A REFLECTION OF WHO WE ARE TODAY AND WHO WE WILL BE TOMORROW.
The 2020 50 Over 50 list celebrates and recognizes Minnesotans over the age of
50 who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.
AARP Minnesota & Pollen are proud to announce the 2020 50 Over 50 list.
In lieu of an in-person event, we partnered with Bully Creative Shop to document the voices, histories, and perspectives from this year’s honorees as they reflect on this moment in time. Watch the 50 Over 50 documentary film below or on YouTube.
DISRUPTORS: Phil Duran, Cynthia Fashaw, Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer, Duchess Harris, Jimmy Longoria, Diana Pierce, Vanessa Tennyson, Wokie Weah, Mark Westlake, Mychael Wright, Cathy Wurzer
NONPROFIT: Virginia Arthur, Kate Barr, Sharon Day, Rodolfo Gutierrez, Eric Jolly, Bob Kaitz, William Nelsen, Randi Ilyse Roth, Marquita Stephens, Umo Udo
BUSINESS: Heidi Andermack, Cedric Key, Jane LaLonde, May Yia Thao Lee, Channon Lemon, Beth Parkhill, Y. Elaine Rasmussen, Debra Shriver, Sheilah Stewart, Mihailo Temali
ARTS: Edie Barrett, Jack Becker, Sandra Brick, Diane Jarvi, Karin Kraemer, Colleen Sheehy, Dr. Anton Treuer, Diego Vázquez Jr., Erica Zaffarano
COMMUNITY: Ginny Benson, Charles Crews, Steve Lear, Jacklyn Milton, Shehla Mushtaq, Bonnie Rietz, Dr. Cheryl Robertson, Dr. Antony Stately, Dr. Patrick Tschida, Mary Ellen Vetter
The status quo can sometimes feel like an immovable object, but the honorees in the disruptor category are truly irresistible forces. They’re making it clear that getting older doesn’t mean settling for things as they are. Instead, they’re working to make things better — in healthcare, education, media, or any system that needs the energy of innovation.
A career-long disruptor of health inequalities, Minneapolis’s Phil Duran, 54, is director of advocacy and research for JustUs Health, a nonprofit whose work focuses on HIV, LGBTQ health, and aging in both contexts. An experienced attorney and civil rights champion, Phil advocates for people who experience injustice at the intersection of health status and identity. Before joining JustUs Health, Phil spent 18 years as legal director at OutFront Minnesota and has been a member of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and Transgender Issues Workgroup. He was a founding board member of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association and served as the first out president of the Minnesota State Bar Association. Additionally, Phil works with Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly and Wilder Foundation to strengthen Let’s Do Lunch, regularly scheduled lunches that disrupt the loneliness experienced by our LGBTQA elders.
An expert on mental health and director of multicultural programs for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota, St. Paul’s Cynthia Fashaw, 63, draws upon her vast personal and professional experiences to help Minnesota’s communities of color navigate the mental health system. She helps community leaders to develop culturally relevant education and information about mental health and has created programs specifically for African American, American Indian, Hmong and Sudanese communities. Additionally, Cynthia serves on multiple boards and committees to ensure that culturally specific voices are at the table whenever decisions about the mental health system are being made. Cynthia also established the Multicultural Youth Advisory Board, which trains young people of color to be mental health ambassadors in their communities, and launched the “Wellness in Color” podcast, which offers people of color a way to share their mental health journeys. The goal? To disrupt the cultural language of mental illness.
Duchess Harris, who teaches American studies and political science at Macalester College, sees the world as her classroom. When the 51-year-old Vadnais Heights resident joined the school’s faculty in 1998, she was tasked with centering the Black experience in the curriculum. Frustrated with the lack of appropriate reading material, she decided to write her own. Her book, Hidden Heroes, was adapted into a play at Stages Theater and her exhibit, “The Human Computer Project,” is a permanent feature of the RACE: Are We So Different exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She is curator of the Duchess Harris Collection, a library of 100+ books for elementary and high school students that disrupt the mainstream narrative of American political history. She is also a member of Governor Tim Walz’s Board of Public Defense, helping to create a more just legal system for all Minnesotans.
Chicano Artist Jimmy Longoria, 66, arrived in Minnesota in 1988 and set to perfecting his painterly skills to eventually return to Los Angeles’s exploding Chicano Art Movement. When young artists of color implored him to mentor them on fighting institutionalized racism in Minnesota’s art community, citing discrimination in exhibition opportunities and access to resources, Jimmy counseled them to focus on being better artists than any white artist. He got involved in committees riddled with institutionalized racism and became the constant voice intent on disrupting the complacent embrace of white privilege. Defeating structural hostility, he won prestigious awards and recognition for his arts excellence such as the Bush Fellowship in Fine Arts, and for his commitment to the community such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Living the Dream Award.” The Oak Park Heights resident’s art hangs in the Supreme Court of the United States, museums, schools, and private and corporate collections.
Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer
Minneapolitan Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer, 53, is the founder and CEO of Alia, a national nonprofit “do-tank” that is leading an international movement to transform the child-welfare system by working with leaders to heal trauma and put families first, demonstrating that welfare agencies can serve as primary prevention agencies by keeping children safely with—not from—their families. Dr. Franck Meyer and her team call this new approach an “UnSystem,” and it employs both best practices and human-centered design principles to deliver rapid results and, most importantly, positive outcomes for children, youth and their families. Amelia’s work is attracting attention. In 2015, she was awarded a Bush Foundation Fellowship and an Ashoka Fellowship, and in 2018, she was named one of People Magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World.
When Diana Pierce, KARE 11 anchor, retired after more than 30 years of delivering the news, people kept asking her “What’s next?” While the answer wasn’t clear at first, it is now—and that’s to amplify the voices of people 50+, a demographic mostly ignored by traditional media. She hosts “What’s Next with Diana Pierce,” a Facebook live stream focused on helping people reinvent themselves when it comes to work, health, money, and retirement. Diana’s warmth and compassion combined with her straightforward style ensures respectful yet engaging stories. Now 66, the Plymouth resident and her partner also share their artistic talents as gifted adventure-travel and nature photographers on www.wanderwithoutwifi.com. Both pursuits are disrupting the notion that creativity diminishes with age. Diana is embodying the idea of living your passion at any age, and encouraging others 50+ to do so as well.
Vanessa Tennyson, a 62-year-old Minneapolis transgender woman knows what it’s like to be subjected to abject discrimination. Having spent the first 50 years of her life enjoying white male privilege, Vanessa leads by example, using her life experiences and expertise as a seasoned business and nonprofit leader to help other executives lead authentically and effectively. Her servant-leadership approach is critical to advancing diverse thought, partnership and innovation, all critically important outcomes to both the private and public sectors as Minnesota works to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse residents. Her focus is on disrupting the status quo to help our state’s business and nonprofit leaders become more innovative.
Sixty-five-year-old Wokie Weah, Woodbury, is the first and current president of Youthprise, a nonprofit committed to increasing equity with and for Minnesota’s indigenous, low-income and racially diverse youth. Herself an immigrant from war-torn Liberia, she knows firsthand the value of looking at life through multiple cultural perspectives. That’s one reason why she’s so passionate about disrupting systems of oppression and such a firm believer in Youthprise’s vision: a Minnesota where outcomes for youth are no longer predictable by race, geography or socioeconomic status. Under Wokie’s leadership, Youthprise has granted more than $30 million to youth initiatives, provided training and technical support to more than 100 youth organizations and successfully lobbied for over $3.1 million in direct state appropriations to support key initiatives.
Is it a disruption to incorporate empathy into engineering? Teacher Mark Westlake thinks so…and proves it. Challenging students to recognize problems and integrate empathy into their solutions is the cornerstone of his work as engineering teacher and director of the Saint Thomas Academy Innovation Center. So, when the school closed due to COVID-19, 58-year-old Mark did what he does best: challenged his students to help solve the lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers. To make that happen, Mark moved the school’s 3D printing equipment to his Farmington home dining room. With the help of the local media, he also sounded a “call to arms” to everyone in Minnesota with an idle 3D printer. Thanks to his leadership, his students have delivered more than 40,000 free face shields to first responders and others throughout the United States, and 26 other states are using a similar model to produce face shields for their communities.
Flashback to the 1990s when the intersection of Selby Avenue and Milton Street in St. Paul was known for crime, prostitution, drugs and home to an infamous speakeasy where police calls per day outnumbered customers. In the early 2000s, things began to change. That’s when Mychael Wright and his wife opened Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe in a dilapidated building they renovated. That’s also when they launched the Selby Avenue JazzFest as a way of thanking their customers and of disrupting the view that the area wasn’t safe. That event has since grown from a small neighborhood gathering to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a full-fledged community event that draws upwards of 13,000. The mission of the event is to reposition the Selby Corridor and to provide quality arts access to underserved individuals. Now 62, Mychael has also played a key role in other forms of development of the area, including mixed-use projects that include both retail and affordable housing for the neighborhood’s elders.
