FIFTY OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED LEADERS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
FIFTY OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED LEADERS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
INTRODUCING 50 EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE WHO ARE SHATTERING MYTHS ABOUT AGING AND WRITING THEIR OWN RULES.
The 2019 50 Over 50 list celebrates and recognizes Minnesotans over the age of 50 who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.
Join us on Thursday, October 17, for Minnesota’s 50 Over 50 celebration event. Tickets available at 201950over50.eventbrite.com.
Introduction by Sue Crolick
My mom lay dying in hospice. She was 102 years old, frail and weak, but there was something she still wanted to do.
So my brother raised her bed, put on her eyeglasses, and handed her an absentee ballot for the 2018 midterms. We watched as she struggled to sign her name. All she could manage were little squiggles, but those squiggles made her ballot count. Mom was a woman who kept going, kept striving, and—even the day before she died—tried to make a difference.
Maybe I had some of Mom in me when, in my early fifties, I was burning with a dream to help underserved kids.
For thirty years, I’d been an art director and designer. Now I wanted to quit my job and try something bonkers, something risky, something I had no idea how to do—start a nonprofit. Creatives in my field were supposed to peak in their forties. I was now in my fifties, but on fire with a new idea: inspire my fellow creative pros to mentor children, one-on-one. My rookie venture turned out to be crazy-hard at times—I had to struggle with mind-numbing databases, pretend to be an extrovert at fundraisers, schlep supplies to school boiler rooms, teach myself how to write grant proposals, and before that, teach myself how to type!
But I knew I wasn’t “over the hill,” just like many other older people who won’t let age limit their dreams. These are the people AARP and Pollen are celebrating, people driven by the belief that it’s never too late, you’re never too old, you can always keep working to make things better.
For the fourth year, AARP and Pollen are honoring 50 Minnesotans over the age of 50 who are making a big impact in our world.
They’re neighbors working hard to build stronger communities; artists who both create and help others do the same; business-minded folks who find solutions and create new opportunities; leaders who mobilize individuals and organizations toward positive change; and innovators who look at the status quo and say, “we can do better.”
We “oldies” are showing the world how much we still have to give, in mid-life and beyond. We’re erasing senior stereotypes, busting myths, celebrating our later years.
We’re not old folks in sepia-toned prints, we’re vibrant men and women living in full, rich color!
I keep thinking of my mom, who, right before she passed, still wanted to make her mark. Maybe, the day before I die, I’ll still have her kind of drive. Maybe I could even swing an election!
Join AARP Minnesota and Pollen at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, October 17, to honor and celebrate the 2019 50 Over 50 honorees. Tickets available now at 201950Over50.eventbrite.com.
Meet AARP Minnesota and Pollen’s 2019
DISRUPTORS: Cheryl Peterson, Dan Cramer, Elaine Wynne, Harry Hartigan, Jens Vange & Alan Howell, John Capecci, June Blue, Mary Lenard & Marge Ostroushko, Dr. Sharonne Hayes, Tene Wells
NONPROFIT: Christina Woods, Chuck Peterson, Dan Cain, Gary Schoener, Jessie Nicholson, Dr. Leo Lewis III, Luz María Frías, Michael Goar, Michael Norton, Pam Determan
BUSINESS: Al McFarlane, Brian Myres, Dave Mona, Laurie Houle, Lisa Deverell, Martha Pomerantz, Mickey Mikeworth, Phil Huston, Teresa Thomas, Tom McMullen Jr
ARTS: Dave Karr, Francis D.C. Stockwell, Jack Setterlund, Kim Kane, Luis Fitch, Maria Genné, Pam Gleason, Richard Hitchler, Rita Docter, Sherece Lamke
COMMUNITY: Jim Scheibel, Julie Eckhert, Kathy Jo Bissen, KaYing Yang, Lynn Goodrich, Marlise Riffel, Paul Benshoof, Dr. Sangeeta Jha, Sean Kershaw, Sylvia Bartley
The honorees in this category know that getting older doesn’t have to mean getting stuck in our ways. To them, “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t enough of a reason to stick with the status quo. They’re shaking up the ways we travel, live, play, learn, and take care of ourselves and each other. In fields ranging from medicine to community organizing to interior design, they’re showing that the over-50 crowd are fierce leaders for change.
Listening. It’s a simple act that delivers life-changing results. Just ask Cheryl Peterson of South St. Paul. At 55, she’s the executive director of Listening House, a St. Paul sanctuary where people who are homeless, disadvantaged or lonely come to find hope, community and connection. Though the organization’s space is humble, its goals are not. They include nurturing hope and strengthening personal resolve. All are welcome, which is one reason Listening House has been dubbed the “living room of the homeless.” In addition to her on-the-job responsibilities, Cheryl is a tireless advocate for social and racial justice, always challenging people, organizations and systems to better serve all those who live on the margins.
