FIFTY OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED LEADERS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
FIFTY OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED LEADERS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
Join us on Thursday, October 13, for Minnesota’s 50 Over 50 celebration event. Tickets available at bit.ly/50Over50Event.
PEOPLE WHO DON’T ADHERE TO THE BELIEF THAT YOU HAVE TO BE UNDER FORTY, THIRTY, OR TWENTY TO BLAZE A TRAIL OR SHAKE THINGS UP.
Earlier this year, more than 350 people visited 50Over50MN.org to nominate leaders in their community in one of five categories: arts & culture, nonprofit, business, community building, and disruptor. A transparent cohort of distinguished peers then took on the near impossible task of narrowing down the list to fifty of the most inspiring and accomplished leaders from across the state.
Meet AARP Minnesota and Pollen’s 2016
DISRUPTOR: Ann Bancroft, Gail Chang Bohr, Scott Cole, Michael Matthew Ferrell, Sam Grant, Lorrie Janatopoulos, Paula Maccabee, Sandra Menefee Taylor, Eric Schnell, Dr. Douglas Wendland
ARTS: Betsy Bowen, Luisa Cabello-Hansel, Ananya Chatterjea, Bill Cottman, Carolyn Holbrook, Judy Hornbacher, Ranee Ramaswamy, Bill Svendsgaard, Laurie Van Wieren, Bee Yang
NONPROFIT: Terri Barreiro, Jodi Harpstead, Candice Harshner, Fran Heitzman, Kausar Hussain, Val Johnson, Matt Kramer, Margaret Lovejoy, Rebecca Rom, Paul Williams
COMMUNITY: Sylvia Allen, Marvin Roger Anderson, Bev Bales, Dr. Rose Wan-Mui Chu, Arlene El Amin, Linda Krug, Philip McNairy, Dr. Kusum Saxena, Wyman (Wy) Spano, Verna Toenyan
BUSINESS: “Famous Dave” Anderson, David Beito, Marcia Ballinger, Kim Bartmann, Ralph Bernstein, Lynn Casey, Daniel Klassen, Holly Morris, Richard Murphy Jr., Philomena Morrissey Satre
Shattering stereotypes with a series of firsts
At 60, Ann Bancroft’s impressive accomplishments include being the first woman to cross the ice to the North Pole on foot and by dogsled (she was with seven men and 49 male dogs!). Ann also led the first women’s expedition to the South Pole, making her the first known woman to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles. She led the first American women’s east to west crossing of Greenland and with Norwegian polar explorer, Liv Arnesen, became the first women in history to sail and ski across Antarctica. Ann is now shattering aging stereotypes with a new expedition, Access Water, which has brought together a team of women from six continents to raise awareness of the world’s critical water issues. When the expedition wraps up in 2026 with a journey to Antarctica, Ann will be in her 70s.
GAIL CHANG BOHR
A commitment to seeing justice served
It’s never too late. At 72, Gail Chang Bohr is living proof. A social worker eager to better serve children, she enrolled in law school in her 40s, eventually becoming the executive director of the Children’s Law Center, where she helped train hundreds of volunteer lawyers and changed the way children are represented in the foster care system and in court. Then, because she believed the state’s judicial bench needed to reflect the fast-growing diversity of the Twin Cities, she applied to become a judge—several times. Although she never got past the review committee, she didn’t give up. Instead, she ran for an open judicial seat and, in 2008, became Ramsey County’s first Asian American judge.
Ensuring economic and social equity
CEO and co-founder of Collectivity, co-director of MNvest, and board co-chair of the Twin Cities chapter of Social Enterprise Alliance, Scott Cole, 60, works tirelessly to achieve his vision of a purpose-driven economy that creates equity for all. By helping nonprofits, communities, and government to effectively use technology, they accelerate and amplify their mission impact. This work requires artfully building relationships with many local organizations, like Impact Hub MSP, minne* and GREATER MSP. Scott championed the new state law called MNvest, which disrupted conventional financing options that favor the status quo. As a result, social sector and small businesses can now raise money via crowdfunding.
Michael Matthew Ferrell
A playlist that begins with “Forever Young”
Fifty-six year-old Michael Matthew Ferrell is disrupting aging by helping people be seen and heard at a time when they often feel invisible. A three-time Ivey-award-winning director/choreographer and winner of a WCCO Making A Difference award, Michael is the founder of Alive and Kickin, an ensemble that is redefining aging, honoring seniors, and inspiring all. The ensemble features performers 65 to 91 years young, all of whom sing their hearts out in four-part harmony to entertain audiences of all ages and give voice to seniors through personal stories and popular songs. The results are heartwarming—and inspiring—for performers and audiences alike and a good reminder that we are never too old to rock ‘n roll.