“Live more. Fear less.” That’s the motto of End in Mind, the nonprofit founded by St. Paul’s Cathy Wurzer’s nonprofit. End in Mind is disrupting how we engage with loss, dying and death. The nonprofit inspires individuals, families and communities to explore our fears and it encourages us—especially those of us who are 50+—to live with greater intention, purpose and meaning. Now, with the coronavirus shining a bright, harsh light on our mortality, the work of this 58-year-old co-host of Minnesota Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and co-anchor of TPT’s “Almanac” couldn’t be more timely or important. In addition to End in Mind, Cathy’s work includes “Living With…,” a podcast that explores a wide range of topics, including how it feels to be a teen with cancer, what it’s like to live with COVID-19 and why advance care directives are so important. Taboos around discussing mortality remain strong, but Cathy’s dignified and courageous approach is leading to meaningful conversations that make end of life easier for us all.
The Minnesota nonprofit sector reaches across a wide variety of issues and communities all over the state. But what unites them all is a belief in the power of service and leadership. These nonprofit honorees aren’t stepping back as they get older — they’re doing more than ever to help their communities grow, learn, and thrive.
Metropolitan State University President Virginia “Ginny” Arthur, 67, is building Minnesota’s future workforce one student at a time by cementing the school’s commitment to serving first-generation, nontraditional students. Under Ginny’s leadership, the university has been federally recognized as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. The university has also received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award three years in a row and now ranks #1 in Minnesota and #35 nationally on the Social Mobility Index, which measures how well a college or university educates more economically disadvantaged students at lower tuition and graduates them into good paying jobs. In addition, Ginny’s leadership has resulted in record recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
President and CEO of Propel Nonprofits, St. Paul’s Kate Barr, 64, works tirelessly to ensure Minnesota’s nonprofit sector remains healthy, justice-focused and sustainable. Under her leadership, Propel is helping to create more equitable communities by standing up for social, racial and economic justice and by encouraging others to do the same. In addition, in an effort to make the nonprofit sector even stronger, Kate mentors nonprofit executive directors, especially younger women and people of color. When she’s not working, you’ll find Kate diving into policy issues and attending arts events.
Center City resident Sharon Day, 69, is an Ojibwe enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe and a second-degree M’dewin spiritual leader. In 1990, when she saw so many people she loved living with AIDS—but no specific services for American Indians—she found the Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF) and has served as its director ever since. Under her leadership, IPTF became the first nonprofit in the nation to serve Native Americans with AIDS, providing testing, education and housing. IPTF also houses the Ikidowin Peer Education Program and Youth Theater Acting Ensemble, which provides indigenous youth with accurate, culturally relevant health information. A “water protector,” Sharon has walked many miles to offer prayers at more than 20 U.S. rivers and is a frequent conductor of water ceremonies for events such as the 2017 Climate March in Washington D.C.
St. Paul’s Rodolfo Gutierrez, 59, is executive director of HACER (Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research), a nonprofit committed to giving Minnesotans of color a voice, as well as a safe, empowering place to share their stories. Rodolfo also played a key role in developing the Minnesota Young Adult Latino Leadership Academy, which later became the Leaders of Tomorrow academy. With this program, HACER has a six-year body of work giving Latino leaders aged 13-17 more equitable access to opportunities. Rodolfo’s research is a catalyst for promoting Census participation, disseminating demographic data and conducting historical research that highlights the growth of the Latino community.
Eric J. Jolly, Ph. D.
Sixty-three-year-old Eric Jolly, St. Paul, is president and CEO of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, the largest community foundation in the state. Each year, the Foundation makes grants to thousands of nonprofits and collaborates with communities to identify, convene around and advocate for today’s most critical issues. Before joining the Foundation, Dr. Jolly served for a decade as president of the Science Museum of Minnesota. He is a lifetime member of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, a life fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former director of the board of the National Museum of the American Indian. His resume is rich and his experience deep, but what sets him apart are not the numerous accolades he’s received, but his signature leadership style, which focuses on listening deeply to others in order to inspire generosity and advance equity.
Plymouth’s Bob Kaitz, 71, planned to retire last year but when his wife asked him why, Bob realized he didn’t have a very good answer. Age has a way of defining expectations. That led to Bob’s realization that he has as much passion and energy for helping young people work toward financial and career success as he had when he helped create the organization in 1976. He continues to serve as President and CEO of BestPrep, a nonprofit that uses hands-on experiences to help students develop the business, career, and financial literacy skills they need to succeed in work and life. More than 5,000 business volunteers help BestPrep achieve its mission. About to celebrate its 45th anniversary, the nonprofit employs 20+ individuals and has helped 1.7 million students, many from under-resourced populations.
William C. Nelsen
William C. Nelsen, 79, St. Peter, has devoted his life to serving others through educational, community and religious nonprofit. He helped build Minnesota-based Scholarship America into America’s largest private-sector scholarship organization and oversaw over $1 billion in aid to nearly one million students. He’s also led initiatives to help numerous U.S. colleges gain more sustainable futures. In his mid-60s, he entered Luther Seminary to complete an “unanswered call” to serve as a parish pastor; his innovative southern Minnesota worship services, including a “Tractor Roll-In Harvest Blessing Service,” have welcomed hundreds of new visitors. And just last year, William and a colleague completed a book on embracing racial and religious diversity, challenging us all to live up to the promises of America.