Where others crave attention, St. Paul’s Dan Cramer uplifts underdogs; where others value compliments, he delivers results; where others rest on their laurels, he develops new solutions. Minnesota is more socially just and equitable as a result. The co-founder of Grassroots Solutions, the 52-year-old is the brain behind some of Minnesota’s—and the nation’s—most successful progressive grassroots campaigns. He helped Senators Paul Wellstone and Tina Smith get elected, and he was a key strategist in Minnesota’s successful charge to become the nation’s first state to defeat the 2012 anti-marriage amendment for same-sex couples and the 12th to legalize same-sex marriage. His most recent innovation is WinPoint, an easy-to-use online tool that rethinks the way advocacy and organizing are done. He is also currently blogging with his wife Cassie at www.meaningandstuff.com to support other couples dealing with late stage cancer in their lives.
Dr. Sharonne Hayes
In 1974, eight Rochester junior high girls charged their school board with discrimination, citing the fact that the boys could play interscholastic sports while the girls could not. One of those young activists—Dr. Sharonne Hayes, now 60, has been disrupting the gender status quo ever since, first as a 19-year-old medical student (at a time when fewer than 20 percent of medical students were women), and now at Mayo Clinic, where she is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Director of Diversity and Inclusion. When she saw that men’s death rates from heart disease were dropping while women’s rates were rising, she founded Mayo’s Women’s Heart Clinic and helped launch WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Whether during face-to-face conversations, on national television or at the White House, Sharonne truly is an equal-rights healthcare hero.
Elaine Wynne, age 77 of Golden Valley, is a licensed psychologist with a strong interest in veterans; not only is she married to one and a sister to two, she spent a lot of her childhood at Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska, where her parents worked when she was growing up. In 2013 she was especially happy to receive a grant to study Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy on post-9/11 veterans. Elaine’s study demonstrated its effectiveness: of the 27 veterans she studied, 100 percent reported lessened PTSD symptoms, and 74 percent reported being symptom-free. Shortly thereafter, the Veteran’s Administration mandated at least one EMDR therapist at all VA facilities nationwide. A good start, but one that didn’t go far enough. So Elaine founded Veteran Resilience Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans and military service members recover from the hidden wounds of war.
If you think Twin Cities Pride is only for the young, 71-year-old Harry Hartigan of Minneapolis wants you to think again. That’s why he, with the help of AARP Minnesota, founded Boomer Town. Now a mainstay at Twin Cities Pride and a model being replicated at festivals nationwide, Boomer Town is a dedicated space where LGBTQ boomers—disproportionately affected by issues of stigma, isolation and unequal treatment—can make new friends and learn about helpful resources such as Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly and the Twin Cities chapter of Prime Timers, two organizations Harry has volunteered with for decades. But Harry also has a new calling: as a priest. He visits homebound elders in South Minneapolis each week, and often drives to Moose Lake and St. Peter, home to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, to offer spiritual support to incarcerated people he describes as “forgotten and out-of-sight.”
Jens Vange & Alan Howell
What do most people rate as the worst part of air travel? Airport restrooms. Since 2010, 50-year-old Alan Howell, a St. Paul senior airport architect with the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and 58-year-old Jens Vange, a Minneapolis architect with Alliiance, have been working hard to disrupt that notion. Thanks to their commitment to equitable design, all MSP Terminal 1 travelers—regardless of age or ability—can now attend to their most personal matters in privacy and comfort that includes improved lighting, slip-resistant floors and larger stalls that make it easier for travelers to maneuver themselves and their belongings. But the restrooms aren’t just practical, they’re beautiful. The two men are now designing companion-care restrooms complete with changing tables and a motion-sensor system that detects falls and automatically summons help. Their efforts are attracting attention: Other airports are requesting the design guidebooks they’ve developed, and MSP’s restrooms were recently named America’s best.
Dina suffered a stroke at 41. Rex lost his brother to an accidental opioid overdose. Katherine experienced severe delusions. Many people who experience the trauma of a health crisis, the tragedy of a loss or the downward spiral of an ongoing illness often become paralyzed by despair. But John Capecci is helping thousands of individuals disrupt their personal, often heartbreaking, experiences by transforming them into powerful advocacy. The Minneapolis 60-year-old is cofounder of Living Proof Advocacy and coauthor of Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference. He’s also codeveloper of a coaching model that is being used worldwide to help advocates—whatever their experiences—amp up the persuasive power of their stories in order to increase awareness, change minds, influence policy, pass legislation, raise money and more.
June Blue, age 56, St. Paul, honors, values and celebrates the accomplishments of all people—and urges others to do the same. A descendent of the White Earth Nation and a third-generation veteran, June challenges structures of power within the mainstream medical system and urges all people to be more respectful of Native Americans, people of color and our society’s elders. She also advocates for culturally appropriate methods of healing, including sweat lodges and indigenous medicines. She is co-creator of the Native American Healthy Aging Gathering, a free event held each summer that covers topics ranging from arthritis care to funeral planning. Thanks to her efforts, this year’s event featured welcome bags filled with sacred medicines, authentic indigenous foods prepared by a Native American chef, equitable stipends for all professionals and important sponsorships from local organizations dedicated to serving Minnesotans 50+.
