April 28, 2019

“Mike?” The woman, who had looked at me a little strangely when she had put her jacket down before ordering, sat on the couch across from me at The Front Porch, a small coffee shop in Ely. I had wondered if I knew her. The odds were against that, as Ely has a population of 3000, of whom I knew exactly three women and one man.  Two of the women I could immediately exclude. 

“Jett?” I replied, and the ensuing smile confirmed that I had the right third.  Wow, I come here once, occasionally twice a year, spend a night, then head out into the wilderness for days, and this is the second time I have run into someone I knew at The Front Porch.  Nineteen months prior, I saw Becca Manlove, widow of Mike Manlove,  with whom I had taken many canoe trips into the wilderness as a forest service volunteer.  Mike died hiking the Bass Lake Trail in 2007 and was was one of my best friends.

I knew Jett from two veterans scholarships I created, originally to student-veterans attending Vermilion Community College (VCC), now open to relatives of veterans.  Two of Jett’s nephews died in Iraq, and for several years, I funded scholarships given in their names. I have created four scholarships in all at VCC and am deeply satisfied to help even a little.  Money goes a long way in the North Country.  I have no direct ties to the college, but I have been coming to Ely since 1981, taken 68 overnight canoe trips into the woods to more than 300 lakes, spent 300+ nights, and want to give back to the community.

I have trod in the steps of the wilderness writer Sig Olson, once dean at then Ely Junior College.  I met Dorothy Molter, “The Loneliest Woman in America,” on Knife Lake in 1981.  I was interviewed for a newspaper article by the late Bob Cary, editor of the local Ely Echo, writer (including a book about Dorothy), fisherman and legend.  He and his wife endowed an annual scholarship, now presented by his daughter.  Both my parents met Bob, and my father died the same year as he, both having lived long, good lives.

My first scholarship was for a student, chosen by the faculty, currently taking course work leading to a career helping the wilderness.  When I can, I try to go to Ely in late April to present it at the annual banquet. This was the scholarship’s 14th year, and I’ve been there for half. It’s a long way to go, but it means a lot to the Foundation members and recipients that donors come.  Besides, I can canoe, hike, or snowshoe, depending upon the conditions.

In 2007, I created a second scholarship, believing that the Friends of the Boundary Waters should be an environmental organization saying a loud “Yes” to education in the neighborhood of the wilderness they wish to protect. The Friends and I split the cost; it has their name and they present it.  I had not gone to the banquet for six years, but I knew I would go this year when I learned that Patti Z., Executive Director of the Foundation, was retiring in June.  An era was ending. 

That day, after meeting Jett, after hiking 9 miles on a wet, beautiful spring day in the north woods,  visiting five still-frozen lakes, seeing a couple of eagles, and almost nobody else, I stopped by the Forest Service office on my return to town. Becca worked for the Forest Service and I hoped perhaps she might be free to meet with me.

She had retired.

Dry Creek Falls emptying into Bass Lake, Superior National Forest

I had two quick realizations: one, I wasn’t the only one growing old.  Others were, too.  Second,  another era had ended.  For nearly thirty years, I had known someone working for the Superior National Forest.  No more.

I then went to nearby VCC to talk to Patti, and for once we both had time to chat.  She was looking forward to retiring, but she was going to miss a lot of what she had been doing—in her three jobs.  She would stay busy, of course, because she is that kind of person. Already, she had possibilities lined up.  She decried the polarization in Ely with mining mining groups.  

I told her how several years ago at the banquet, a father of my scholarship recipient told me he worked in the mines on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota.  He was so happy that his daughter was getting an education, “so she won’t have to follow me into the mines.”  I continued that many were looking for short term profit and not dealing with the real, catastrophic risk that mining could unleash sulfide into one of the most pristine watersheds on the North American continent, poisoning it forever.  

I didn’t add that such would be called “An Act of God,” rather than an act of man, the company would of course be bankrupt and “just not be able to pay for the damages,” and likely My Side would end up being blamed for the disaster, due to “regulations, obstructionism, extremism,” because it is always My Side’s fault.  I could have mentioned that VCC calls itself “The Boundary Waters College,” not the School of Mines, which is in Golden, Colorado, not Ely, Minnesota.