As head of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, Randi Roth has spearheaded numerous programs and initiatives to build economic opportunity. The 63-year-old St. Paul resident believes fiercely in the power of faith communities to provide thousands of volunteers to help reduce poverty by serving as tutors, job coaches, English-as-second-language instructors and more. In quick response to COVID-19, she called together local clergy to advise the state on safety practices. She also helped her organization’s Department of Indian Work food shelf meet a nearly 300 percent increase in demand. Plus, she worked with Ramsey County to create a shelter for families experiencing homelessness when congregations could no longer host them. She also moved Interfaith’s pro-bono legal clinic online and is working with local clergy to provide legal-rights videos they can share with their congregations. In Randi’s words: “This extraordinary time demands an extraordinary response.” She has led that response and inspired many others to work collaboratively and collectively. Our world is better as a result.
Sixty-something Marquita Stephens, Woodbury, has been a dynamic nonprofit leader in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas for more than two decades. As a former president and CEO of the African American Adoption Agency and community engagement lead for the Roseville Area School’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, she has effectively fostered inclusive relationships throughout the community. And as a skilled facilitator, she worked with Community Conversations and the City of Roseville to bring people together after the shooting of Philando Castile. Now the Director of Education Programming and Policy for the Urban League Twin Cities, Marquita has developed and implemented Black Gems, a career and college readiness program, co-produced Real Talk, an Urban League bi-weekly talk show, and co-authored an Equity Guidebook, a program promoting partnership between parents, educators, school leaders and community on behalf of all students in the goal of excellence in education.
In 1992, Umo Udo, holding her young son, stood in line for a visa. She watched as every person ahead of them was denied. She was sure hope was lost. Thankfully it wasn’t—and now, at 57 and as director of spiritual care for Catholic Charities, Umo gives hope to thousands of Minnesotans during their darkest times. When adults are climbing out of homelessness, she helps them reconnect with parts of themselves that they thought had disappeared. When abused children experience the trauma of being removed from their homes, she holds space for their heartbreak. When people experiencing homelessness die in a shelter, she is there to honor and console. No wonder people describe Umo as one of our community’s unsung heroes. Every year, she leads a service of remembrance for community members who have died during the past year, making sure that every person receives a moment of dignity and recognition. The Farmington resident is a champion of racial equity and social justice, and now, in the face of COVID-19, she is working tirelessly to ensure our caregivers receive the care they need.
Success in business and connection to community don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And neither are they solely reserved for the young. This year’s business honorees are showing just how true that is. With leadership in industries from food to finance, they’re showing that our golden years can generate both profit and positivity.
Heidi Andermack, 51, runs Chowgirls, a Minneapolis values-driven catering company with a strong sense of community purpose. As the Twin Cities’ first organic and sustainable caterer, Heidi and her partner grew Chowgirls into one of the area’s finest catering businesses, earning numerous awards, including Best Caterer for Small Wedding from Minnesota Bride and the Charlie Award for Outstanding Caterer, both in 2019. In the wake of COVID-19, a crisis particularly harrowing for event-based businesses such as Chowgirls, the St. Anthony resident helped pivot the business to both ensure its survival and serve the greater good. Building off of Heidi’s founding vision for creative collaboration, Chowgirls joined with Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes to create Minnesota Central Kitchen, which employs 120 chefs and other food industry workers to prepare and distribute up to 10,000 free packaged meals per day to hungry Minnesotans.
When Cedric Key attended Fergus Falls Community College, there were no dorm rooms available so he lived at the Fergus Falls State Hospital, where he saw firsthand how horrifically people with disabilities were treated. Today, Cedric, age 57 of Eagan, is CEO of Key 360 Support Services, which he founded in 2017 to provide needs-based support services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Rather than taking the one-size-fits-all approach favored by many existing service providers, Cedric and his growing staff focus on individualized programming designed to help people with disabilities develop life skills, live independently and integrate into the community. The business’s services include in-home family support and respite care, foster-care services and more, all with the goal of making a real difference. And make a difference Cedric does. As one grateful client/parent says, “The outcomes have been dramatic and thrilling for my family.”