Mary Lenard & Marge Ostroushko
Music changes lives. And that’s exactly why Mary Lenard, 59, Edina, and Marge Ostroushko, 68, Minneapolis, are leading Giving Voice, a nonprofit that equips organizations worldwide to bring together people with Alzheimer’s, as well as their caregivers, to sing in choruses. Their goal? To foster joy, well-being, purpose and understanding. As children of parents with dementia, they know only too well the toll the disease can take. They also know that music is a powerful tool that can disrupt the downward spiral of despair that often accompanies the disease. In just five years, Mary and Marge’s work has helped stimulate the growth of 28 new U.S. choruses, including choruses in Duluth, Granite Falls, Mankato, Rochester and Winona. Their work truly is changing lives—one song at a time.
A highly innovative and results-driven social entrepreneur, 66-year-old Tene Wells, Columbia Heights, believes all people have the power to create the lives they imagine. Her own life is a testament to that. Tene is a powerhouse organizer helping to address some of today’s most pressing issues, including crime prevention, school readiness and economic development. A former Bush Fellow, she’s also led efforts to grow several nonprofits, including Minneapolis Way to Grow, WomenVenture and the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families. Along the way, she’s mobilized thousands of volunteers, developed dozens of leaders and raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Still determined to make a difference, she recently earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs with an emphasis on social enterprise and business formation.
This group of leaders isn’t afraid to take on some of their communities’ most challenging issues. With passion and energy, they work tirelessly for change, and brush aside tired stereotypes about aging every step of the way. They’re having an impact in so many ways: healing bodies and minds, teaching much-needed new skills, and changing how we think about inclusivity. Most of all, they’re helping our communities learn from the past, live fully in the present, and prepare younger generations to lead into the future.
A member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Nation, 51-year-old Christina Woods of Duluth is executive director of the Duluth Art Institute, where she uses her leadership skills to promote inclusive community participation, especially in the area of underrepresented cultural narratives. Under her leadership, the Institute has celebrated the area’s finest artists while simultaneously challenging viewers to learn more about missing cultural narratives not typically available in gallery spaces. But the Institute isn’t the only place Christina is making a difference. She has created symposiums to help hundreds of people in Northeast Minnesota unpack social identity barriers that lead to unconscious biases. Christina also advocates for raising awareness of sex trafficking, an issue that exponentially affects Native women and girls. She has served on several nonprofit boards and helped the League of Women Voters, the Duluth Police Department and other organizations reduce implicit bias and become more inclusive.
Fifty-seven-year-old Chuck Peterson of Minneapolis was in his early teens when his brother returned home from Vietnam. But rather than a happy family reunion, Chuck witnessed a quiet conversation between his brother and his parents erupt into a loud argument that led his brother to storm out of the house. Why? Because his brother had shared a secret his parents couldn’t accept. Chuck had the same secret: He, too, was gay. Several years later, when he came out, he embarked on a lifelong quest to support others in the LGBTQ community. Today he is the executive director of Clare Housing, home to nearly 300 people living with and affected by HIV. Chuck’s also been instrumental in developing two Minnesota statewide plans: one to end HIV and another to end homelessness for all Minnesotans living with HIV—both goals to be achieved by 2025.
As a former heroin addict and three-time felon, Dan Cain’s resume could have meant a lifetime of closed doors. Instead, he got another chance thanks to Eden House. Since the day he arrived at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center 47 years ago, Dan, now age 71, has been sober. The St. Louis Park resident has also been the center’s president for the past three decades. During that time, Dan grew the nonprofit’s annual budget from a few hundred thousand dollars to more than $12 million. He also oversaw a successful merger with Reentry Services to create RS EDEN which, in addition to successful substance abuse treatment, now offers over 500 units of housing to individuals who are homeless. Two additional companies under Dan’s leadership are also making a difference: RSI Labs, which provides urinalysis testing services to businesses, and Fresh Grounds, a coffee shop that employs young people leaving treatment.
Dr. Leo Lewis III
A former Minnesota Viking player and scout who participated in numerous community-day events with the team, Dr. Leo Lewis III, age 63 of Eden Prairie, saw firsthand how sports improve kids’ lives. So, while still a member of the Vikings, he began providing free youth football camps. Then, in 1999, he launched Lewis Sports Foundation, a nonprofit that uses physical activity to help kids develop life skills and career goals. The foundation partners with other organizations and city programs to provide camps and educational sessions free of charge so that youth are exposed to a variety of sports, including ones from other cultures. The foundation also offers scholarships to student-athletes and grants to organizations that support them.
