As I made the decision to run for city council, I consulted with a number of friends, family members, and mentors. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have had many great mentors. Going back to high school sports, my track and cross country coaches were great people that showed how to live a disciplined yet humble life. Bob Swanson, our Northfield Boys Chorus director was a driven and passionate man who shared his evenings and vacations with a squirrelly bunch of elementary and middle school aged boys.
A few years ago I reconnected with my favorite St. Olaf College professor. Charles Umbanhower and his wife Hendricka moved to Rochester from rural Northfield to be closer to the Mayo Clinic while Charles underwent treatment for a serious medical condition. Annie and I became close with the Umbanhowers and I really enjoyed having conversations with my former constitutional law professor as an adult.
There is a depth to the Umbanhowers that really resonates with me. They have been completely immersed in their community of Northfield, and their respective colleges of St. Olaf and Carleton. I went to high school with their kids and ran cross country with James and John. When they moved to Rochester, they started going to Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association where I reconnected with them. They quickly became involved in the neighborhood and in other community issues here. After living here for such a short time, Charles and Hendricka were able to identify many opportunities for improvement in Rochester. Sometimes people that are new to the community can help inform the perspective of those of us who have lived here a long time. Of particular interest to them was the city’s parking policies, and the systemic issues that come from having a weak mayor/strong manager system.
I sat down with Charles to discuss running for city council this fall, and he was very thoughtful and wise. I came away from that meeting feeling like anything was possible, and that this particular time is critical to our city. I felt, and still feel, like our city needs many of us to stand up and speak up. Charles completely agreed.
Charles died this week, surrounded by his family after phenominal care at the Mayo Clinic. I’m so touched that he took the time to help me during a time when he was clearly suffering and in pain. I’m thinking of Hendricka and the entire Umbanhower family as they go through this difficult time. It’s important to me that they know how important their dad was to me, and to so many of us St. Olaf kids.
I really hope Hendricka stays in Rochester because she is such a strong and thoughtful voice. We need people like her to hold us all accountable and to remind us that we can be better. Even in the midst of their own loss, Charles and Hendricka couldn’t help but think about the future and making it better for future generations. Their strength makes me feel an obligation to do my part.