Steve Dille and his wife, Pam, will be riding in the grand marshal vehicle during this year’s Red Rooster Day parade Saturday, Sept. 2.
Steve started his legislative career as a Dassel Township officer, and later became county commissioner, state representative, and eventually state senator.
Two achievements he is especially proud of completing in office include passing the mandatory seatbelt law, as well as succeeding in his anti-smoking campaign.
“It’s satisfying to get some things done that help our citizens out here,” said Dille. “I don’t think the average person appreciates all the things the government does to try to improve the lives of citizens.”
In reflecting on why he decided to serve his community and state this way, Steve believes much of it had to do with hearing the stories of how his parents, grandparents, and other relatives served their communities in various ways.
Steve’s grandfather, Oliver Dille, served for 30 years in elected office as a school board member, Dassel Township officer, Meeker County commissioner, and even filed to run for a chance at state representative. After learning what he did, however, Oliver’s mother had him get his money back from the courthouse and withdraw from the race.
“He had the ambition to do that [anyway],” Steve noted.
Using his skills as a physician, Steve’s father, Dr. Donald Dille served as the county physician for several years, and married Bonnie Anderson, the daughter of Litchfield’s previous mayor, Alfred Anderson.
Steve’s uncle, Dr. Roland Dille was also quite involved in politics, and was also selected as a Red Rooster Days grand marshal about 10 years ago.
“A civic-minded [family], I guess,” noted Pam.
Aiding Vietnamese refugees
In addition to his time in elected office, Steve also worked much of his life as a veterinarian for the Litchfield, Dassel, and New Ulm areas. He also became a University of Minnesota Extension Service veterinarian and joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
Furthermore, Steve was able to serve as an advisor for the US State Department during the Vietnam War, and lived over there for about three and a half years as a civilian.
“I provided veterinary services and education for farmers [over there],” he said, and added that he and his wife, and his mother, Bonnie, went on to sponsor several Vietnamese refugees after returning to the US.
“Pam and I got married in 1975, and three months after we got married, we had a large number of Vietnamese [refugees] that showed up at our door,” Steve said.
Among the refugees were two families, brothers, who had worked for Steve in his Vietnam veterinary practice.
“They tried twice to escape as a group by sea,” said Steve, explaining that doing so proved to be difficult due to pirates and other obstacles. “The only thing they had when they got to Thailand was their underwear (everything else had been stolen) and my address memorized.”
It took about 20 years for the family to make it to America and be reunited.
Throughout the decades the Dilles were involved with their Vietnamese refugee project, they were able to establish deeper relationships with some of the families they assisted.
For one refugee, Steve and Pam stood in as his parents at his wedding ceremony, since his biological parents were still in Vietnam.
More recently, another man who was aided by the Dilles stopped by their home for a visit last week accompanied by his 17-year-old daughter. He now works as a quality expert for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
“They’ve all done very well,” Steve noted. “There’s all kinds of success stories.”
‘First Dassel Battlefield Casualty’
One of Steve’s more recently completed projects is the publication of his book, “First Dassel Battlefield Casualty in World War I: The Life and Service of Paul Ferdinand Dille.”
Paul Dille was Steve’s great uncle, and he died during the battle at Soissons, France in 1918. He was the first soldier from Dassel to be killed in action in American history. The Dassel American Legion Post No. 364 was named in honor of Paul in 1920.
Steve worked on the book with his uncle, Dr. Roland, who owned 1,000 books on World War I, and his son, Lt. Col. Nicholas Dille, who is currently working with Blackhawk helicopters in Huntsville, AL.
The Dilles have three other children, as well: a daughter who is a web designer in Chicago, IL; a son who works as a technology director for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, FL; and his twin who works as a weapons system test engineer and is in the process of taking over the Dille’s farm in Kingston Township. They also have eight grandchildren, some of whom may ride with them in the Red Rooster Days parade.
While thinking about how riding in the parade would be a “good experience” for his grandchildren, Steve commented that whenever people are hesitant to try something because they may not come out on top, the important thing is to “give it a shot. You may lose, you may win, but either way you’re learning something. Life is full of losses anyway. You lose; you win. It prepares you for all kinds of things."