Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday morning Zen

St. Paul, Minnesota

James Sewell, a choreographer friend, wrote several years ago that he loves "to watch how musicians move when they play. They perform an expressive dance." He would have enjoyed watching the four energetic members of the Enso String Quartet.

Violinists Maureen Nelson and John Marcus, violist Melissa Reardon, and cellist Richard Belcher moved in the groove this morning when they performed Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor. Their efforts did not disappoint the audience of 100 in The Music Room at the SPCO Center in downtown St. Paul. The occasion was a free, 9am concert to help celebrate the 50th birthday of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Marcus employed the greatest amount of footwork, and his dynamic eyebrows are a match for those of Reardon who seemed to have the most engaged facial expressions. Nelson had the most articulated and commanding upper torso, and one would not want to mess with her stiletto heels. Constrained by his cello, Belcher poured great energy into his fingerings.

Inspired by Beethoven, Mendelssohn provided the romantic raw material – composed at age 18! – with which the quartet delivered a rich and passionate finished product. There was no way to discern that they had just learned the piece this week. It was a great 20 minutes to be alive!

In one of the SPCO's fine traditions, new music also was included on the program. The composer, violist, and arranger Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), born in Moscow in 1978, hails from an artistic family. His father, Alexander Zhurbin, is a Russian composer for film and musical theater, and his mother, Irena Ginzburg, is a poet, writer, and journalist. Ljova originally scored "Bagel on the Malecón" and "Ori's Fearful Symmetry" for five violas. Here, they were arranged for string quartet, both embodying a klezmer air.

The Enso String Quartet, formed in 1999 when the four principals were at Yale University, is serving in the SPCO's Young Artists Program. Collectively, its members have several degrees from Yale, the Curtis Institute of Music, The Juilliard School, the New England Conservatory of Music, the University of Canterbury, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The ensemble's name, enso, is derived from the Japanese Zen painting of the circle which represents many things: perfection and imperfection, the moment of chaos that is creation, the emptiness of the void, the endless circle of life, and the fullness of the spirit.

Against a clear sky outside the SPCO Center, the sun shone brightly on the ice sculptures in Rice Park, created for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. "Fountain of Unicorns," by Chris Swarbrich and Greg Smotzer, took first place in the ice carving competition. Photos here.

Enso String Quartet photo by David Mehr (l-r): Richard Belcher, Melissa Reardon, John Marcus, Maureen Nelson.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Honey, I'm twice the woman you are, and more of a man than you'll ever be!" – A drag queen at Baton in Chicago to a heckling straight woman in the audience, as recounted by Ironwood, a gay man who came out in the Twin Cities in the 1970s.

Anyone who still thinks that all GLBT folks share one common experience or perspective need look no further than "Where have all the drag queens gone?," an article by Thomas Rogers for, and the 48+ letters it has generated in response.

A 20s-something writer, Rogers posits his positive experience as a gay teenager ("For many men of my generation, coming out registered on the personal trauma scale somewhere between our first pimple and the pain of our first breakup.") against the campy spectacle that has lost favor with a generation of young gay men.

His readers applaud and maul him, and each other, as they discuss the role of drag queens as party favors; as symbols of liberation vs. performance/folk art; or as symbols of authority, along with priests and judges. One reader found Rogers's experience and article to be pretentious and shallow. Another bemoaned the omission of drag kings. Another cautioned that, appearances of progress aside, 20-40 per cent of GLBT adolescents still attempt suicide each year. More than one reminds that it was the drag queens who provided the gay movement with its Rosa Parks moment at New York City's Stonewall Inn. Yet another laments the seeming disappearance of these cultural unicorns.

It is nice to note, however, that the spectacle of men in dresses still resonates among a generation of older straight men; see YouTube images of a Republican-candidate-for-president-in-drag (Rudy Giuliani) flirting with Donald Trump.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writers to share

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Allow me to introduce four writers – Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe, Penelope Freeh, David Frum, and Nicholas Nash – whose words I find valuable for various reasons. Collectively, their thoughts fit within the mission of Minnesota Mist: Writings about dance, the arts, politics, and culture. Links to their blog sites are listed in the left-hand column of this blog, under "My Favorite Places on the Web."

Brittany Fridenstine-Keefe pens and posts Empowering Thoughts for Dancers. She also chairs the Dancer Council of Dance/USA, the national service organization for nonprofit dance in America. Currently, she performs as a member of the American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey, and appeared last summer in a solo program in Germany and Italy. I have known Brittany and her husband, Matthew Keefe, for several years; both danced with James Sewell Ballet during my tenure as its executive director. Born in Idaho, Brittany grew up in Seattle where she studied dance at the School of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Her performance credits include Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Ballet Memphis, and Minnesota Dance Theatre. Brittany has developed a dance therapy program for children with special needs and is certified in the GYROTONICS® exercise system.