In discussing the scholarships, Patti said that some members of town asked her why the Foundation would accept money from the Friends.  Patti laughed, when she saw my jaw drop and the “O sign” appear on my face.  “I told them the money is for educating the students we have in the wilderness programs, and if they felt their organization should have a scholarship, they were welcome to create one themselves.”  She paused for effect.

“Funny how I never heard from them again.”

Stream at south end of Angleworm Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area

I went to the banquet the following night, my spirits remaining high.  That day I had hiked another bunch of miles into three different lakes, on trails having snow, ice, mud, streams and small lakes. I was happy to see young people at the banquet who will try to fix the mess my generation left them, the mess created in the name of jobs, quarterly earnings targets and balance sheets that never once looked at environmental impact liabilities.  I sat next to the executive director and the northern cities director of the Friends.  They were happy to be present, had looked forward to meeting me, and were so grateful I had created the scholarship. It is one of the better ideas I have had.

Angleworm Lake, south end, nearly ice-free, BWCA
Agassa Lake, Superior National Forest

Seated on my other side was a geology teacher at VCC with the last name Terwilliger, as in Terwilliger Hot Springs in Oregon, where I have done trail building as recently as two weeks ago.  He got to see pictures of the place he had long known about.  This year’s Friend’s scholarship recipient had paddled in a Louisiana bayou, fought fires in Montana, and done research on the Tasmania Devil in Tasmania. 

The following morning, I again ran into Jett at The Front Porch, and she told me that one of “my” scholarship recipients years ago went into law enforcement, began training as a first responder, until the instructors said he ought to go into medicine.  He’s now a physician, returning to Ely to practice.  

“We’ve come full circle,” she said.  

At the banquet, in the Grand Ely Lodge, I saw a flier for Hidden Valley, a winter sports facility near town with many trails which I had never visited in all my years coming there. Before I left, I stopped by and hiked up on now bare ground to one of those trails.  I do winter trail marking in the Cascades, and I have snowshoed a hundred miles this winter on them.  I went to specifically see and walk the loop trail named “Mike Manlove.”  


October 8, 2013

Vermilion Community College in northeastern Minnesota had to cut its budget 8.5%, or $750,000.  Concomitantly, there is a tuition freeze.  The latter is good for students, but further budget cuts are required, and they can come only from curtailing services, like laying off faculty members. Gee, that’s a great way to help unemployment, cutting college budgets so that fewer students can get an education that helps them get a better job, or to create jobs, through innovation.

Big government has often been the enemy, until 2005, when most of the country asked “Where’s FEMA?” and heard “Heck of a job, Brownie.”  That was the answer to gutting FEMA.  Fast forward to 2012 or 2013, where FEMA was positioned before Sandy hit and Moore was devastated.  Watch Coast Guard Alaska sometime and see how many lives are saved by government people–military personnel–who fly choppers into harm’s way to save people.  Does anybody in their right mind think we could do this privately with less cost?  Many feel each of us should take care of ourself.  That’s fine, until a family member is T-boned at an intersection with major trauma, a spouse says “I have cancer,” or a child needs something common–an appendectomy–and you don’t have insurance.

Vermilion is uniquely located in a town of 3400 at the edge of the largest roadless area in the Lower 49.  North and east of Vermilion, one travels only by canoe.  Vermilion offers courses in wilderness studies, including management, biology, and law enforcement.  Ten per cent of their students are minorities, and the student body comes from 250 different high schools.  Ask your local community college how many high schools their student body comes from.  Or whether they offer studies in Park Service Law Enforcement.

There are scholarships awarded to VCC students.  I am involved in three.  In the past seven years, the monies have doubled, from $20,000 to $45,000.  That’s a long way from $750,000.  I am trying to get the Friends of the Boundary Waters to create more scholarships than the one I initiated and mostly fund.  I want 3, 4, or 5 scholarships.  The Friends couldn’t stop the cell phone tower that is visible for 20 miles in the wilderness, and they probably can’t stop the sulfide mine, either.  But the Friends could fund several scholarships, sending a strong message to the Conservationists with Common Sense and those who think mining is the answer to joblessness that no, it is education that matters in Ely, and education is what will save the town, not mines.  My letter to the membership will be sent soon.  But even 100 scholarships would barely make a dent in the deficit.