Impact has no boundaries
Unsung hero. Regional treasure. Unstoppable. These are just three of the ways disrupter Sam Grant, 53, is described. A change maker, Sam works at the intersections of cultural, economic, and environmental justice. Sam has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University, since 1990. He also leads Everybody In, serves as faculty director for HECUA’s environmental sustainability program, and facilitates work on intercultural understanding and racial and cultural healing as a private consultant. Sam’s reach also extends far beyond Minnesota thanks to his global work facilitating deep democracy and developing eco-villages in Africa.
Rooted in community, dedicated to equity
As planning director of Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, a Community Action Agency with an anti-poverty mission, Lorrie Janatopoulos, 59, has spent nearly two decades developing services for those most in need: the homeless, job seekers, the very young, and the very old. But her commitment to the region extends beyond her job. She has run for elective office twice and is a 2016 Bush Fellow. She is also a founder and board member of Rural and American Indigenous Leadership, a nonprofit committed to growing women leaders in rural and American Indigenous communities in northeastern Minnesota. Lorrie is a lifelong community activist working for women, children, and the LGBT community. While the issues she raises—gender parity and LGBT rights, for instance—are no laughing matter, Lorrie uses humor to challenge long-held beliefs and tap into the transformative power of personal change for the good of all.
Proving that big fights can be won
Since graduating from Yale Law School in 1981, 59-year-old Paula Maccabee has been a tireless champion of human rights, environmental quality and women’s and children’s health. After thirty-five years working as a trial lawyer, a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and a St. Paul City councilmember, Paula could have retired. Instead, she launched Just Change Law to ensure nonprofits and small sustainable businesses have access to the high-caliber legal representation typically only available to large corporations. Minnesota citizens, communities, and the environment are glad she did. Paula’s efforts recently forced Koch Industries, a $100-billion company, to reroute a crude oil pipeline so it wouldn’t contaminate an Eagan organic farm. Now, she’s working on behalf of a small nonprofit in a David vs. Goliath fight to protect the water of Minnesota’s Lake Superior Basin from sulfide mining pollution.
Sandra Menefee Taylor
A lifelong artist known for honoring undervalued sources of wisdom, Sandra Menefee Taylor has been using art to disrupt the status quo since the 1970s, when she and 36 other women artists founded the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) and the WARM Gallery. WARM played an important role in the early feminist art movement in the U.S. Maintaining independence from the art academy, she frequently seeks collaboration with other artists and non-artists, and her projects addressing land and food issues predate the current “locavore” movement by decades. Now 78, Sandra has partnered with the Wilder Foundation, using art to disrupt views of aging and memory loss and to reveal the creative capacity within everyone.
Because accessibility equals freedom
Eric Schnell, 51, easily pivots across stereotypical dichotomies: techie and humanist, big picture thinker and get-in-the-trenches doer, savvy business mind, and warm nonprofit heart. He is just as comfortable analyzing data as he is lending an ear to those in need. And as a disruptor, he courageously takes on new roles and challenges, embracing opportunities to reinvent not only himself, but also our society—especially when it comes to keeping people independent. Driven by a desire to help his oldest son, a young man with an amazing array of talents and unlimited potential whose autism prevents him from getting a driver’s license, Eric is working with SelfDrivingUS to expand access and inclusion by bringing accessible, affordable, and reliable transportation freedom to people with disabilities.
Dr. Douglas Wendland
At the forefront of disease management
Ebola is a severe, often fatal, disease that sends people fleeing, even doctors. But not 65-year-old Dr. Douglas Wendland. In 2014, he suspended his own practice to accept a position with the World Health Organization and moved to Sierra Leone, one of countries hit hardest by the most recent Ebola epidemic. When he returned and celebrated his 65th birthday, many people expected him to retire. But not Dr. Douglas Wendland. He continues to ride his bike to and from work as medical director of St. Luke’s Occupational Health, where he treats and develops response strategies for occupational illnesses and injuries, and also investigates clusters of diseases that may be work-related.
