I’m in a generation that got its start just after the last World War. My parents knew the hard times of the dust bowl and depression and espoused conservative values. I couldn’t watch “I love Lucy” because of the communist plot! I grew up on a turkey farm on the Minnesota River valley that my father bought with a $200 down payment. I am the baby of the family with 2 older sisters and 1 older brother all more than 10 years older than me. I had uncles and cousins who were missionaries and others of dubious character, like most families I know. I went to Renville Public School and graduated near the top of the class of 45 students. It was a good time… chasing turkeys; saddle clubs; showing ponies; plowing fields; and learning agriculture and leadership through the FFA… ending up as FFA State Treasurer.
I grew up with conservative values… hard work, integrity, honesty, frugality, humility, compassion and willingness to serve people. I had the good fortune to benefit from a series of opportunities that presented themselves. I didn’t think at the time that progressives or non-Christians could have the same values. The whole world was run by three entities… God, the Devil and Communists. We were on God’s side.
But many epiphanies throughout my life led me to an understanding of those values. I went to Gustavus Adolphus College. I thought I wanted to be an oceanographer or psychologist until I went to Japan for six months. I learned a couple big lessons during this time. The first is there are people suffering throughout the world that need help.
Secondly, we should take responsibility for not only our personal actions but those of our people (nation, religion or ethnic group). That led me to transfer to the University of Minnesota, getting my degrees (BS, MA and PhD) in Agricultural Education.
I was set to teach in Grygla, MN when a good friend told me the Lutherans were looking for an agricultural guy for a new mission. I ended up in Senegal where I lived with the Peul cattle herders for 3 years in a grass hut. They were devout Muslims and welcomed me into their community, even though I worked for the church. I learned that their wealth is the condition of their heart. They welcomed me into their village and society.
I met my wife, Lucie, in Bakel, Senegal. She was a French demographer. Lucie has been my best friend, partner and love and has stuck with me through all the adventures and misadventures of our life. I have a wonderful French family of artists, researchers and just good working folks. We have a daughter and two granddaughters in France.
My path wove through many countries while finishing off two more degrees at the University of Minnesota. Rwanda, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kenya stand out. I spent 3 – 8 years in each country.
Rwanda, as you probably know, endured a horrific genocide that killed over a million people. I knew many of them on both sides. I was there 5 years before, and 3 years after the genocide working in 300 schools before the genocide and then on dairy project with Land O’Lakes after the killing took place. The hallmark of both projects was empowering teachers and farmers to make their own decisions.
Montenegro and Macedonia (former Yugoslav republics) accounted for another 7 years of my life. My childhood visions of evil communists evaporated when I met the actual people. I’ve never met more hospitable people. We organized cooperatives in Montenegro that put members in charge, not the party bosses or the elite. In Macedonia, teachers and students organized around vocational programs in their schools and they took charge of improving their curriculum and outcomes. We used the FFA model, and it worked!
Kenya was an amazing time, working as advisor to USAID and the US Embassy. (You may remember the embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998 in which more than 200 people were killed.) During the 2007-8 elections, young people (18-36 years old), were both the perpetrators and victims of killing that went on between ethnic groups, spurred on by politicians. Over 1200 people were killed. We looked back in time to find when farmers and citizens came together to face economic and social injustices by organizing into coops and organizations. Keeping the decision-making power anchored to the community was key to develop their ideas and trust needed to reform a broken system. We helped Kenyans organize in 22,000 villages across the country and assisted them to form 30 credit unions at the county and national levels. I was proud to say I was an American and still have the respect of the young folks we worked with and am humbled by the courage of our predecessors that dared to stand up to power in order to form a “more perfect union”.
To top off my foreign experience, I spent 5 months in Djibouti and then Palestine developing vocational and teacher training programs. I’ve also worked short-term in Sri Lanka and Lebanon. Djibouti has the largest American military base in the middle east. Palestine is short for West Bank and Gaza. I lived in Ramallah just 20 miles from Jerusalem. I wasn’t on a military base or in the diplomatic core just worked with regular folks who celebrate and suffer just like we do. A different perspective than that of the news media or politicians.
Finally, to account for about 10 years… Lucie and I started making specialty sheep milk cheeses. We had built an entire value chain that started out recruiting farmers to milk sheep and ending with gourmet cheese being served in some of the finest hotels and restaurants across the nation and even made it to the inaugural table of a President. You may have encountered us at the State fair during the 1990’s selling frozen sheep milk yogurt and ice cream. We were inducted into the French Cheesemakers’ Guild.
At the same time, I was teaching vocational agriculture in several districts around Minnesota. These included Nicollet, Duluth, Little Falls, Austin and Renville. I know Minnesota well.
Lucie and I retired about 2 years ago.
We love the people in this area and believe we have a tool kit of skills and understanding that will serve all the communities that live here. We are all better when we respect each other and most importantly get rid of the hate and focus on building a community together. I want to be your voice in the Senate.