There is a vocal group in this nation that says we should all pay our own way.  They are against government funding for education, immunizations, family planning, health care, food safety, milk pasteurization, science in all forms, weather forecasting, and early reading programs, all of which pay huge dividends.  This vocal group does not consider long term issues, like what happens should you get disabled, demented, ill, hurt, or suffer from consequences of a hurricane, tornado, flooding or drought.  To these people, government is bad, the private sector is good.  Stated differently: Republicans in government are public servants; Democrats are bureaucrats.

The congressman from Colorado, whose district was devastated by the recent flood, voted against Hurricane Sandy aid.  Many in Congress whose districts have been  beneficiaries of FEMA voted against aid to Sandy victims.  That’s real Christian.  Perhaps the churches can fix the roads in Lefthand Canyon, where I once lived, with a few collection plates.  Without federal aid, these people are SOL, because they lived in the wrong place, like Moore, Oklahoma, or Joplin, Missouri.  Should we pray more, like Governor Perry suggested?  Or do we fund the National Weather Service? I sometimes wonder what century I live in, whether I need to reset my watch back 75 years.

This vocal group is dangerous.  They will destroy the country as we know it.  They want to remove SSI and Medicare, devastating the elderly, destroy public education, and send us into default that will destroy our leadership and the world’s economy.. They want troops to go everywhere, so long as troops aren’t them or their children.  Only 7% of us are veterans.  I don’t think this group will ultimately win, but  Mr. Obama inherited a huge mess in 2009: 2 wars, the credit markets nearly frozen, and bad unemployment.  The wars had been kept off budget, so it wouldn’t look so bad. He couldn’t fix the mess in 2 years, and those with insurance were so vociferous about the Affordable Health Care Act that the American public voted in a bunch of crazies, who will do whatever it takes to bring down the government to get their own way.  They are also impolite, shouting “lie” at the State of the Union Speech, and shouting down a CIB Congressman (Combat Infantry Badge) who was against the Iraq War.

We could, of course, fund education and basic research better.  We could restore public education to the extent that the US educated its citizens to read books, write a coherent sentence, understand enough math to deal with debt and calculate interest (the Rule of 72 for doubling time of money–P/Po=exp(rt); P/Po=2, and take ln–the natural log– of both sides, so that the doubling time is 72 divided by the interest rate in per cent).  They  ought to know where, say, Azerbaijan is and why it is important (Caspian Sea, oil, proximity to Dagestan and Iran) and speak 2 or maybe 3 languages.  We could do this.  Then perhaps we wouldn’t complain about outsourcing of jobs to countries who believe education is important.

I find it annoying and hypocritical that Rand Paul’s state of Kentucky gets more in federal aid than it pays the government.  I think Kentucky should get funding for one thing:  Mammoth Cave National Park. New York State in the past two decades has paid more than a trillion dollars (that is 1E12, Rand, in case you didn’t know) than it has received.

Back to Vermilion, which could, of course, raise tuition and force students to get loans.  That would balance their budget but create students leaving with large debt.  Well, then, let’s open a sulfide mine.  Except mining jobs don’t last.  Only the tailings do.  Unemployment on the Iron Range, is the highest in the state, triple that of other parts.  Ask the people in Morenci, Arizona, how well things are going now.  Ask people who work in the mines what they want their kids to do.  Hint: it is not work in the mines.  The world has changed; the days of high school to the mines to having lots of money with ever increasing benefits are gone.  That was a past world.  The present is much leaner.  The future will be even more so.

With both age and illness stalking my life, I’m more interested in next year and the next decade, too, hoping that good science will be there when I need it, not prayers and collection plates, because I don’t believe in the first, and the second denies the reality of medical costs.  We could start with a tax rate of 39.5% for AGI over $250,000 and 50% for AGI over $2 million, because nobody in my view is worth $2 million a year.  In addition, deny them SSI, and tax 80% for bonuses of any sort.  Oh yeah, charge a buck for every $1000 trade in the stock market.  Stop policing the world, and fix the infrastructure that our “strange weather” (that really is no longer so strange) destroys every year.

Yes, raise taxes.  It’s an investment.  Fixing infrastructure will create jobs and long lasting value.  Fixing education will allow young and older people get out of the rut to go places their families never have gone before.  Health insurance will improve lives.  This has been proven in Oregon.  Hire more teachers at Vermilion and have a scholarship fund that allows deserving kids to have impacts in many areas. We need mines: we need them to be more productive of materials, safer, using less energy, with  far less impact on the environment.  Those new mines exist; we need only the right people to create them.  They will appear, if we educate them.

