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MEET TEN OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED DISRUPTORS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.


With an introduction by Carolyn Holbrook

“I wouldn’t want you to be the way grandmas are ‘supposed to be’,” she said, adding that I inspire her to know that she can still be vibrant and still be making trouble when she reaches 70 years of age.

I hope that when Tess becomes my age, the things that make me a disruptor will no longer be unusual.

My peers and I are setting the stage for what may well be a new normal for our children and grandchildren. Here in Minnesota, as in other places, we see women and men all the time who are disrupting ageist beliefs. The ten winners in the Disruptor category are making enormous impacts on society both locally, and some, globally. Living their lives without ageist limits has allowed them to make choices that probably wouldn’t have been considered for people over fifty a generation ago. And if they were, they would have been seen as daring and perhaps even impossible for people “their age.”

 

The lives and accomplishments of these ten amazing people prove that they are using the wisdom they gained over years of dedication in service to the community to push beyond the boundaries of age.

 

They show that it is never too late to explore new worlds. Or improve the lives of children in foster care. Or ensure that health care professionals in Sierra Leone are safe from the Ebola virus. Or create new organizations that often require that they walk in spaces between worlds to cultivate relationships and trust. Or create art with people struggling with memory loss. Or support legislation that grants funding for small businesses.

 

Here are the Disruptors who challenge outdated beliefs about aging and live their lives without limits.

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ANN BANCROFT

Scandia


Shattering stereotypes with a series of firsts

At 60, Ann Bancroft’s impressive accomplishments include being the first woman to cross the ice to the North Pole on foot and by dogsled (she was with seven men and 49 male dogs!). Ann also led the first women’s expedition to the South Pole, making her the first known woman to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles. She led the first American women’s east to west crossing of Greenland and with Norwegian polar explorer, Liv Arnesen, became the first women in history to sail and ski across Antarctica. Ann is now shattering aging stereotypes with a new expedition, Access Water, which has brought together a team of women from six continents to raise awareness of the world’s critical water issues. When the expedition wraps up in 2026 with a journey to Antarctica, Ann will be in her 70s.

GAIL CHANG BOHR

St. Paul


A commitment to seeing justice served

It’s never too late. At 72, Gail Chang Bohr is living proof. A social worker eager to better serve children, she enrolled in law school in her 40s, eventually becoming the executive director of the Children’s Law Center, where she helped train hundreds of volunteer lawyers and changed the way children are represented in the foster care system and in court. Then, because she believed the state’s judicial bench needed to reflect the fast-growing diversity of the Twin Cities, she applied to become a judge—several times. Although she never got past the review committee, she didn’t give up. Instead, she ran for an open judicial seat and, in 2008, became Ramsey County’s first Asian American judge.

 

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Scott Cole

New Brighton


Ensuring economic and social equity

CEO and co-founder of Collectivity, co-director of MNvest, and board co-chair of the Twin Cities chapter of Social Enterprise Alliance, Scott Cole, 60, works tirelessly to achieve his vision of a purpose-driven economy that creates equity for all. By helping nonprofits, communities, and government to effectively use technology, they accelerate and amplify their mission impact. This work requires artfully building relationships with many local organizations, like Impact Hub MSP, minne* and GREATER MSP. Scott championed the new state law called MNvest, which disrupted conventional financing options that favor the status quo. As a result, social sector and small businesses can now raise money via crowdfunding.

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Michael Matthew Ferrell

Minneapolis


A playlist that begins with “Forever Young”

Fifty-six year-old Michael Matthew Ferrell is disrupting aging by helping people be seen and heard at a time when they often feel invisible. A three-time Ivey-award-winning director/choreographer and winner of a WCCO Making A Difference award, Michael is the founder of Alive and Kickin, an ensemble that is redefining aging, honoring seniors, and inspiring all. The ensemble features performers 65 to 91 years young, all of whom sing their hearts out in four-part harmony to entertain audiences of all ages and give voice to seniors through personal stories and popular songs. The results are heartwarming—and inspiring—for performers and audiences alike and a good reminder that we are never too old to rock ‘n roll.

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Sam Grant

St. Paul


Impact has no boundaries

Unsung hero. Regional treasure. Unstoppable. These are just three of the ways disrupter Sam Grant, 53, is described. A change maker, Sam works at the intersections of cultural, economic, and environmental justice. Sam has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University, since 1990. He also leads Everybody In, serves as faculty director for HECUA’s environmental sustainability program, and facilitates work on intercultural understanding and racial and cultural healing as a private consultant. Sam’s reach also extends far beyond Minnesota thanks to his global work facilitating deep democracy and developing eco-villages in Africa.

 

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Lorrie Janatopoulos

Eveleth


Rooted in community, dedicated to equity

As planning director of Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, a Community Action Agency with an anti-poverty mission, Lorrie Janatopoulos, 59, has spent nearly two decades developing services for those most in need: the homeless, job seekers, the very young, and the very old. But her commitment to the region extends beyond her job. She has run for elective office twice and is a 2016 Bush Fellow. She is also a founder and board member of Rural and American Indigenous Leadership, a nonprofit committed to growing women leaders in rural and American Indigenous communities in northeastern Minnesota. Lorrie is a lifelong community activist working for women, children, and the LGBT community. While the issues she raises—gender parity and LGBT rights, for instance—are no laughing matter, Lorrie uses humor to challenge long-held beliefs and tap into the transformative power of personal change for the good of all.