Minneapolis psychologist Gary Schoener has been involved with Walk-In Counseling Center since its inception 50 years ago—first as a volunteer, then for the next 37 years as executive director. Even today, at age 74, he remains involved, serving as the director of consultation and training for what is believed to be the world’s only completely free, anonymous, walk-in mental health counseling clinic where all services are provided by volunteer clinicians. By conservative estimates, the clinic has provided an impressive $26 million worth of counseling, creating an important safety net for Twin Cities people in need. But Gary’s reach extends beyond the clinic. An expert on professional boundaries and ethics—largely due to his willingness to believe client stories of the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of therapists, doctors, priests and others in positions of power—he speaks and consults throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Woodbury’s Jessie Nicholson, age 67, has been protecting the civil and legal rights of low-income Minnesotans for over 35 years. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, she was deeply influenced by her childhood pastor, Judge William Parker, Iowa’s first African American judge who spoke passionately about the need to “give back.” Since graduating in 1985 from William Mitchell College of Law, she’s been doing exactly that. She served first as a staff attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) focusing on immigration and housing discrimination. Later she became Deputy Executive Director and then ultimately, CEO of SMRLS. Jessie also protects the rights of Minnesotans in other ways: She serves in a leadership position with the Minnesota State Bar Association. She’s also a board member of the University of St. Thomas School of Law as well as a conciliator for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Luz María Frías
Luz María Frías, age 57 of Roseville, has lived a life of service that includes numerous nonprofit executive leadership positions. Her most recent was as CEO of YWCA of Minneapolis, where she oversaw a budget of nearly $25 million and a staff of over 500, all committed to eliminating racism, empowering girls and women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity. Prior to that, Luz was with the Minneapolis Foundation, where she was in charge of community impact. Luz has also served as a Minnesota Historical Society trustee, as co-chair of the Immigrant’s Rights Task Force and as CEO of Centro Legal. A noted public policy strategist and thought leader on race equity for more than 20 years, she speaks frequently on implicit bias and immigration public policy. She also helped develop the EMS Academy, which provides EMT training and certification to Twin Cities low-income youth of color as an employment pipeline for fire departments across the region.
Michael Goar, age 52 of Saint Paul, grew up in a Korean orphanage, placed there by his biological parents, a U.S. soldier and Korean woman. While there, a volunteer mentor instilled in him the hope of a better life. At age 12, with limited English, he was adopted and brought to Minneapolis, where he worked hard to do well in school. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s since dedicated his life to mentoring and educating young people. Now the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities, he was previously superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools and executive director of Generation Next, a Twin Cities nonprofit committed to helping underserved youth. Michael currently serves on several nonprofit boards, including the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Genesys Works, and Black Men Teach. He is also a member of the Twin Cities Public Television executive committee and board of trustees.
Sixty-five-year-old Michael Norton, Britt, is the Energizer Bunny of the Iron Range: a tireless volunteer who keeps going and going, Michael serves on the United Way board, helps organize an annual white elephant sale at his church and dishes up twice-monthly dinners at his local Salvation Army. He also energetically recruits volunteers for a variety of other activities that impact residents of all ages. One such program is Buddy Backpack, which provides a backpack full of nutritious food to school children at risk of going hungry over the weekends or while on holiday breaks. Michael also extends his loving care to veterans, routinely driving over 400 miles, regardless of the weather, to make sure these men and women, some now in their 90s, never miss a scheduled appointment at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.
Helping others get the most out of their lives. That’s what excites 66-year-old Pam Determan of Mankato. Described as a dynamo, she is the driving force behind VINE Adult Community Center, a nonprofit that helps people over 50 “age to the max.” VINE grew out of a graduate-school writing assignment that led Pam to buy a five-story building for $1. Then she raised several million more to transform it into a senior center that offers educational programs, social outings and a fitness center complete with a warm-water swimming pool and walking track. Thanks to Pam, VINE also has a literacy program for immigrants, respite care for those with memory loss, meal delivery, tax-preparation help, a volunteer-based transportation system and a wide range of activities so people can pursue their passions, no matter their age.
Building success in business isn’t just the domain of the young. These 10 honorees have built their own businesses, wealth for their clients, and opportunity for their communities. They’re the kind of folks who use their experience to find new solutions to old problems. They aren’t afraid to take chances, and care enough to give younger folks their first chances for success. The bottom line? They’re showing that we can all be bullish about finding success in our later years.
Al McFarlane, age 72 of Minneapolis, founded Insight News 45 years ago in the basement of his North Minneapolis home to provide a voice for the voiceless and to help Twin Cities African American community members see themselves as business, civic and community leaders. Under Al’s leadership, the weekly newspaper—which he still runs—has won numerous awards from the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association. But the paper isn’t the only way Al keeps people informed. He also hosts “Conversations with Al McFarlane,” each Tuesday on KFAI. Al is also the founder of the Insight2Health Fitness Challenge, an innovative, cross-sector program that introduces people of all ages to healthy lifestyles. He’s known as a generous man with a kind heart, credited with giving many young people their first jobs.
Brian Myres, age 61, of Clear Lake, is taking great pride in failing miserably at retirement. Many businesses and organizations in the greater St. Cloud region are happy he is. Having spent the first 36 years of his career in the banking industry, Brian has in-depth knowledge of how to grow and improve companies. So, when he “retired” in 2014, he immediately launched Myres Consulting to help foster growth, improve processes and create world-class brand experiences. He also joined DAYTA Marketing as chief operating officer; among other duties, he mentors the digital agency’s 30+ employees. A tireless contributor of his time, talent and treasures, he’s currently championing a Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation fellowship program to engage “retired” people like himself, Brian is a hard person to say no to, thanks to his oft-spoken closing line: “If not you, who?”
