Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

June 10, 2006

Happy 90th!

A happy 90th birthday to weblog reader Gladys Pederson of Minot! I met her in Minot this spring when I performed before the Credit Union meeting there. You have to hand it to 90-year-olds who learn computers! Keep on truckin, Gladys!


June 08, 2006

Duluth

Spent part of the past two days in Duluth at a meeting of all six of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations. These are foundations started in 1986 by the heirs of the 3M fortune to assist rural Minnesota. I am on the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, our area's version.

The idea was that each region is different and that having six foundations staffed by people who live in the region would be a better way to distribute money than to have urbanites in an office in Minneapolis bequeath cash to the hicks.

The idea has worked. Each of the six foundations, while still tapping into the McKnight 3M fortune, has developed an endowment of its own--and a style of its own. When one of the foundations comes up with something good, it can be replicated in the others with ease.

It was quickly decided that the biggest need in rural Minnesota is economic development. Thus, the foundations all started giving business loans and assisting businesses in other ways. Helping business is not a typical function of a charitable foundation, so other states have been watching the Minnesota model to see how it works.

There were several good speakers. Former St. Paul mayor George Latimer was delightful. He gave a lively speech which ended with him telling a story about "my dear friend, the long-time mayor of Fertile, Duane Knutson."

Latimer asked if anybody from Fertile was present, and naturally I gave a holler.

Latimer's anecdote was about Duane taking on the mayor of Bloomington in a heated discussion at a meeting of the Minnesota League of Cities. Knutson was appealing to the Bloomington mayor to have a bit of sympathy for towns which didn't have the "genius and foresight of the mayor of Bloomington" to arrange to have an international airport smack dab in the middle of his city.

Afterwards, I asked Latimer about Duane, and he said, "we were best buddies!" Latimer said he learned a lot from Duane over the years.

Today, there was a panel discussion on rural economic development. Former Congressmen Tim Penny and Steve Gunderson were on the panel and gave good presentations.

Interesting points:

--Former Congressman Tim Penny and another speaker argued that agricultural subsidies are misspent, go to the wrong people, and actually may hurt the economies of rural areas. I was surprised to hear this from a person used to running for office.

--Rural Minnesota educational performance is sinking fast.

--The average per-capita income for rural Minnesotans is sinking.

--The population of rural Minnesota is getting old fast and the young are still leaving for the city.

These problems were brought up as a challenge to the foundations.

Former Congressman Gunderson was an impressive speaker. Latimer and Penny spoke off the cuff, but Gunderson was polished. His main point was that government is no longer going to be the force for social change. Nobody in government has a taste for experimentation any more, and much of what the government tried in the past didn't work. Instead, he said, philanthropic organizations are going to be the main agents for progressive change.

He bluntly cautioned the foundations to keep their financial ducks in a row. I have noticed that the Northwest Minnesota Foundation has some pretty high standards of accounting. We spend a lot of time on the board worrying about where we invest money and how we loan it out. Gunderson said, and I paraphrase, "One financial scandal in one of your organizations will taint the work of all the foundations for ten years to come." So, apparently, we are right to make sure every T is crossed.

I have been learning a great deal by serving on the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. On a board, you really do very little but ask questions and listen. I find that easy and fun. An occasional free hotel room in Duluth doesn't hurt, either.


June 06, 2006

Management

One of the frustrations of being in management is that I never get any work done. If I go start a project of some sort, say planting a flower bed, there inevitably will come a phone call that needs my attention, after which there will be a customer who needs my attention, followed by some employees who need direction--so, it is pretty useless for me to start planting a flower bed.

But that makes me feel lazy and a bit frustrated. When I worked at the nursery by the hour, I could go out and cultivate for hours on end without worry. Now I can't.

So, I end up sitting around the office waiting for the next phone call. There are projects which I would like to tackle, but they will have to be farmed out to people who won't be interrupted. I pass the time vacuuming, or playing piano, or writing weblog entries.

AUNT OLLA called and tonight is the night she will finally come out to the house to hear the frogs. I hope they are singing. She has new hearing aids which seem real good, so perhaps she will be able to hear them.

TODAY, an old and dear customer who I had noticed hadn't been here yet showed up to buy plants. She is in poor health and isn't supposed to drive at all, but she said she couldn't resist getting some flowers. "If I start feeling woozy, I'll just pull over on the side of the road," she said, adding that her kids don't like her driving because she passes out and has heart attacks and things like that, but whatever--she's not about to quit doing what she loves because "then you're pretty much done."

And then she laughed. She is in terrific pain, but showed no sign of it on her face. She's got quite the spirit. I'll never forget when my Grandpa died, this woman came to the nursery to buy things and simply said, with a smile, "so, your Grandpa didn't make it, huh?" Sounds odd, but she said it in a tone of voice which was so accepting of life's vicissitudes it was of great comfort.


Performing

Saturday evening, I performed at a talent show in Erskine at their Water Carnival festivities. I wasn't in the talent show--my job was to entertain while the votes were being counted.

There were nine acts. Most were quite good. One was painful. The show was structured like the TV show American Idol, which I have never watched. So, they had the snotty judges their making remarks after each performance while the hapless performer had to stand their and say, "I understand," or "Thank you very much."

However, Minnesota nice won out--the judges had a hard time being as snotty as the Simon from the show, so things remained civil.

I started playing and was getting into the swing of it when they stopped me--the votes were counted. It went fast, but I was going to get my money no matter how much I played, so I wasn't at all chagrined.

WHILE I WAS WAITING to perform, I went out into the gym lobby and looked over the class picture montages for the past 60 years. Whoa, if that doesn't cause one to ponder the passage of time. There were many people I recognized. There they all were, looking dignified and hopeful like most high school seniors do. And you wonder what happened to them all.


Kids



A busload of 48 children showed up from Mahnomen yesterday morning. They had called ahead, but of course, what can you do to prepare for 48 little kids?

We split the group--Joe took half and I took half. In these situations, you can hardly spend the tour going over the intricacies of horticulture. So, I took them to see mama swan on her nest, and I took them through the big refrigerator where we keep our trees cold and asleep, and I showed them how to eat pansy blooms and finally, we planted up some impatiens in pots that they could take home.

The chaperones had just met the kids that morning, so when one would go running off they couldn't even yell their name. Instead, it was, "Hey you! Come back here!" Not too effective.

With machinery and customers cars driving around, I was a bit of a wreck. Kids darting out everywhere, utterly oblivious to danger. But they were sweet, and for most of the tour, I was holding somebody's hand.