Art matters, age doesn’t
On the North Shore, 69-year-old Betsy Bowen stands out as even more iconic than her widely recognized woodcuts. That’s because her creativity could fill Lake Superior, and also because of her vocal (and financial) support for the region’s vast array of writers, painters, photographers, performers, and more. She enthusiastically encourages every artist she encounters to “go for it.” In addition to giving birth to her own creative work, Betsy helped establish Good Harbor Hill Players and their ongoing winter and summer solstice pageants, drawing audiences of hundreds to the North House Folk School, in which she is also active. Other involvements over her decades of life in Minnesota include Cook County Whole Foods Coop, Grand Marais Art Colony, and various community projects. And, of course, the conversion of a historic local church into Betsy Bowen Gallery and Studios, with work and display spaces for a variety of local artists that draws art lovers to linger in Grand Marais.
Here’s why. And how.
Exuberant, creative, and determined, 72-year old Bill Cottman turns “retirement” into “refirement.” And that’s a good thing for North Minneapolis, where Bill simultaneously shines light on both life’s beauty and its injustice, always with creativity, poignancy, and grace. Whether hosting Saturday morning’s “Mostly Jazz” on KFAI, exhibiting his photos at K’s Deli, writing poetry at Avenue Eatery, or attending a board meeting at Juxtaposition Arts, Bill represents a force for good. Never afraid to say what he thinks, Bill challenges those around him to be—and do—better, all while asking two simple, yet thought-provoking questions: Why? And How? For answers, you have only to turn to Bill’s writing, photos, and videos.
St. Louis Park
Because prison shouldn’t rob people of their creativity
When Bill Svendsgaard retired from University of Minnesota Extension in 2002, he never imagined himself teaching art in Minnesota’s prisons. Yet that’s exactly what the 77-year-old ball of energy does, often leaving home before sunrise to ensure ample time to pass through the multifaceted security system of his prison workplaces. Once inside, he helps a wide range of individuals—some barely adults, others incarcerated for decades—discover their inner artist. One project involved making greeting cards: male offenders created artwork on the front of the cards and then mailed them to their children. The kids then drew on the back. Even a simple project such as this gives prisoners a much-needed sense of control and a chance to process their emotions while expressing their hopes and dreams.
Laurie Van Wieren
Giving dance a chance
For 30 years, Laurie Van Wieren, 65, has been a creative force with performances of her choreography stretching across the Twin Cities, the nation, and Europe. Her monthly showcase, 9×22 Dance/Lab, represents the preeminent performance platform for local and visiting choreographers. She’s developed work for the Walker Art Center’s Open Field performance, which highlighted 100 local choreographers, and has curated performances for the Southern, Ritz, Bryant Lake Bowl Theaters and SooVAC. A wide range of notable philanthropic organizations have bestowed fellowships on Laurie, including the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Her next work is an evening at the Southern Theater this November.
Planting seeds of beauty
Luisa Cabello-Hansel, artistic director of the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, uses art to unite one of the Twin Cities’ most diverse and challenging neighborhoods. Each Wednesday evening, the 63-year-old welcomes people to Semilla Center’s open studio to share conversation, laughter, and sometimes tears as they work together to create art that reflects their greatest hopes and fears. She also sends “art pollinators” out into the neighborhood. Last year alone, they engaged dozens of residents to create four colorful murals that brighten lives and renew spirits. Now Luisa, co-pastor of St. Paul’s, plants the semilla (seeds) of her philosophy by organizing similar teams in other Twin Cities churches.
An active citizenry for dance
Founder and choreographer of Ananya Dance Theatre, a company created for female dancers of color, Ananya Chatterjee, 52, practices her art at the intersections of choreography, pedagogy, and activism. Using the language of contemporary Indian dance, her works express the hidden lives of women on the margins and explore some of our society’s most pressing issues: social justice, resource depletion, and corporate pillaging of indigenous lands. A celebrated dance scholar and University of Minnesota teacher, Ananya’s rallying cry calls us to engage in what she considers, “an active citizenry for dance,” using the art form to communicate the real, often ugly, conditions of our lives; to reimagine—and ideally create—a more equitable, beautiful world.
The write stuff
As a writer, educator, and long-time advocate, Carolyn Holbrook, 71, believes in the healing power of the arts. Long ago she adopted a personal mission to use her writing to build community and equity in the Twin Cities, most notably among historically marginalized communities. Carolyn founded SASE: The Write Place in 1993 to support writers of racial and cultural minorities. She also designed the writers-in-the-schools program for the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. Her passion for providing grassroots accessibility to the literary arts has strengthened and diversified the local literary community, opening doors and providing opportunities to communities historically underserved by the arts. Through her own creative work, Carolyn shows us that we are not alone in our struggles for equity and that by sharing our own stories, we can create real change.