Though women make up most of the workforce, they are in a drastic minority in the financial planning industry. Despite growth in the industry’s number of Certified Financial Planner™ Professionals (CFPs®), the percentage who are women has remained flat, at just 23 percent. Sixty-year-old Jane LaLonde, CFP®, partner and financial planner at North Star Resource Group, defies these odds. The Burnsville resident embarked on her career in 1982, when there were even fewer women in the industry than there are today. In the decades since, she has advanced to become one of North Star’s top advisors. She’s also a frequent speaker and the co-author of Real Life Financial Planning with Case Studies for Women. Beyond serving her community, Jane helps her clients grow their wealth to allow them to have peace of mind throughout life’s goals, challenges and opportunities.
May Yia Thao Lee
Sixty-seven-year old White Bear Lake resident May Yia Thao Lee has been an advocate in organic farming for the last 15 years. She and her daughter co-own Mhonpaj’s Garden, Minnesota’s first Hmong-owned certified organic farm. In addition to farming and selling healthy vegetables at farmers markets throughout the region, May works to educate other growers about organic practices. She’s also a mentor at Big River Farms, where she helps people from underserved communities access an incubator farm. What’s more, May‘s business donates over 50,000 pounds of produce to food shelves every year. And during the winter season, May puts her kind soul and work ethic to use in coaching, training, and mentoring emerging farmers.
As the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development, Channon Lemon, age 57 of Minneapolis, is making a profound contribution to the well-being of the Twin Cities business community. She is an unwavering advocate for professionals of color and economic inclusion, particularly for BIPOC owned businesses. She also advocates for all generations and works to elevate all voices, especially those that haven’t been heard. She is the driving force behind the Chamber’s EquityInitiatives. Attended by more than 800 people in two years, this work encourages businesses to put “equity into action” and to employ best practices when it comes to equity change. Channon’s main role is in regional economic development where she focuses on land and workforce development and leverages regional resources to support strong businesses and vibrant communities. Channon also serves on the Board of Directors of Ever-Green Energy and the Star Tribune.
Beth Parkhill is the chief innovation officer for Mobility 4 All, a Minnesota public-benefit corporation developing a safer, kinder, more personalized ride service for older Americans. After chairing the organization’s advisory board for more than a year, Beth, 68, came out of retirement to join the organization full-time. Responsible for marketing and strategic partnerships with senior housing providers, nonprofits and private companies such as Lyft and Uber, she is particularly passionate about disrupting negative stereotypes about older adults. The Minneapolis resident is also committed to creating a world where older adults feel valued for their contributions throughout their lives, not just while they are working and raising families. In addition to her work with Mobility 4 All, Beth is the founder of Mentor Planet, an online mentor-matching service, and a founding Board member of Impact Hub MSP, a global social enterprise.
Y. Elaine Rasmussen
Y. Elaine Rasmussen’s mission is twofold: to make impact investing mainstream and to democratize access to capital by and for BIPOC and rural entrepreneurs. She’s the CEO of Social Impact Strategies Group, B-corp social enterprise that provides education, facilitation and consultation on inclusive economic development, racial equity and social impact, impact investing, and corporate responsibility using community-centered, social impact-focused strategies. She’s also the creator of the ConnectUP! MN Summit—a first-of-its-kind event that works to grow inclusive entrepreneur ecosystems that are grounded in economic justice. The 50-year-old Vadnais Heights resident also brings her strategic mind to the boards for MDI, Nexus Community Partners, and the Swift Foundation, and is serving as interim executive director for the Association for Black Economic Power. An avid traveler, Elaine seeks to foster connections everywhere she goes. Her overarching goal? To move billions of investment dollars in Black/Brown and rural communities.
Thanks in large part to an ad Debra “Deb” Shriver answered as a teenager, she went from a high school student working two jobs to the founder of a successful business that changes lives. That business is Divine House, Inc. Based in Willmar, Divine House offers a wide range of services: personal care, respite care, care for individuals with traumatic brain injuries, supportive employment and more. At the heart of these services is Deb’s belief that all people have the right to live and work in an environment that provides them with pride, self-respect, friendship and the opportunity to achieve success in whatever ways are possible and meaningful. And the strength of her approach has led to tremendous growth. In the first 10 years, she grew the business from 10 homes to nearly 150. And after 40 years in this work, Divine House and her many other companies now provide homes and essential services to nearly 1,000 people across Minnesota.
Sheilah Stewart fully expected to retire doing what she had done for most of her career—employment law. But at age 55, the Arden Hills resident instead decided to take the opportunity to try something new by making a big career pivot. As Land O’Lakes general counsel, Sheila stepped out of her comfort zone and took on a number of new responsibilities: Overseeing a department that handled the full gamut of an in-house legal practice, and additional work in global security, community relations and the company foundation. Six years later, Sheilah, now 61, remains committed to Land O’Lakes mission of “feeding human progress” and is passionate about making a difference for the 40 million Americans living with food insecurity, which is one reason why she serves on the board of Second Harvest Heartland.