BWCA, 2012. TRIP 60. SOLO TRIP 20.

April 29, 2012

I needed to get my head on straight.  Really.  I am one of those who needs to get into the woods, the wilderness, or take a long hike periodically.  How long I can go in between varies.  But I know all the signs.  I get angry easily, I am short-tempered, I get upset at minor issues, and there is a part of me that says “get away from all of this.”

In 2006, we established a scholarship in our name at Vermilion Community College, a 2 year school in Ely, MN, on the Iron Range, at the end of the road to the Boundary Waters.  VCC students live on the edge of the wilderness….and poverty.  I was at the age where leaving a legacy–the woodpile a little fuller than I found it–mattered, and the scholarship was awarded at the annual VCC scholarship banquet, held in Ely.  I have attended 5 of the last 7 banquets.

In 2009, I partnered with the Friends of the Boundary Waters , one of those small organizations that has a few dedicated staff and leverages a lot of volunteers, to create a second scholarship.  I offered to pay for the scholarship myself; the Friends matched it, and this year, with a new employee in the Northland, he would present it, and I no longer would, which suited me fine.  The Friends kept a tall cellphone tower away from Ely, so it would not be visible from the wilderness.  Unless you have spent time in wilderness, it is difficult to explain how sounds and sights from civilization can degrade the experience.  A cell tower would degrade the wilderness, where cell phones read “No Service,” and one is on his own.

Worse, PolyMet is trying to build a Molybdenum mine in the area, which is of great concern to the water supply, due to the toxicity of the element.  It is jobs vs. wilderness, except the wilderness gives jobs.  The outfitter got money from me, and so did restaurants and motels I used, before I went into the woods.  We are going to risk the cleanest water in the US for mining something that is safe until it suddenly isn’t?  (Prince William Sound, 1989, Chernobyl, 1986, Fukishima, 2011, Challenger, 1986).

The third scholarship was the Brekke/Langhorst scholarship, named for two brave young men, cousins from Moose Lake, Minnesota, who died in Iraq…or as a result of Iraq.  One died 7 April 2004, which was almost certainly in Fallujah.  The other died from complications of PTSD, which should have been anticipated before we went to war, which was unnecessary and probably illegal.  But that is another story.  Young men are often the pawns of old white men, most of whom have never spent a day in uniform or served in harm’s way.  As a veteran, I wanted to contribute to a scholarship for veterans, and the family honored me by allowing me to do so.  No family member has presented the scholarship; I and a few others have.  This is a very deep honor for me.

So, I had plenty of reason to go to Minnesota in late April.  In 2010, I took a short trip, stayed about 3 hours from Ely, and in the space of one day drove to Ely, rented a canoe, did an eleven mile day trip in to Pipestone Bay, came out, presented the scholarships (there are about 50, now), and drove 3 hours back to my hotel.  That was a bit much.

In 2011, I wanted to go into Basswood Lake, and the ice went out the day before I arrived.  However, the weather was not at all cooperative, with high winds, big waves, and frigid water.  Not being in paddling shape, I thought in unwise to go into the woods, and camped at Fall Lake Campground, where I was alone, did some day hikes in snow, saw a Pileated Woodpecker, among other birds, and enjoyed myself.

This year, I decided to go in overnight and look at the results of part of the Pagami Creek Fire.  My wife persuaded me to spend two nights, in case of inclement weather, which turned out to be a wise idea.

I flew to Minneapolis, did the usual 4 1/2 hour drive up north, and got settled in Ely for the night.  The next day, I got the rest of the equipment I needed, put it on the car, and drove out to the Lake One landing.

I got on the water on a bright 60 ish day (16 C), and in an hour found a decent campsite about 3 miles  (5 km) in  .  I was going to rest that day, but the forecast was good for that day and not so good for the next day, so I had lunch, hopped in the canoe, and portaged twice into Lake Two.  I expected a wasteland, but it was a mile before I saw any sign of fire.  But there were signs.  The campsites at the west end had some burned areas, and the beautiful white pines on the west end of the channel into Lake Three were no more, as that area had been subject to a back burn.

Channel between Lakes Two and Three, with tall burned white pine.