Dave Mona, age 76 of Edina, a 40-year veteran of corporate and agency public relations, is the founder of Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin, now Weber Shandwick, the world’s second-largest PR agency. In recognition of his accomplishments, he was inducted into the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame when he retired as the agency’s chairman of the board in 2013. But PR isn’t the only arena in which Dave’s been a leader. He’s also served as University of Minnesota Alumni Association president, trustee of the Minnesota Medical Foundation and board chair of Meet Minneapolis. He currently serves on the boards of the Minnesota State Fair Foundation, the Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau and VocalEssence. A lifelong sports enthusiast, Dave helped bring the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four to Minnesota in 1992 and chaired the Minnesota 2015 U.S. Senior Games. You can hear him on WCCO Radio’s “Sports Huddle” with Sid Hartman every Sunday morning.
Laurie Houle, age 63 of Woodbury, has played a key role in transforming Metropolitan Gravel Company—a company started in the early 1960s by her husband’s parents—from a two dump-truck excavation business into a $25-million-a-year enterprise with over 50 employees and an impressive list of clients that includes Twin City Concrete, Viet and Xcel Energy. She’s done everything from purchasing land and overseeing construction of new offices, to implementing software, including a robust accounting system. And when her husband died unexpectedly just months after being diagnosed with cancer, Laurie picked up the pieces and kept the business not only running … but growing. Now, she’s working on passing it on to her children.
A Land O’Lakes executive with 30 years of hands-on experience, 53-year-old Lisa Deverell of Woodbury has a track record of delivering year-over-year growth by partnering with both internal and external customers to identify opportunities. Her devoted colleagues consider her to be transparent, approachable and engaged. They also appreciate how she strives to truly understand and support them, both on and off the job. Lisa was one of the pioneers in establishing a Land O’Lakes employee resource group to help women succeed through all ages and stages of their careers. In addition to her colleagues, Lisa is dedicated to her family, serving as a caregiver for both her and her husband’s parents. She’s also an advocate for a world in which aging is viewed—and embraced—in radically more positive ways than in the past.
In her 50s, Martha Pomerantz, Minnetonka, took a big risk. She left a subsidiary of a Fortune 100 bank and took a pay cut to become a partner at Evercore Wealth Management, establishing the firm’s office in Minneapolis. That risk paid off; Evercore Wealth Management has almost tripled in size and now manages $8.3 billion in assets for families, foundations and endowments across the U.S. Martha, now 60, is one of the seven members of the firm’s national strategic planning committee. Additionally, she serves on the asset allocation committee and heads the regional development of a robust educational program that includes the firm’s Wise Women speaker series. Martha generously shares her knowledge and her time to help others achieve their financial goals. She serves on many boards and is currently treasurer of the Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable.
Prosperity. That’s what it’s all about for 52-year-old Mickey Mikeworth of Minneapolis, a financial pro who speaks, teaches and consults on how to manifest and enjoy wealth. In fact, she developed a prosperity business model that’s being used by over 50 brands, some of which credit it with helping them become multimillion-dollar companies. People love her: she’s had a 98.9 percent client-retention rate over the past decade and her 1,500 private coaching sessions sold out last year in just 20 minutes. When asked how she helps people manifest success, she cites her superpowers—vulnerability and humor—and her mantra: “Money only has one purpose, it buys choices.” Among Mickey’s choices? Giving microloans to farmers and small businesses in 45 different countries and launching Project Elf Minneapolis, which annually donates nine tons of clothing and home goods to Minnesota’s needy families.
Ready, set … zip! Now you can—on the North Shore—thanks to 68-year-old Phil Huston of Duluth. New to the area in 2016, Phil visited Silver Bay and was struck by the untapped recreational potential in the area. He started with what others had ignored; where others saw an abandoned corner gas station on a lot overgrown with trees, Phil saw opportunity. And now, just three years and a $1 million investment later, the site-which features a billion-year-old cliff-is home to The Adventure Park on the North Shore, Minnesota’s first destination adventure park. Designed for people of all ages and abilities, the park expects to attract 25,000 visitors each year, and features six separate trails with 75 different adventures, including 10 ziplines. Better yet? The park employs up to 25 area residents.
Fifty-two-year-old Teresa Thomas of Minneapolis is a master at bringing people together for win/win connections. Described as a “ringleader of fun” and a “pusher of possibilities,” “she celebrated her 50th birthday by creating 50 Fun Things, a workshop (and tools) to help people of all ages, especially those over 50, find more joy, live more fully and contribute more intentionally, while having more fun. The program even has an alumni group to provide fresh ideas and ongoing support. In leading MN Women in Networking (WIN) for over 10 years, she has uplifted the careers of more than 2,500 women. The author of Win/Win Networking, Teresa is an expert connector and engaging speaker.
Tom McMullen, Jr.