Fashioning an artful life
At 74, Judy Hornbacher exudes more energy than most people half her age. With a background in theater and education, Judy worked for many years as an arts consultant to the Minneapolis Public Schools, then served as associate principal of North High, successfully graduating many in the visual and performing arts. As president of the Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries, she launched projects to raise funds, increase awareness, and diversify board membership. And she shows no signs of slowing down. In 2015 she launched Judy Hornbacher Designs: Clothing for the Evolved Woman, which offers beautifully-made, customized coats and jackets designed to make women of all ages and stages look and feel great.
Sharing the magic and beauty of dance with all
Although she began dancing at the age of seven, Ranee Ramaswamy didn’t start performing professionally until after moving to Minnesota at the age of 27. She was born in South India, and grew up studying the traditional dance of her culture, but it was not something that she was encouraged to pursue as a career. She is now one of the foremost exponents of the classical south Indian dance form, Bharatanatyam. Ranee has worked tirelessly for the last four decades to find a place for Bharatanatyam in the landscape of American dance, and founded Ragamala Dance Company in 1992. Today, that company stands among our nation’s finest, and Ranee, now 64, still actively performs and tours with Ragamala. The recipient of many awards and honors, Ranee currently serves on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Preserving and celebrating a culture’s language and life
Sixty-year-old Bee Yang inspires both young and old with the beauty and depth of his Hmong song poetry, expanding the boundaries of poetic understanding and celebrating a language and worldview that is in danger of becoming lost. Through his art, Bee documents the history and reality of Hmong culture, drawing upon his experiences as a young boy in the villages of Laos, a teenager fleeing persecution, a refugee in Thai camps, and an immigrant building a new future in America. At festivals and other public gatherings, Bee gifts his people—and the rest of us—the poet’s perspective on the human heart and reminds us that what really matters is the journey we take to realize our own self-worth.
Retired, not retiring
Terri Barreiro, 67, shows no sign of aging out of the important work she does in the nonprofit sector. Recently retired founding director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, she led the charge to establish Impact Hub MSP, a membership-based community of entrepreneurs, activists, and others who are addressing our community’s most pressing needs. A member of the organization’s board, she also serves as its “whatever-it-takes” officer, spending three days a week fundraising, developing partnerships, and coaching members. No wonder she says she flunked retirement. Terri’s also played a key role in the formation and success of eleven other local nonprofits including the Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she worked for two decades. In her “down time” Terri also teaches classes on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Creating better ways to serve Minnesotans of all ages
After a successful 24-year career as a corporate executive, 57-year-old Jodi Harpstead, now CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS), is working to tackle one of Minnesota’s most pressing issues: youth homelessness. One way she’s doing so is via her organization’s Duluth Center for Changing Lives, which broke ground earlier this year and is expected to become a model for ending youth homelessness in Minnesota. But Jodi’s focus isn’t only on the young. Under her leadership, LSS has also developed Abundant Aging, a statewide initiative to help older Minnesotans stay in their homes and continue to contribute to their communities. Both LSS programs are perfect examples of “neighbors taking care of neighbors,” a philosophy Jodi firmly believes can help all people live full, meaningful lives.
Healing and empowering women through advocacy and counseling
Candice Harshner, 67, is the executive director of Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, a nonprofit rape crisis center in southern St. Louis County that is committed to ending sexual violence in the county. Under Candice’s leadership, the organization has become a national leader in innovative delivery of sexual assault support services. Through collaborations with hospitals, police, county attorneys, and government entities, Candice’s work has a ripple effect of inspiring others to treat sexual violence survivors with dignity and respect. Candice bridges divides in the social service system, increasing safety for the most vulnerable members of her community, those disproportionately affected by sexual abuse and violence.
Bringing good people together to make good things happen
Thirty years ago, Fran Heitzman, a former business owner and entrepreneur, spent his days as a church custodian. Today, at the age of 91, he spends his days moving furniture for Bridging, the nonprofit organization he founded in 1987. Billed as the “largest furniture bank in the country,” Bridging provides new and gently used furniture to people in need, so far helping transform more than 75,000 households into heartwarming homes (and saving millions of pounds of waste from entering our state’s landfills). Fran defies outdated beliefs about aging by working six days a week at Bridging, greeting and shopping with clients, meeting with donors, and speaking to groups. No wonder he says his calendar is so full. His heart is, too, thanks to his oft-repeated philosophy of life: “When good people get together and do good things, then good things happen!”