Penelope Freeh has written Thoughts on Dance for three years, since January 2006. A native of Ohio, Penny started her dance studies at the Dayton Ballet before moving to New York City where she danced with several companies. She came to Minnesota in 1994 to join James Sewell Ballet, where she continues to perform and serves as artistic associate. As a choreographer, her work has been produced by the James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Orchestra, Walker Art Center / Southern Theater, Weisman Art Museum, and Ballet Builders. Penny is the monthly dance writer for TC METRO magazine; she wrote a feature column for Dance Magazine in May 2008.

I have been aware of David Frum since his days as a special assistant and economics speechwriter to President George W. Bush in 2001-2002. During last fall's campaign, some members of the conservative movement branded him as a traitor and persona non grata for questioning the credentials of Sarah Palin and her fitness to serve as president. I wrote to David on Nov. 14, following his appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC:

For a few brief moments last evening, you and Rachel Maddow had very human and real conversation. You and I are not fellow travelers, politically, but I appreciated your quoting of Gandhi and planting a seed with Rachel – whose style I mostly enjoy – regardless of whatever combination of things motivated you. Thanks for making the appearance.

He replied to thank me, and I have since followed his writing. Regardless of the party in power, we need a strong, loyal opposition, one that is reasoned, principled, and civil. David's voice provides that on the new website he edits, NewMajority,com. The site is dedicated to the reform and renewal of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I do not vouch for the other writers he features, nor do I share his objective of a new majority of the right, but he provides an intellectually honest discourse with his own words.

Born in Toronto, David earned BA and MA degrees from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, and became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 2007. He is a resident at the American Enterprise Institute, the author of six books, and a regular commentator on American Public Media's "Marketplace." Like me, he is a fan of Abraham Lincoln and American Civil War history. His wife, the author Danielle Crittenden, is a contributor to the Here is an example of David's viewpoint from a recent post:

Today's Republican Party is an unhealthy and unhappy organization. ...Parties do not rebuild by shutting out their members – or engaging in tough guy talk when asked basic and obvious questions about past promises. They rebuild with transparency, responsiveness and competence. Let's have some, please.

I have known Nicholas Nash for many years through my work in Minnesota's arts community, and always have regarded him as what "they" used to call a "true gentleman and scholar." Like me, he has had more than one Scottish terrier in his life and household, and that is just the beginning of the good character traits of this self-described teacher, school administrator, professor, public radio program director and broadcaster, entrepreneur, and theater aficionado.

Educated at Harvard, Nick carries the title Le Grand Fromage at The Nash Company where his largest selling products include nose flutes and conducting batons. He is a man of character, conviction, and subtlety who maintains several blogs, including Hobbling Through The Zeitgeist, Islay The Scotty, and Thoughts While Shaving. Here is a sample of this Renaissance man's prose:

You should be willing to discover our own contemporary artists and composers with enough oomph so that whether their time comes now or not for another century and a half, they might believe that their commitment to their art will always have value.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spending the dough

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chris Roberts reported on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday about efforts by members of Minnesota's local music scene to organize themselves to take advantage of proceeds from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters on Nov. 4. "Organized" might be too strong a word, according to Roberts's report, but the effort is being led by Chris Riemenschneider, the Star Tribune's music critic.

The amendment to Minnesota's constitution will increase the statewide sales tax and provide $58 million annually to arts and culture. Logistical details need to be worked out by the legislature and state agencies. One of my October posts (see Chapters 3 & 4) advanced an agenda for how $30 million of annual support for the arts should be structured. There will be plenty of funds to include local musicians.

Covering the bases

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The website of MusicalAmerica carries an account of the meeting held in Washington last Thursday among members of the Presidential Transition Team and the CEOs of 20 arts service organizations. Bill Ivey, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, convened the gathering whose attendees included people from Opera America, Dance/USA, Chorus America, League of American Orchestras, Association of Art Museum Directors, Theatre Communications Group, and Meet The Composer, among others. Interestingly – and encouragingly – the agenda was not all about obtaining more money for the arts!

And the Oscar goes to ...

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The nominees for Academy Awards were
announced today. Here are my 2008 "best picks" in several categories:

Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh - "In Bruges"

Director: Danny Boyle - "Slumdog Millionaire"

Leading Actress: Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius Beauvier) - "Doubt"

Leading Actor: Sean Penn (Harvey Milk) - "Milk"

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Mrs. Miller) - "Doubt"

Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Fr. Brendan Flynn) - "Doubt"

Original Score: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Original Songs: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Doubt, In Bruges, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yes, they can!

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When everything in the world seems to be going wrong, it is easy to overlook the things that are going right.