Tom McMullen, Jr., Bloomington, has been helping entrepreneurs and their families buy and sell businesses for decades. Now, at age 76, he’s become a purpose-filled entrepreneur himself thanks to his invention, ClipDifferent. A unique automatic nail clipper that operates with the simple touch of a button, ClipDifferent makes it easy for people—including those with Alzheimer’s, arthritis, vision or limb loss—to trim their own fingernails. Care facilities appreciate Tom’s invention as it offers them a safe, hygienic and time-saving solution.
The 10 honorees in this category are living proof that our creative drive keeps accelerating past our 50th birthdays. These creators, teachers and performers are expanding their relationship with the arts, in their own individual disciplines, and with the arts community as a whole. Whether they’re in the studio, in front of the classroom, on stage, or leading rehearsals, they’re harnessing the power of art to share experiences and expand the realm of the possible.
St. Louis Park’s Dave Karr, 89, has been a fixture on the Twin Cities music scene for over 60 years. In fact, if you’ve ever attended a local Broadway show or jazz concert, chances are you’ve heard him perform. With his playing as strong as ever, he remains a “first-call, A list” musician. Most often heard on tenor sax, flute or clarinet, Dave plays with his own quartet or backs up singers and musicians at Crooners Supper Club and other local venues. Generous by nature, he has helped many musicians improve their skills, some of whom are now virtuosos themselves. Dave has also composed and produced music for radio, TV, films and the theatre, and is a recipient of a McKnight Foundation Arts grant.
Francis D.C. Stockwell
Seventy-four-year-old Francis Stockwell, Elk River, is the artistic director of the North Star Boys’ Choir in Maple Grove where he works tirelessly to help boys ages 5 to 12 learn note reading, new languages, and proper vocal and breathing techniques so that they can perform the hauntingly beautiful sound his choir is known for. That signature sound results, in large part, from the centuries-old European voice training technique Francis mastered while working with the Vienna Boys’ Choir, a technique that ensures the brilliance, clarity, richness and tonal range that is so characteristic of Viennese music. Francis is one of only a handful of voice trainers around the world who continues to practice this technique. A traditionalist at heart, he remains committed to the traditional boys’ choir repertoire: sacred music dating back to the 5th century as well as classical, folk and spiritual music from around the world.
Jack Setterlund, 71, has been a familiar presence on the Duluth stage for decades. Appearing in countless plays, he’s mastered roles in everything from “Glengarry Glen Ross” to “A Christmas Carol.” He’s even appeared in an opera, albeit as a corpse (he readily admits he can’t sing). His performances continue to earn rave reviews, including this one in the Duluth News Tribune: “Any character Jack Setterlund plays is going to be inherently loveable.” One reason is Jack’s “irresistible smile.” Another is his commitment to challenging outdated beliefs about how people age in Greater Minnesota. Rather than packing away his greasepaint and costumes, he’s gotten even more involved in the theatre. And while his family is thrilled for him, his daughter has had to come to terms with role reversal: She’s now the one who stays up worrying until she knows her father is home safe from late-night cast parties.
No one likes to talk about aging—and traditionally that’s been especially true for aging women. That’s why Plymouth humorist and award-winning author Kim Kane, age 58, wrote Sparkle On: Women Aging in Gratitude. In it, Kim celebrates aging as a gift and reminds all of us that it’s never too late to become who we want to be. So, rather than just tolerating growing older, Kim advises embracing our age by taking bigger risks, finding underwear that fits, and saying “thank you” more often. She speaks nationally on reimagining life as “a woman of a certain age.” She also hosts gatherings of women to discuss the psychological, social, humorous and physiological changes that occur as we live well into our 70s, 80s and 90s. Just like Kim’s writing, her presentations and workshops for women of a certain age offer plenty of laughs, moments of poignancy and tender-heartedness.
Fifty-three-year-old Luis Fitch, Minneapolis, is the founder of UNO Branding, a multicultural visual communication agency known for its ability to deliver “spot on” cross-cultural design solutions. Luis is also an internationally known artist. Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, he moved to the U.S. in 1985. In the years since, his work has been shown nationally and internationally, and is now featured in more than 100 collections in the U.S. and Latin America. His brightly colored works are rich in culture and meaning, a playful update to traditional Mexican iconography. A 2015 McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship recipient, Luis has no plans to retire. Instead, he’s eager to devote even more time to his art, which includes traditional Mexican papercutting, mixed-media painting, digital illustration and more, all with an eye toward making art that is instantly recognizable and widely accessible.
People come alive when they dance. No one knows this better than 68-year-old Maria Genné, M.Ed., who, at the age of 48, founded and continues to direct Kairos Alive!, a nonprofit that unites the arts and health research to empower older adults to fully and physically engage, no matter their abilities. In the 20 years since, Kairos Alive! has collaborated with 60+ community partners—including the American Indian Center, Struthers Parkinson’s Center and the VA Medical Center—to serve 12,000+ elders. Committed to inclusiveness, Maria strives to make her programs both multigenerational and multicultural. She also helped found the Dance Education Initiative at Perpich Center for Arts Education and ArtSage Minnesota, and she is a founding board member of the National Center for Creative Aging. She’s won awards from the American Public Health Association and the American Society on Aging, and was featured in the PBS documentary, “Arts and the Mind.”