Contractor financing. Property management. Business planning. Marketing. These are just some of the courses offered by the Neighborhood Development Center, a community development nonprofit that provides culturally competent, wraparound business services to help local entrepreneurs succeed. Mihailo “Mike” Temali, age 66 of Saint Paul, founded the Center and was its long-time executive director. Under his leadership, the Center has trained and supported over 6,000 entrepreneurs in low-income communities throughout the Twin Cities metro area. The Center also provides small business loans to entrepreneurs who might not be able to find them elsewhere. What’s more, every $1 the Center spends returns $28 to neighborhood economies. Under Mike’s leadership, the Center has also partnered with others on many important community development projects, including Midtown Global Market where they were the lead developers.
The best artists find beautiful, compelling ways of sharing their world with us, and that skill doesn’t fade with age. Whether they’re working with words or images, paint or clay, the honorees in this category show that our ability to bring form to our experiences — and help others do the same — often gets better as we get older.
Ortonville’s Edie Barrett, 59, uses art as a vehicle for social change. A master’s candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Edie believes “the value of education is sharing it.” And she is doing exactly that, developing projects that push her fellow Big Stone County residents outside their comfort zones. She’s hosted a number of discussion groups on racism and white privilege, with a deep focus on expanding that conversation in rural communities. These gatherings are grounded in compassion and fairness, and challenge people to “get uncomfortable” with white privilege. The monthly radio program Edie co-hosted, titled “Artistic Leadership from the Prairie,” culminated with a celebration that honored rural leadership in West Central Minnesota.
Founder and principal consultant of the St. Paul-based Forecast Public Art, Jack Becker, 66, knows better than anyone how vital public art is to building and sustaining community. For more than four decades, he and Forecast have been improving lives here and the world over by connecting the energies and talents of artists with the needs of communities. In the first days of the pandemic, as everyone wrestled with the realities of physical distancing and economic instability, Jack immediately offered Forecast’s free consulting services to community groups and artists. Forecast also allocated $10,000 of its resources to a microgrant program to help Minnesota artists create and spread messages of hope. Recently retired, Jack’s impact extends much further than our Land of 10,000 Lakes, which is why he’s received many national and international awards, including an Award of Excellence from Americans for the Arts.
Can a picture really capture a thousand words? Minneapolis artist Sandra Brick, 62, believes so. She’s on a mission to educate Minnesotans about the Holocaust and all genocides with her amazing traveling art exhibition titled “Lest We Forget.” Her goal? To get those who view her art to say, “No more!” and “Never again!” Her work has been praised in newspapers and broadcast media throughout the state. Sandra has also been praised by her fellow artists for her commitment to helping them succeed. She hosts monthly meetings in her studio to ensure artists get the feedback they need to improve. The meetings also offer artists a chance to help one another apply for grants and fellowships and share information about opportunities to exhibit. In addition, Sandra teaches a variety of courses at the Textile Center, where she is a regular volunteer.
Poet. Musician. Performer. Teacher. Presenter. These are just some of the hats Diane Jarvi, 61, Minneapolis, has worn during her career. As a published poet, she gives readings and teaches intergenerational classes, including one in which nursing students are paired with elders. As a teaching artist for the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project Minnesota, she brings her love of the written word to memory-care facilities. She also teaches poetry classes for seniors through St. Paul’s East Side Arts Council. But words aren’t her only forte. So is her love of Finnish culture. She teaches kantele (Finnish folk harp), has authored a book about Finnish immigrants and has highlighted the lives of Minnesota’s Finnish immigrant women in a short film titled “The Way She Told Her Story.”
The artist and entrepreneur behind Duluth Pottery, Tile & Gallery, Karin Kraemer, 57, makes pottery and tile for everyday uses in order to grace our lives with art. Her work is Maiolica, a tin-glazed, hand-painted pottery technique that captures both color and movement. A potter her entire adult life, Karin teaches at local colleges and workshops nationwide. Throughout her career, she has excelled at the intersection of art and community development and has been key to revitalizing Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. She’s worked to extend art education and impact, doing everything from developing art shows to assisting start-up businesses with marketing to hosting artist-in-residence readings and exhibitions. In the face of COVID-19, Karin is encouraging area residents to get together for “virtual coffee breaks” via her donated handmade mugs that feature local businesses. Money raised through the project helps fund local COVID-19 relief efforts.
Art saves lives. Colleen Sheehy knows that because art became her lifeline following the death of her father when she was just 10 years old. Today, the 60-something Minneapolis resident and former CEO of Plains Art Museum in Fargo, is executive director of Public Art Saint Paul. Colleen has been a leader in the field of public and participatory arts programming and was one of the first to curate exhibitions around musicians—including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and the Twin Cities music scene—and to develop programs that were playful, hands-on, and culturally relevant. Colleen is also an advocate for giving artists leading roles in helping to shape our cities and in deepening civic engagement. Her goal: to continue sharing her passion for the arts in order to foster a creative revolution.