Protecting the rights of Minnesota’s Islamic community
Islamophobia. To many Minnesotans, it’s an everyday problem. Thank goodness for 51-year-old Kausar Hussain, board chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN), a free legal services nonprofit that helps racial, religious, and ethnic minorities facing discrimination. Under Kausar’s leadership, the organization resolves nearly 200 cases each year. Some are related to hate crimes and vandalism, others to racial and religious profiling, employment discrimination, and school bullying. CAIR-MN also fosters understanding through its “Know Your Rights” training for individuals and “Positive Interactions” training for employers. Not afraid to challenge the status quo, Kausar is the first woman to run for president of a Minnesota mosque, thus becoming a role model for all Minnesota Muslim girls and women.
Water: a refreshing way to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s philanthropists
New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson, 58, took a big risk in 2010 when she left a 35-year-career to co-found H20 for Life, a nonprofit that provides schools, youth groups, and faith-based organizations with service-learning opportunities that raise awareness of the world’s water crisis. Students raise money—over $1 million so far—to fund water, sanitation, and hygiene education for schools in the developing world. Val also founded Roundabout Ventures to help nonprofits in the water and sanitation sector find new funding sources. She also serves as the North American representative of Rotary International’s Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group.
A St. Paul community champion
Fifty-five-year-old Matt Kramer, president of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, works tirelessly to ensure a strong, vibrant community for all. That means developing action-oriented solutions to help our region retain talented professionals of color. It also means helping to launch East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership of businesses, cities, and counties, all working together to bring more and better transit to St. Paul’s East Metro to catalyze job growth and economic development. Matt was an early—and vocal—supporter of the St. Paul’s CHS Field and its new proposed major league soccer stadium. He also serves on the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and is a board member of Como Friends and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Providing a place for families in transition
Fifteen years ago, Margaret Lovejoy, now age 73, cashed in her retirement accounts to create The Family Place, a St. Paul day center for families without permanent housing for which she has since raised more than $6 million. The center provides meals and a safe, comfortable learning environment for people of all ages to enhance their living situation. The center also features the nation’s only Montessori program for children in transition, a leadership program for youth, as well as a 16-week life skills course for parents. Topics include parenting, wellness, financial literacy, and tenant rights, a subject area that shows families just how much The Family Place believes this is a temporary period in their lives as they move to a new home.
A lifelong commitment to saving the wilderness
In 1963, Rebecca Rom was featured in the national magazine Seventeen for arguing in favor of the Wilderness Act at her Ely high school on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Fifty years and a full career later, Rebecca returned to Ely and founded the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a national coalition of “wilderness warriors” speaking out to gain permanent protection for the area. Past president of The Wilderness Society governing council and current vice chair of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Rebecca, now 67, enjoys canoeing and skiing in the area she helps protect for future generations.
Continually driving Minnesota improvements
Fifty-three-year-old Paul Williams is a man with a mission: to make Minnesota better. When he worked at the St. Paul Foundation, “better” meant creating a culturally-specific endowment serving Minnesota’s Native American, Pan-African, Latino, and Asian communities. When he worked at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, “better” meant investing in safer and more vibrant inner city neighborhoods. When he was St. Paul’s Deputy Mayor, “better” meant ensuring investment in the areas around the new light rail line. And now, as the CEO of Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit that helps low-income people become self-reliant, “better” means helping people find both employment and affordable housing.
An unstoppable community force
At nearly 80, Sylvia Allen still runs the integrated marketing, sponsorship, and events production business she founded nearly 40 years ago. Most people would consider that enough. Not Sylvia. She also runs the Butler Building, a historic opera house in Aitkin that she purchased and completely restored to its original grandeur. And dozens of community events, ranging from Aitkin’s weekly Farmers’ Market to its annual Harvest Moon Brew Fest. And Sylvia’s Children, a nonprofit she founded to improve the lives of a 1,000+ children in Uganda. Instead of slowing down, Sylvia has “doubled down,” spending almost every hour of every day making her community—and our world—a better place.
Marvin Roger Anderson
Keeping a community’s stories alive
At 76, Marvin Roger Anderson’s vitality, creativity, and community spirit are an inspiration for everyone he meets. Nowhere is this truer than in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood where Marvin is the co-founder of Rondo Avenue Inc. and the brains behind Rondo Days, a festival that celebrates the best and brightest of the African-American community’s stories, achievements, and culture. And while others might be content to rest on their laurels, Marvin’s not. He’s now leading a new effort to design and construct the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, a community space for contemplation, education, and inspiration. At the corner of Fisk Street and Old Rondo Avenue, the plaza will feature interactive displays and kiosks that tell the history of how neighbors worked together to rebuild their community.