Minneapolitan Pam Gleason, the 60-year-old director and co-founder of MotionArt, has been creating, teaching and performing dance for 35 +years—many of those years with Hauser Dance. While she has always enjoyed performing, her true passion lies in the process of and interaction with others in creating and teaching. She has choreographed over 50 dance pieces and eight plays, earned grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and has enjoyed opportunities to share her love of dance locally, nationally and in Taiwan, Japan and Russia. As a teacher, Pam combines sound biomechanical instruction with encouraging fun in a welcoming, non-competitive environment. Her most attended class is Dance for the Ageless, in which most of the dancers are in their 60s,70s and 80s. Her latest production, “Collabulous,” was a dance concert featuring collaborations with other artists age 50+.
For nearly two decades, 54-year-old Richard Hitchler, St. Paul, was focused on one goal: the success of SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development, St. Paul’s only children’s theater, where, as artistic director, he not only created incredible new plays but also positively impacted the lives of thousands of young people. Now, he’s focused on a new goal: the success of Theatre 55, which he created to engage people 50+, many of whom feel dismissed as too old or irrelevant. The theatre’s inaugural production, the 1968 musical Hair, was a hit, in large part because it was performed by people who had actually lived their parts as long-haired, politically active hippies in the 1960s. The play’s success led to several collaborations with senior centers on other theatre works, providing opportunities for Richard to demonstrate how engaging in the performing arts can transform isolation, loneliness and depression into standing ovations.
Conductor and vocalist Rita Docter, Bloomington, has been bringing music to the Twin Cities for most of her adult life. For over 25 years she conducted six Twin Cities youth choirs: three for her church and three for Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs. Along the way, she’s taught thousands of young people how to listen for themes and variations of tone and tempo and describe the feelings that music arouses in them. She is now at work on a new program that uses music, essays and photographs to raise student awareness of climate change. And Rita still sings: At age 78, she’s the oldest member of Angelica Encore Choral Ensemble.
Fifty-five-year-old Sherece Lamke of Vadnais Heights believes everyone should have opportunities to succeed, no matter their age, gender or education. She started at Twin Cities PBS at 19, in the male-dominated engineering department. Over the next 36 years, she worked her way up: as a self-taught content producer, production manager, financial analyst, and now an independent producer/director of her own company, Brigid Films—all despite having never earned a college degree. Along the way, she’s won numerous Emmys for her broadcast work, much of which is devoted to telling important stories about inequities: such as the hardships Native Americans have had to endure or the disparities girls and women in sports have had to overcome. Throughout her career, she has mentored and empowered the next generation of production managers and content producers.
Caring for your neighbor isn’t age-dependent. These 10 honorees show their care in so many ways: fighting to close the gaps that hold us back, working toward justice, and spreading compassion for each other across lines of difference. They’re caretakers for our environment, leaders in politics and policy, and tireless advocates for human rights. And they’re all showing us that aging doesn’t force us to look inward, but instead gives us the insight to better reach out.
A lifetime of walking the walk: That’s Jim Scheibel in six words. A Hamline University professor who has inspired thousands of students to pursue lives of service, the 72-year-old former St. Paul Mayor and City Councilperson has made the most of his life in order to help others make the most of theirs. A community organizer by training and an acknowledged leader on addressing hunger, homelessness and immigration, Jim has worked alongside many influential organizers to advocate for everything from human and labor rights to public service as a way of life. He’s also played a key role in the success of hundreds of local organizations, including the Congressional Hunger Center, Project for Pride in Living and Senior Corps. And as director of Americorps VISTA during the Clinton Administration, he helped launch the program nationwide; approximately 75,000 Americans volunteer each year as “catalysts for change” on issues ranging from poverty and unemployment to racial disparities.
After a decades-long career that included teaching Spanish, reporting the news and training broadcast journalists, Julie Eckhert retired. She immediately began taking classes to prepare her to become a Guardian ad Litem and today the 71-year-old Bloomington resident serves as a volunteer Guardian for the State of Minnesota in Hennepin County. She routinely takes on tough, often heartbreaking, cases to ensure the safety and well-being of the children and teens she represents. Many have experienced extreme violence and other emotional and physical hardships. To keep them safe and moving forward, Julie acts as the eyes and ears of the court. She works closely with social workers and spends countless hours with the children in their homes, as well as with their biological and foster parents to make sure they are well-cared for at all times.
Kathy Jo Bissen
Kathy Jo, age 59 of Crystal, is executive director of SoleCare for Souls, a nonprofit she founded 13 years ago to provide medical foot care to those in our community experiencing homelessness and/or living in under-resourced conditions. Today, SoleCare has four Twin Cities locations. Kathy manages all of them and schedules the many medical and lay volunteers—most age 50 or older—who provide services ranging from trimming nails to smoothing calluses, from treating frostbite to soaking and massaging feet. All services are provided free of charge; each person served receives a new pair of socks and, if needed, a pair of shower shoes and anti-fungal cream. In addition to “sole care,” individuals also receive “soul care,” which includes uplifting conversation, non-judgmental listening, morale support and prayer.