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Paula Maccabee

St. Paul


Proving that big fights can be won

Since graduating from Yale Law School in 1981, 59-year-old Paula Maccabee has been a tireless champion of human rights, environmental quality and women’s and children’s health. After thirty-five years working as a trial lawyer, a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office,  and a St. Paul City councilmember, Paula could have retired. Instead, she launched Just Change Law to ensure nonprofits and small sustainable businesses have access to the high-caliber legal representation typically only available to large corporations. Minnesota citizens, communities, and the environment are glad she did. Paula’s efforts recently forced Koch Industries, a $100-billion company, to reroute a crude oil pipeline so it wouldn’t contaminate an Eagan organic farm. Now, she’s working on behalf of a small nonprofit in a David vs. Goliath fight to protect the water of Minnesota’s Lake Superior Basin from sulfide mining pollution.

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Sandra Menefee Taylor

St. Paul


Artful aging

A lifelong artist known for honoring undervalued sources of wisdom, Sandra Menefee Taylor has been using art to disrupt the status quo since the 1970s, when she and 36 other women artists founded the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) and the WARM Gallery. WARM played an important role in the early feminist art movement in the U.S. Maintaining independence from the art academy, she frequently seeks collaboration with other artists and non-artists, and her projects addressing land and food issues predate the current “locavore” movement by decades. Now 78, Sandra has partnered with the Wilder Foundation, using art to disrupt views of aging and memory loss and to reveal the creative capacity within everyone.

 

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Eric Schnell

Shoreview


Because accessibility equals freedom

Eric Schnell, 51, easily pivots across stereotypical dichotomies: techie and humanist, big picture thinker and get-in-the-trenches doer, savvy business mind, and warm nonprofit heart. He is just as comfortable analyzing data as he is lending an ear to those in need. And as a disruptor, he courageously takes on new roles and challenges, embracing opportunities to reinvent not only himself, but also our society—especially when it comes to keeping people independent. Driven by a desire to help his oldest son, a young man with an amazing array of talents and unlimited potential whose autism prevents him from getting a driver’s license, Eric is working with SelfDrivingUS to expand access and inclusion by bringing accessible, affordable, and reliable transportation freedom to people with disabilities.

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Dr. Douglas Wendland

Duluth


At the forefront of disease management

Ebola is a severe, often fatal, disease that sends people fleeing, even doctors. But not 65-year-old Dr. Douglas Wendland. In 2014, he suspended his own practice to accept a position with the World Health Organization and moved to Sierra Leone, one of countries hit hardest by the most recent Ebola epidemic. When he returned and celebrated his 65th birthday, many people expected him to retire. But not Dr. Douglas Wendland. He continues to ride his bike to and from work as medical director of St. Luke’s Occupational Health, where he treats and develops response strategies for occupational illnesses and injuries, and also investigates clusters of diseases that may be work-related.

“Essentially, these individuals prove that it’s never too late to rock ‘n roll or to break new ceilings, glass or otherwise.” — Carolyn Holbrook 

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This is the first of a five-part series celebrating the inaugural 50 Over 50 recognizing Minnesotans over the age of fifty who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.

Related Opportunities

jobs
Experience Corps Tutor
Experience Corps
VIA Jay Haapala
action
Bush Foundation Fellowship
Bush Foundation
VIA Pollen
events
Minnesota’s 50 Over 50 Celebration Event
Pollen and AARP Minnesota
VIA Pollen
voices
Disrupting the Arts
An interview with Sandra Menefee Taylor
VIA AARP Minnesota

THIS STORYTELLING EXPERIENCE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY

AARP Minnesota works every day to challenge outdated beliefs and spark new solutions. Pollen and AARP Minnesota came together to recognize and celebrate the possibilities and contributions that come with age.

 

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contributors

Bev Bachel
Bev Bachel is a writer and IdeaGirl who excels at bringing brand voices to life and transforming ideas into award-winning content. Author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It, Bev is passionate about helping others find rewarding work (and play!).
James O'Brien
James O'Brien is an illustrator and designer, creating conceptual, decorative, art and design for editorial, corporate, and publishing clients.
Carolyn Holbrook
Carolyn Holbrook was a 2015 recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant. She was named a 2015 Change Maker by the MN Women’s Press for “More Than A Single Story,” her series of panel discussions on black women writers of the African Diaspora living in Minnesota held at the Loft Literary Center. Her personal essays have been published widely, most recently in A Good Time For The Truth: Race in Minnesota (MHS Press) and Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota (MHS Press). Her book, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Journeys: How the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods Program Changed Lives and Communities was published in 2013 & 2015. She founded SASE: The Write Place in1993 and served as its Executive/Artistic Director until 2006, when she spearheaded its merger with Intermedia Arts. She teaches Creative Writing at Hamline University where she won the Exemplary Teacher award in 2013, and at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. She was a 2015-16 mentor for the Loft Mentor Series and was the 2010 recipient of the MN Book Awards Kay Sexton Award. Holbrook was recently recognized as one of 50 Minnesotans over the age of 50 who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.