I paddled into Lake Three and was pleasantly surprised again not to see a wasteland but a significant part of the forest was burned.  There were mosaics of green amid blackened trunks.  The water was more turbid than usual, especially by the campsites, but also along the shore in general.  It will take some time for this to clear.  Some of the islands were scorched, others were completely untouched.  The south end was heavily burned, although campsites survived fairly well, in large part because most of the fuel in this area has been picked over by campers for their evening fires.

The wind was a little worse than I liked, and although a 2 foot chop is not difficult to handle, I needed to realize I had about 5 hours to explore, including time to get back to my campsite.  Wind, muck , and rapids are three things that can stop a solo canoeist, so I turned back to the north end and started to head back, stopping at one campsite that bordered the fire area.  The wind abated, so I took an open channel at the north end of the lake, which I had never before seen open, and went into the northeast bay.  The one campsite the late Mike Manlove and I had stayed at in 1993 was in the middle of a heavily burned area, and the north shore was fairly heavily involved.

Northeast Bay of Lake Three, heavily burned.

I had told everybody I would not go into Lake Four, and I believe firmly in never deviating from one’s itinerary, when one is solo. A lot of bad things can happen in the woods, and solo, what may be minor can become life threatening.  I looked around, took some pictures, and then headed back to the campsite on Lake One, the whole 13 miles (22 km)  or so taking me a little over 4 hours.

I had nothing to do when I returned so lay in the tent, not sleeping, but actually encountering a few mosquitoes, at least five weeks earlier than I am used to.  After dinner, the lowering clouds suggested that the next day might not be so nice, and I was really glad I got into the burn area when I did.

Indeed, I was awakened to the sound of rain, and I awoke under darker skies although no rain.  It was noticeably cooler, too.  I hung around the campsite for a while and then paddled about 1 1/2 miles down to Pagami Creek, far back in the depths was where the fire started.  I took a look at the western sky, and while the barometer had not changed, I did not think going further was a wise idea.  I turned around and paddled back to camp, arriving about 10 minutes before the first onset of rain.  It rained off and on through dinner.

I was really, really glad I hadn’t gone into Lake Three that day–wind, rain and cold weather would have made the trip a bad idea.  I have long learned never to squander good weather in the woods, be it 5 minutes or 5 hours.

I spent the evening looking along the shoreline for anything I could find.  Such scanning has found moose, beaver, otter and other animals.  This time, it was a raven and two crows who provided the entertainment.  The raven flew across the lake and landed in a jack pine across the small channel.  Two crows were beside themselves and called at him, each other, and probably to the general universe.  Periodically, the raven called, too.  I videoed the event, catching the raven flying off, still harassed.  Random scanning is often interesting.

The next morning, the tent was hard, as like a rock, and I went outside to see ice on the tent and snow on the ground!

Spider Web with frost

The stove was out of fuel, and while I had another cannister, it was cold, I was coming out of the woods anyway, and I had enough to eat.  I broke camp, got in the canoe, and paddled back to the landing.  The hardest thing I had to do was horse the canoe up on the car and tie it down.

I got my head back on straight.  I was out 2 days, and it felt like a week.  I saw the burned area, and next year, I have to go back one more time to Lake Insula, as sad as seeing the south shore will be for me.  I haven’t given the lake a proper good by, and who knows?  Maybe we can do our September trips there again, if I find the area isn’t too depressing.  One thing is clear–I need to tie the scholarship banquet in with a camping trip.

The banquet went well.  I met Ian Kimmer, the Friends’ person in the North Country, who presented the Friends scholarship.  I presented my two, stayed for the whole banquet, then headed south.  We’ll be back in September, headed out Fall Lake into Jackfish Bay on Basswood.  It will be a good trip.  All BW trips are.

Burned area.

Canoe with snow on it.


April 29, 2010

I’m a lucky guy–I’ve canoed the Quetico/Superior since 1981, and while I’ve camped from Alaska to Algonquin, northern Minnesota is my favorite destination.  In 1992, I spent 5 months as a volunteer wilderness ranger in Ely, the most content I have been in my life.  But one of my more memorable trips was a recent solo up and back to Pipestone Bay, lasting barely 5 hours.  It was Earth Day and the first time I ever canoed in April.