Lighting the way to better lives
Sixteen-year Douglas County Commissioner Bev Bales, 79, is a true community leader. Whether serving as a “forceful voice” on the Douglas County Hospital board, launching the Yellow Ribbon program to support local military members and their families or leading her county to a first-place victory in the National Association of Counties’ “Change a Light” energy efficiency contest, Bev is a tireless advocate for her community. Each cause and organization she supports, including the county’s four senior centers, feels it gets her undivided attention. Bev also has a gift for making people feel special. For over 40 years, she has called a local radio station five days a week to send birthday and anniversary greetings to more than 1,300 residents in Douglas County.
Dr. Rose Wan-Mui Chu
Improving the quality of education for urban learners and students of color
Fifty-five-year-old Dr. Rose Wan-Mui Chu left her career as an engineer to dedicate her professional life to the tireless pursuit of education equity and excellence, starting as a classroom teacher. Now a faculty member at the Metropolitan State University’ School of Urban Education, Rose has provided tremendous leadership to a teacher preparation program to increase the number of teachers of color and better prepare all teachers to ensure quality education to urban learners. Her leadership extends to her long history of community service, which includes the Dragon Festival (co-founder) and former Asian American Renaissance (board chair). Currently she is a founding board vice chair of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, a new initiative to harness the power of Minnesota’s emerging and experienced Asian American leaders.
Arlene El Amin
Standing strong for all Muslims
Twenty years ago, Arlene El Amin, now 70, shifted the trajectory of her life—and that of many others—by leaving behind her business career to join Masjid An Nur mosque in North Minneapolis. Although Minnesota has 62 different mosques and Islamic organizations, Arlene is the only African-American woman running one. No wonder she’s become a beacon of light and hope for young girls and women from all cultures. She’s also a beacon of light and hope for our entire community, thanks to Day of Dignity, a Muslim festival that includes free food, clothes, haircuts, health checkups, legal advice, and substance abuse counseling, as well as entertainment for people of all ages. The festival is just one way Arlene is helping to build a bridge to a more inclusive community, a goal she also works toward by serving on the national board of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Giving back to strengthen our state’s judicial infrastructure
Following an outstanding career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where she served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Linda Krug could have embraced retirement. Instead, she dove headfirst into a second career of extraordinary community service, serving on the Duluth City Council and the Governor’s Commission on Judicial Selection. A “non-lawyer at large” member of the commission, 58-year-old Linda reviews every application for all of Minnesota’s District Court openings, vets and interviews semi-finalists, and makes recommendations to the governor. In the process, she travels approximately 5,000 miles a year. Her only compensation is the pride that comes from knowing she and the commission have helped fill more than 110 judicial appointments with an emphasis on qualified women and people of color.
Community that extends far beyond the walls
When 79-year old Phil McNairy arrived in Red Wing in 1993 as rector of Christ Episcopal Church, he set to work transforming the century-old building from a members-only place of prayer to a lively community center. He then extended the church’s reach by bringing its services to parks and other community places. Satisfied that his church was well-positioned to meet the needs of both members and residents, Phil then set about strengthening Red Wing. He joined the local Rotary Club and signed up to organize the River City Days Parade. He also joined the board of Red Wing Area Seniors and chaired the organization’s fundraising efforts for a new building. Now, as president of the Red Wing Sister Cities Commission, member of the local YMCA Foundation, and member of the MNSE Tech College Foundation , he is working hard to ensure everyone in Red Wing, including the city’s growing Hispanic population, feels welcome.
Dr. Kusum Saxena
Contributing gracefully and agelessly
Dr. Kusum Saxena, 83, is a community builder known for her willingness to talk about tough issues, including one of our society’s most taboo: death. As the first female foreign-born physician to serve as a staff physician in the Saint Paul-Ramsey Hospital (now Regions) emergency room and an Honoring Choices Minnesota multicultural advisory board member and community ambassador, Dr. Kusum Saxena is well-positioned to do so. Her message is simple: age shapes and perfects who you are as a person, and NOW is the time to talk to your loved ones about advance care planning and end-of-life decision-making. In addition to being a leader in Minnesota’s medical community, Dr. Kusum Saxena is a leader in the state’s Hindu community, having co-founded the Hindu Society of Minnesota in 1977. She is also a role model for girls and women of all cultures and backgrounds, including those in her native India.