Dr. Anton Treuer
We all need healing. These four words sum up Dr. Anton Treuer’s work, which engages indigenous languages and cultures as a pathway for addressing racial reckoning, social discord and individual angst. A Bemidji State University professor and consultant known for his work related to indigenous history, language and ceremony, Dr. Treuer, 51, has authored or edited 18 books and serves as editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal dedicated to the Ojibwe language. He is widely recognized as one of the most prolific scholars of Ojibwe and is at the forefront of a movement to textualize this formerly oral language in hopes of preserving and revitalizing it. Anton also works extensively with the Ojibwe language-immersion efforts underway in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario, and officiates at regional medicine dances and ceremonial drums.
Diego Vázquez Jr.
Diego Vázquez Jr., 70, is a visual artist and a published author and poet. He’s also a Twin Cities cultural treasure. In the 1990s, he started the local slam movement at Kieren’s Pub in Minneapolis. Since the early 2000s, he’s facilitated a bi-weekly writers’ group in his home. More recently, he helped develop the Women’s Writing Program, through which he and others teach poetry and spoken-word performance to incarcerated women. When these same women are released from prison, he uses his prominence in the art world to host readings for them. No wonder the St. Paul resident has lost count of the number of writers, poets and artists he has supported, encouraged and backed, all while continuing to produce his own impressive body of creative work.
Seventy-year-old Erica Zaffarano, Plymouth, is a behind-the-scenes, hands-on influence on theater productions in the Twin Cities and beyond. She plies her talents in technical direction and theatrical set design with the Minnesota Opera, Artistry Theater, Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, History Theater, Stages Theater and many more. She also managed production design for The Soap Factory’s popular Haunted Basement. While these accomplishments are impressive, what really elevates Erica is her ingenuity in working on a perennial shoe-string budget. Her heart and soul, not to mention physical prowess and sweat equity, are what make audiences revel in, remember and occasionally get scared silly by her work.
Proximity alone doesn’t bind us together — it takes each of us reaching outward, with support from leaders who understand community. These honorees are living proof that aging doesn’t mean turning our attention inward. Whether they’re advising or organizing, researching or educating, they’re still reaching outward to strengthen their communities.
When Ginny Benson retired, she moved to Nevis, a small town in north central Minnesota, where she’s been working ever since to support girls and women—both locally and internationally. She’s supported Healing Hearts, a nonprofit that helps local children affected by violence. She’s organized a local chapter of Days for Girls, which provides health education and menstrual kits to young girls in developing countries. And, most recently, she’s recruited dozens of women to make more than 6,000 masks, all of which have been donated to those in need. Ginny not only gives both time and dollars to these projects and many more, she also recruits volunteers and raises money. In addition, she and her husband support local restaurants by placing ads on social media and delivering meals. She’s also a member of “100 Women of the Heartland Who Care,” an organization of local women who pledge support to local nonprofits. Age 64, Ginny is a true role model for how retired women can deliver big-impact results to Minnesota’s small towns.
A driving community force. These words sum up 90-year-old Charlie Crews, a Staples resident with a reputation for stepping up to the plate—and knocking it out of the park. When it became clear that PPE was in short supply and was needed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Charlie donated five large totes of PPE to his local hospital and provided funds and material from Teresa’s Stash to over 30 volunteers to develop mask patterns, research materials, and sew. Teresa’s Stash is a fund Charlie established after his daughter Teresa, an avid quilter and crafter died unexpectedly, leaving half a semi- trailer filled with new quilting material. Charlie has spent almost two decades providing basic computer training and support to nearly 1,000 seniors. Plus, Charlie has been instrumental in raising money for Hilltop Regional Kitchen, which produces meals for 10 local communities and delivers 10,000 meals each week to the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
For more than three decades, Minneapolitan Steve Lear, 63, has devoted countless hours each week to improving the lives of others. Both immensely innovative and “a doer,” Steve steps up whenever he sees a need that isn’t being addressed. When he learned that many Minnesota high school students graduate without knowing how to manage their finances, he helped develop a teen financial literacy program. And when he realized that many Twin Cities children have little understanding of the Holocaust or have never met someone who is Jewish, Steve helped create the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Speaker’s Bureau, which brings volunteer speakers to area classrooms. As a speaker himself, he’s given more than 100 presentations to schools, houses of worship, and community groups. Steve and his wife also walk the talk when it comes to donating money: They give 10 percent of their income each year to nonprofit organizations.