I went to Ely for the annual Vermilion Community College Foundation scholarship banquet.  For 5 years, my wife and I have sponsored a scholarship for a student selected by the College who is studying environmental or wilderness course work leading to a career in those fields.  I try to attend the banquet to present the scholarship.  It’s our legacy to a town and wilderness we deeply love.

Two days before leaving I realized that if I arrived in Ely early in the day, I could rent a canoe and get on the water.  I was thrilled at the prospect (my wife said, “Why am I not surprised to hear this?”) and made arrangements.  I arrived in Ely at 9 on a perfect traveling day, got the canoe and drove out to Fall Lake.  I quickly shed every layer except for a shirt and PFD, and I could have taken the shirt off as well.  I wore neoprene gloves but really didn’t need them.  I saw nobody, except mergansers, a loon and several immature eagles at the south end of Pipestone Bay. I sat in the sun, enjoying a better view of the falls than I’ve had on the 30-plus times I have hurriedly crossed that portage.  Here’s a video of the falls and a few soaring immature eagles (they are immature because of their lack of a white head and general mottling.)

I contribute to three scholarships:  the amount of money the Foundation annually disburses has doubled since 2005.  I worked with the Friends of the Boundary Waters to create a scholarship in 2008; they and I jointly fund it.  I would also present that scholarship at the banquet, which pleased me no end–an Arizona guy who brought two fine Minnesota organizations together to create something good.

Up on Pipestone, I shot video of immature eagles soaring in a cloudless sky.  After lunch on Newton, I portaged back to Fall, paddling by the campsite where my wife and I stayed on 9/16/2001:  we started that trip on 9/11, unaware of events, heard the next day on Basswood River “the country was shut down,” but had few details and were nervous what we would learn when we exited.  On every trip since, we always note the presence of aircraft.

As a Navy veteran, a shipboard medical officer, I had long wanted to establish a scholarship for veterans, whom I feel should get free education.  Patti Zupancich of the Foundation worked with the Brekke and Langhorst families to allow me to contribute to an existing scholarship in memory of two young Moose Lake cousins who died in Iraq, 6 months apart.  Their aunt would attend the banquet but declined to present the scholarship because she knew how emotionally difficult it would be.  Patti suggested that I present the award, which was met with immediate approval.  I was grateful both families allowed me to contribute; I was deeply moved by their additionally allowing me to present it, one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received.

At 3 p.m., I came off the water, tired, sore and happy to have used muscles that had forgotten what paddling and portaging entailed.  It felt good to do J-strokes, scull, sweep, avoid rocks and portage again.  It felt right to solo in the wilderness.  But it felt odd to know in an hour, I would change from canoe clothes to coat and tie.  I had never done that before.

The banquet is always festive, which must be difficult for those who give memorial scholarships–a gold star family from Wisconsin presents one each year, too.  There is also one in memory of “Jackpine” Bob Cary, given by his daughter.

The recipient of our scholarship was there with his parents.  I enjoyed seeing how happy the three of them were.  The recipient of the Friends scholarship had taken people on tours to Listening Point.  One of the Brekke-Langhorst recipients had spent 4 years in Iraq; his father was also a veteran, and we had an interesting conversation.  The other recipient, a young woman, was ex-Navy; both of us have sailed many tens of thousands of nautical miles on the same seas in different eras.

As expected, presenting the Brekke-Langhorst scholarship was emotional, and I wanted everything to be proper.  The brave young men’s aunt thanked me, but I felt I received more than the recipients.

Every time I give, I seem to receive more.  I’m hoping the Friends get enough support to sponsor a second scholarship.  I hope some of my fellow wilderness travelers will remember those students in Ely, at the edge of the wilderness and on the edge of poverty.  If giving money is not possible, haul out a lot of trash on your next canoe trip.  Do something good for this special wilderness.

In 1938, Sig Olson, Dean of what was then called Ely Junior College, wrote “Why Wilderness?”, stating exactly how I feel on the trail:  the need for “sweat and toil, hunger and thirst, and the fierce satisfaction that comes only with hardship.”   Sig referred to hardship on the trail, not financial hardship.  There’s a scholarship in his name, too, which I want to honor by ensuring hardship stays only where it belongs.