Wyman (Wy) Spano
Taking care of one another through politics
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s a good thing that Wy Spano, 78, never put much stock in that idiom, preferring instead to embrace the Latin proverb, “You are never too old to learn.” Wy also believes you are never too old to teach, which is why, at 64, he and his wife, Marcia Avner*, launched a master’s program in Advocacy and Political Leadership at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. They moved to Metropolitan State University in 2014 and are now starting their 23rd cohort, with more than 200 graduates from this one-a-kind program. Nearly 90% of those graduates are working in nonprofit, labor, legislative, or governmental arenas. For Wy, that’s the best possible outcome. The program’s motto is, “politics is how we care for each other,” and most of their grads are using political knowledge to make lives better for all.
*Marcia Avner served on the ten-member selection committee but was assigned the nonprofit category and did not play a role in selecting Wy as an honoree.
Small-town advocate, big-time accomplishments
Verna Toenyan, 68, is a rural champion, fighting tirelessly to bring change and innovation to Minnesota’s small towns. Over the past few years, she mobilized volunteers and community members to lead the charge on one key initiative: public transportation. Thanks to these efforts, Todd County residents no longer have to rely on volunteers to get to church, the grocery store, or doctor appointments. Instead, they now enjoy access to affordable door-to-door bus service. Another key initiative Verna is rallying the community around: a nearly half-million-dollar grant from South Country Health Alliance to makeover the woefully out-of-date senior nutrition kitchen where thousands of meals are prepared each month in an effort to care for the area’s elderly, many of whom are both poor and frail.
“Famous Dave” Anderson
A rib above the rest
What makes 63-year-old Dave Anderson so famous? Countless professional and personal accomplishments, including his most well known achievement—creating and founding Famous Dave’s of America, his namesake BBQ franchise, now with 179 locations. Dave’s “against all odds” story has inspired millions—the journey of a Native American kid at the bottom half of his high school class that eventually earned a master’s degree from Harvard, without ever having received an undergraduate degree; his victory over alcohol abuse; his presidential appointment to the U.S. Department of the Interior to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs—all stand as testament to a remarkable individual. But Dave is also “quietly famous” to many, with his ongoing leadership work with at-risk youth and financial support of underprivileged teens to attend college. He and his wife Kathy have also created hope for individuals of all ages, by personally paying for chemical dependency treatment programs, and making it possible for a new start in life.
Thief River Falls
Fostering economic, civic, and educational health
At 55, Dave Beito remains more active in business—and his community—than ever. His five Thief River Falls area banks work hard to support the financial needs of individuals and businesses in northwestern Minnesota, adding to the economic health of the region. Dave recently teamed up with a former NHL player and a Canadian citizen to co-found the Thief River Falls Norskies Jr. A hockey team, whose inaugural season is 2016-2017. Dave helped initiate an annual Thief River Falls Day at the Capitol for the Thief River Falls Chamber of Commerce and served as Secretary/Treasurer of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, where he continues to serve on the Finance Committee. Most recently, Sanford Health elected Dave chairman of the board of trustees, allowing him an ideal platform from which to advance health care quality in Sanford’s multi-state and international footprint. Dave’s philanthropic interests include serving as chairman of his family’s Beito Foundation and as board member of the Hartz Foundation, which fund student scholarships and multiple civic improvements annually.
Marcia Ballinger, PhD
Helping organizations succeed through leadership transitions
Marcia Ballinger, 57, is cofounder of Ballinger | Leafblad, a St. Paul-based executive search firm with a unique focus: the civic sector. As such, she has helped scores of nonprofit organizations successfully navigate the challenge of leadership transitions. She’s worked with a variety of client organizations, including social service providers, foundations, higher education institutions, and member/professional organizations. In the process, Marcia challenges outdated beliefs about aging by helping both clients and candidates realize the value of third and even fourth “career chapters.” Casting an even wider reach, Marcia also co-authored the book The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, a go-to guide for people in career transition. She speaks frequently to groups and hosts an hourly call-in time to counsel business executives who seek to transition to the nonprofit sector.
A taste for business and community
If you dine out in the Twin Cities, chances are you’ve eaten at one of Kim Bartmann’s restaurants. Driven by a desire to create better work environments than she experienced as a young cook, the 53-year-old James Beard-nominated restaurateur has created a family of soulful, artistic, locally-sourced restaurants, including Barbette, Red Stag and Tiny Diner. All enable Kim to use her love of food and art to improve neighborhoods and support communities. Take Bryant Lake Bowl, for instance. Since its opening in 1993 and thanks to its unique business model, the restaurant has put more than $2 million directly in the hands of local artists.