As director of the Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, a small grassroots nonprofit, 67-year-old Jacklyn Milton has been planting seeds of hope in St. Paul by promoting literacy and diversity. Among her goals: to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by teaching students to read. Students not able to do so are four times more likely than other students to drop out of school. What’s more, 85 percent of children in the juvenile justice system are not literate. That’s why Jacklyn works so hard to ensure that every child reads at least 1,000 books before kindergarten. To help make that happen, she holds book drives and an annual youth leadership summit. She also oversees “Leaders are Readers,” an annual campaign that provides free books and school supplies to children who struggle academically. Through her tireless efforts, this St. Paul resident has gifted the love of reading to countless children.
By day, 61-year-old Shehla Mushtaq, St. Paul, is the chief operating officer of Collectivity, a “consulting cooperative” that helps nonprofits and social enterprises more effectively deliver housing, education, employment, transportation, and health and wellness services to underserved, marginalized communities in the Twin Cities. And although her day job keeps her plenty busy, Shehla—who roots her whole life in her Muslim faith and in service to others—finds time to make an even bigger impact by volunteering. She serves as board co-chair of Social Enterprise MSP (formerly Social Enterprise Alliance TC) and as president of Interfaith Circle, an interdenominational organization that builds bridges among all faith groups in the southwestern suburbs. She is also co-chair of the advisory council for SHIFT, an organization that supports late-career adults who want to blend their work with their passions to make a difference.
Bonnie Rietz, 72, may no longer be mayor of Austin, but she continues to be a community leader committed to making a difference. She serves as vice-chair of the Hormel Foundation, which ranks fourth in annual giving among Minnesota’s largest public foundations. She’s also played a key role in Apex Austin, a successful initiative focused on important community issues: leadership, transportation, housing, and education for the area’s many immigrants (they speak more than 50 different languages) who now call Austin home. A lifelong lover of books, she also helped launch Austin Page Turners, which each year chooses one book by a Minnesota author for the entire community to read. Bonnie has also completed mission work in Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru, St. Lucia and the Republic of Madagascar, where she and her husband lived and worked for four years.
Dr. Cheryl Robertson
Dr. Cheryl Robertson, 65, is a public health nurse, professor, and chairperson of the University of Minnesota’s Population Health and Systems Cooperative, which focuses on three important goals: the promotion of public health, the effective application of healthcare information, and the development of nursing leadership. Dr. Robertson focuses her research on refugees and how they are impacted by conflict, displacement, and trauma. She is currently leading a multidisciplinary team of University scientists and young African scholars to study climate-driven conflict, displacement, and health at the intersection of humans, animals, and the environment in the Horn of Africa. Despite once being held hostage in Uganda and having worked during outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, cholera and other infectious diseases, Dr. Robertson perseveres in helping the world’s refugees recover from trauma and build sustainable infrastructures.
Dr. Antony Stately
Raised by an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) mother who was deeply invested in the health and wellbeing of the urban American Indian community in South Minneapolis, Dr. Stately (Oneida and Ojibwe), 58 of Prior Lake, is chief executive officer of the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis, which provides primary care, dental care and behavioral health services to the local Native American community. Born and raised in Minneapolis, he is one of the top experts in the field of historical trauma as it relates to indigenous populations and has given talks and taught classes on the subject at several universities. In response to COVID-19, he is helping the local indigenous population to ensure they receive quality care, a challenge due to high levels of poverty and homelessness. He has served as a consultant and advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other organizations that are delivering health care to native and indigenous people.
Dr. Patrick Tschida
Talk about a full plate. Since 2010, St. Paul’s Dr. Patrick Tschida, 61, has served as agency policy specialist at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, as epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, as research analyst with the Center for Victims of Torture and as area program specialist with the University of Minnesota and the University of Hawaii Extension Service. He’s also a scholar/practitioner and contributing faculty member in Walden University’s College of Health Sciences, where he remotely advises and guides doctoral student researchers from distant locations, including Barbados, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. In addition, he serves as a community engagement coordinator for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In this volunteer role, he coordinates meetings, workshops and conferences to help people understand the harmful impact Islamophobia and xenophobia have on society.
Mary Ellen Vetter
Brooklyn Park’s Mary Ellen Vetter turns 95 this year, and rather than slowing down, she’s as busy as ever making a difference in the lives of others. She serves on the development and charter school committees of the Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center in Sandstone, a nonprofit that provides experiential and environmental education to 30+ Minnesota charter schools. She’s also an active member of the Audubon Society and membership chair of the Isaak Walton – Walter J Breckenridge Chapter in Brooklyn Park. In addition, for more than 25 years, she’s been a weekly volunteer at North Side Life Care Center in Minneapolis. It’s no wonder she has been honored with a Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council Award for her volunteerism.
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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.