October 1, 2009



The Boundary Waters and Ely have meant a great deal to me.   In 1992, I spent six months as a volunteer wilderness ranger in the BWCA.  I spent 100 days in the woods that year, took 22 different canoe trips, saw nearly 300 lakes and cleaned more than 400 campsites.  I saw first hand how many up there lived, on the edge of the wilderness and frequently on the edge of poverty to stay in this area.  Even in good economies, many are fortunate to survive at minimum wage jobs that are seasonal.  These scholarships at VCC I’ve established or contributed to mean a great deal to my wife and me, for the reasons mentioned above, but also because Sig Olson was Dean from 1935-1947, when the school was known as Ely Junior College.

In 2010, I had a special day.  I arrived in Ely seven hours before the banquet, rented a canoe, and paddled 11 miles up and back from Pipestone Falls on a perfect day, alone, seeing eagles, mergansers and a loon.   I ended up paddling about 11 miles then returned the canoe, changed clothes completely, and presented four scholarships: the Michael and Janice Smith, the Friends of the Boundary Waters, and the Brekke-Langhorst to two recipients

MICHAEL AND JANICE SMITH SCHOLARSHIP – $1,000 award – to a student who will be new to VCC in the fall of 2009 or continuing at VCC in the fall of 2009 and studying environmental or wilderness coursework leading to a career in one of those fields.

Past Winners:

2006–Kelly Bray

2007–Wendy Forss (Kelly and Wendy pictured below)


2008–Katherine Hagsten

2009–Matthew Chopp

2010–Mara Brogan

Mara Brogan

2012–Nathan Kluge

Nathan Kluge, 2012











As a member of the Friends of the Boundary Waters, I thought the organization should sponsor a scholarship.  I was willing to put my money where my mouth is and the Friends did the rest.  My thanks to Paul Danicic and Greg Seitz, whom I met in Minneapolis the morning after the banquet, for their thoughts and idea that we should have the members contribute a little more annually in hopes of establishing a second scholarship.  Sig Olson once wrote that wilderness travelers craved “the fierce satisfaction that comes only with hardship.”  But as Dean, he would not have wanted such hardship to be part of getting an education.  Putting two Minnesota organizations together–the Friends and the VCC Foundation–to create this scholarship was one of the better ideas I’ve had.

FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS SCHOLARSHIP – $500 award – to a student who will be new to VCC in the fall of 2009 or continuing at VCC in the fall of 2009 studying environmental or wilderness coursework.  From 2012 on, the Scholarship will be presented by the Friends, this year by Ian Kimmer, the Friends’ representative in the Northland.

Past Winners:

2008–Nathan Prokovic

2009–Katherine Hagsten (pictured above with the Smith Award)

2010–Travis Wuori

The third was one that I contributed to as a veteran to one of  the veteran scholarships offered.  Moises Langhorst died in combat on 5 April 2004 in Fallujah, where some of the fiercest combat occurred; his cousin Dale Brekke died from PTSD.   I cannot imagine how the family survived this devastation.  I was deeply honored to be allowed by the family to contribute to this scholarship:  one veteran presenting a scholarship to two other veterans in memory of two brave young men, who never lived to adulthood, who died serving their country.  I was asked by Jeanette (Jet) Cox, their aunt,  to present the scholarship, one of the deepest honors I’ve ever been given.  I’ve long wanted to establish a scholarship for veterans, who frankly ought to be given four years of tuition-free education; I finally was given a chance to do so; I just never expected I would ever present the scholarship.  I am incredibly grateful to Ms. Cox and the Brekke-Langhorst families for creating a memorial, their willingness to allow a stranger to contribute to it, their courage in the face of tragedy I cannot comprehend and requesting I present the scholarship.

DALE ANDREW BREKKE-MOISES ALBERT LANGHORST MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP – two $500 awards – to a student enrolled at VCC who has served in the U.S. military during or since 1998 to the present and/or spouses, parents, or children of those who served in the U.S. military during or since 1998. Preference will be given to those who served in the Middle Eastern theater of operations. Applicants must be in good academic standing. Students who will be new to VCC in the fall of 2009, those continuing at VCC in the fall of 2009, and students graduating from VCC in the spring of 2009 and transferring to another college or university are eligible to apply.

Past Winners:

2008–Brandi Weigandt

2009–Joe Hiller

2010–Steven Pederson

2010–Laurel Heino

2012–Micheal McEvoy


September 11, 2009