Turning inward, giving outward
At 54, Ralph Bernstein finds himself in a completely new chapter of his life. That’s because, after 25+ years in banking, he started over, a journey that began with the sudden death of his wife. Looking around at the 600 people who attended her funeral, Ralph began thinking about reprioritizing his life to focus on relationships. When the family’s dog was killed a few months later, Ralph knew the time had come. He left his job. Shortly after, he bought a doggie daycare, in part as a way of giving back to those who had taken such good care of his dog—and of Ralph and his family—after his wife’s death. Next, Ralph reached out to a struggling entrepreneur and became his primary investor. Finally, he helped his two sons start a small business of their own. Although this new life chapter presents a few challenges, Ralph feels fortunate to realize his own dreams and in the process help others realize theirs.
Making meaningful connections for the good of all
PadillaCRT CEO Lynn Casey, 61, has witnessed the blurring of the lines between public relations, advertising, social media, and digital engagement. She also knows that humans long for meaningful connections. That’s one reason why the employee-owned firm gives every employee two paid half-days each year to assist nonprofit organizations and encourages active participation in community organizations of their choice. The agency also sets the pace among the region’s communications agencies with its generous pro-bono program, as well as a longstanding commitment to Minnesota Keystone, which recognizes companies that contribute at least 2% of pretax earnings in financial and in-kind contributions to the community. Lynn actively practices volunteerism herself, chairing the Greater Twin Cities United Way board of directors, and serving as vice chair of the University of Minnesota Foundation and as a member of the Itasca Project’s working team.
Making health challenges a footnote
Dan Klassen, 73, has Parkinson’s disease. Despite the challenges he faces on a daily basis—or perhaps because of them—Dan decided to use his software development skills to improve the lives of others. He’s developed a healthcare app and currently leads two major Small Business Innovation Research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health. Both projects improve the quality of life of those with dementia as well as their caregivers and family members via mobile games and reminiscence therapy, which involves discussing past activities, events, and experiences with others, usually with the help of tangible prompts such as photographs and music. Through it all, Dan turned his late-in-life challenges and personal experiences into an opportunity to improve the quality of life of patients and caregivers alike.
Bridging generations of IT expertise
At the tail-end of a successful career that included serving as chief information officer (CIO) for Thrivent Financial, American Express, and the City of Minneapolis, Holly Morris, 64, turned the tables and engaged a team of millennial “reverse mentors” to help her discern how cutting-edge technology can be used to improve both business and society. She understands technology’s impact on the quality of life the world over. She has personally witnessed the value of having IT professionals at the table. That’s why she advocates for placing more CIOs (and more women!) on corporate and foundation boards. To ensure students emerge from college proficient in technology, Holly sits on the advisory board of the University of St. Thomas Graduate Programs in Software and works closely with other Twin Cities tech executives to annually redesign the program’s curriculum.
Richard Murphy Jr.
A true renaissance man, lifelong learner Richard Murphy Jr., 64, has not only enjoyed multiple careers—as a landscape architect, teacher, business executive, amateur photographer, mentor, and industry and community leader—he has also managed to integrate them all, thanks in part to his position as president and CEO of Murphy Warehouse Company. The fourth-generation, family-owned business has grown 175% in warehouse space and 178% in revenue under Richard’s watchful eye, and the company now stands as one of the Upper Midwest’s largest asset-based logistics firms. The organization also enjoys the distinction as one of the nation’s greenest companies thanks to Richard’s commitment to environmental sustainability, which earned Murphy Warehouse Company LEED Gold and Energy Star certifications.
Philomena Morrissey Satre
Taking the crisis out of midlife
As an organizational development and diversity and inclusion leader at Wells Fargo, Philomena Morrissey Satre, 54, radiates passion for an often overlooked dimension of diversity. She is member of the Twin Cities Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable Steering Committee and board chair of SHIFT. She champions business cultures that accept difference because it results in better decision-making, innovative solutions, and provides a competitive advantage in the market place. Satre is an adjunct professor in the St. Catherine University’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program where she gives people of all ages the skills they need to advance their careers.
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All of us at Pollen and AARP Minnesota owe a great deal of thanks to our selection committee for all the time and energy they invested in helping us bring 50 Over 50 to life.