St. Paul’s KaYing Yang came to the U.S. from Laos, and embraced a career focused on empowering communities to put an end to systemic inequities. Early on, she boldly championed efforts to address gender-based violence, especially as experienced by refugee women. From there, she led a national policy organization focused on addressing the needs of our nation’s growing Southeast Asian populations. A few years later, she moved to Thailand to lead the resettlement of 17,000 Hmong refugees with the International Organization for Migration. Eventually she joined the International Finance Corporation in Laos which invests in the private sector to alleviate poverty in developing countries. She returned home to Minnesota in 2015 and joined the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, a nonprofit that helps all Minnesotans, regardless of background, achieve prosperity. KaYing, now 51, works tirelessly to develop leaders who will stand up for future generations.
When Lynn Goodrich retired and moved from Southern California to his lake home in Nevis, Minnesota, 11 years ago, he had no idea how much time he’d spend volunteering in the local community. It started with a three-year term as president of the Tripp Lake Association that evolved into two more three-year terms, first as president-elect, and then as president, of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations. Two years later, he’s still on the board, now as past president, and still focused on keeping Minnesota waters pristine for future generations. Lynn also serves on the county Soil and Water Board, MN COLA, and the Leech Lake 1 Watershed Board and volunteers in numerous ways. From driving neighbors to the ER to calling BINGO, from hosting lake flotillas to finding speakers for local meetings and events, from overseeing the planting of 50,000 trees to changing the culture of the local fire department, Lynn is constantly in motion.
To say 68-year-old Marlise Riffel of Virginia is an asset to her community would be an understatement. Her mark is everywhere. She serves on the board of the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability (IRPS) and writes grants to help ensure the success of local events and organizations. She’s the co-founder of the Rutabaga Project, which brings fresh, healthy, local food to low-income residents on the Iron Range. She’s established community gardens where 60 local families grow their own food, and she urges others to join in via “Grown on the Range,” her new newspaper column which features stories of local farmers. She is also raising money to renovate Lyric Center for the Arts, a 1912 vaudeville theater in downtown Virginia, and writing grants for Together for Youth, a nonprofit that welcomes and supports LGBTQ youth and their families. No wonder Marlise is considered one of the Iron Range’s most valuable community assets.
Judge Paul Benshoof, age 68 of Bemidji, has served Beltrami County for the past 22 years, compassionately balancing the best interests of victims, offenders and community. In 2013, he led the formation of the Beltrami County Domestic Violence Court, at the time one of only three such courts in Minnesota. The Court features a collaborative, coordinated approach that focuses on rehabilitation and change coupled with accountability, not just incarceration. And since 2004, Paul has also served as a leader of the Beltrami County’s Children’s Justice Initiative. Finally, affected by a hearing disability of his own, Paul has been a tireless advocate for the hard-of- hearing, and has spoken at numerous conferences about what judges and others can do to ensure that the fundamental rights of those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are protected by the judicial system.
Dr. Sangeeta Jha
Dr. Sangeeta Jha, St. Cloud, is laser-focused on her goal: helping people understand, overcome and combat sexism, racism and ageism in order to create a more just and equitable society for all. Currently, as professor of St. Cloud Technical & Community College (SCTCC), she brings in speakers to help students in her Gerontology and other classes to better understand both the joys and challenges of growing older, as she shares her own global experiences spanning 60 years of life.
As a kindergartener in Omaha, Sean Kershaw watched the Watergate hearings with his mom every day after school. That hooked him on politics. Decades later, the opportunity to become deputy director and project manager for the City of St. Paul hooked him on Minnesota, and he’s been making a difference here ever since. After serving as the Citizen League’s executive director for 15 years, the 52-year-old St. Paulite is now vice president of Wilder Center for Communities, where he helps individuals, organizations and communities develop the capacity to address our society’s most pressing—and complex—issues. Sean and his husband, Tim Hawkins, build community outside of work as well, hosting backyard concerts dubbed Grand Oak Opry in honor of their yard’s oak tree. The concerts attract people from throughout the Twin Cities. Thanks to donations and local business sponsors, musicians get paid and everyone leaves with a greater sense of community.
Closing economic gaps is one of 52-year-old Sylvia Bartley’s biggest goals. And thanks to her job as global senior director for the Medtronic Foundation, she is doing just that. In fact, her advocacy contributed to Medtronic developing a jobs program that offers unemployed black North Minneapolis and Cedar Riverside residents access to manufacturing jobs in one of Medtronic’s plants, offering steady incomes, health insurance and retirement plans. Some are already saving money to buy their own homes or send their kids (and even themselves) to college. Sylvia was also the founding chair of HNS Charter Management Organization, which provided back-office support to three charter schools that are helping 1,000 North Minneapolis students, so they can go on to help build stronger community for all, just like Sylvia.
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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 the “50 Over 50” list to life.