Things will be going very right for the four artistic co-directors of Live Action Set when they head to Campinas, Brazil, Jan. 27, for three weeks of study, collaboration, and preparation for their debut at the Guthrie Theater in June.
The directors, Noah Bremer, Megan Odell, Galen Treuer, and Vanessa Voskuil, will study together in week-long workshops with the collaborative, physical theater artists of Lume Teatro, located in the Barão Geraldo district of Campinas.

Although the trip was not planned for the middle of Minnesota’s most biting winter in years, none of the quartet are complaining about the prospect of Campinas’ tropical climate and temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Their timing also will allow them to participate in Brazil’s Carnaval, ending on the eve of Ash Wednesday, Feb. 24.

The travelers see the trip as a rare opportunity for themselves as individual artists and as an organization. "The four of us have never had the opportunity to train together, to focus on growing, and learning a shared performance vocabulary,” said Treuer.

“We are very much looking forward to spending some focused time away, studying, and doing some research for our next performance at the Guthrie Theater."

With a population exceeding one million, Campinas is a city and county in the state of São Paulo on Brazil’s southeastern coast. It hosts an international business presence by the likes of IBM, Motorola, Nortel, Compaq, 3M, Texas Instruments, and Honda, among many others.

During two decades, the Lume company has become a global magnet for theater and dance artists interested in studying clown, Butoh, Noh, Kabuki, and other styles within an atmosphere of collaboration and exchange. In addition to its workshops, the company creates and performs original productions, touring with them to more than 20 countries to-date.

The Live Action Set artists will devote four hours daily to classes, followed by hours of thematic, physical, and language research needed to develop their latest original production, “My Father’s Bookshelf.”

“My Father’s Bookshelf” is a new work about dementia, neuroscience, and the mortality of families. This original play is a mix of family drama and gentle humor, interlaced with a neuroscientist’s passionate lecture on Alzheimer's.

It will be the company’s 13th production since the four artistic directors began creating ensemble-driven performances in 2003. Their work has been a favorite of Fringe Festival audiences and others at several Twin Cities venues.

The Brazilian adventure is supported by a Travel & Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation and additional, individual fundraising. Live Action Set’s artists will share their experience with other Minnesota artists in a two-day workshop in Minneapolis, Mar. 21-22.

[Related Minnesota Mist post.]

My Father’s Bookshelf will be presented in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, 818 S. 2nd Street, Minneapolis, June 18-28. Single tickets are priced from $18 to $30, with opening night seats at $34. Tickets are on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll-free 877.44.STAGE, and online at

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The court erred

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Don't group me with the chatterers who think the recount in Minnesota's election of a U.S. senator was all fouled up. For sure, some problems have surfaced that need to be fixed, and they will be. Overall, the process was as fair and transparent as anyone, anywhere, could have made it. In this, Minnesota's election milieu remains a model for others.

On the issue of "wrongly rejected absentee ballots," however, things went haywire. Minnesota election law has four criteria/reasons by which absentee ballots can be "rejected and not counted." Election officials in the state's 87 counties identified a small universe of 1,300+ that did not fit one of the four reasons for exclusion. These ballots were not counted on election day. They need to be counted.

Unfortunately, Minnesota's Supreme Court, in a 3-2 decision, directed that representatives of both the Coleman and Franken campaigns must agree with the local officials about the merits of a ballot's wrongful rejection before it could be counted. As a result, three-way agreement was reached only for 900+ ballots. Some 400-500 ballots were not counted and their voters were disenfranchised.

This decision to inject partisan veto power – which was exercised by both sides – into the recount process was wrong. The court should have directed that the 1,300+ ballots be counted. Then, if either campaign had a problem with a particular ballot, they could take the matter to court after the State Canvassing Board certified the election results.

Many members of the state legislature seem to agree and are moving to clarify this aspect of our recount procedures in the statute books. Good for them!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Byron Shire Echo
, Mullumbimby, NSW, Australia
Published Wednesday, 7, January 2009

Farewell to Jenny Verroen
Written by Eve Jeffery
Wednesday, 07 January 2009

Jenny Verroen, Mullumbimby identity and much loved Echo staff member, died of complications arising from a recent stroke, at Tweed Heads Hospital on Monday December 29, aged 63.

Born Jennifer Dorothy in March 1945, Jen was the oldest of Ted and Dorothy ‘Doff’ Wareham’s three children. The family including Jenny’s younger brothers Steven and Geoff, lived at Maroubra in Sydney’s southeast.

She was an extremely bright child, which was recognised when she won a scholarship to Sydney Girls Grammar. Jenny grabbed all knowledge from every source and at quite a young age headed overseas to explore the world, arriving in the US in the late 60s where she worked firstly for Chris Craft Boats then at the Radio TV Station, KMSP.

In 1969 she became the administrative assistant to Jack Chestnut, the campaign manager to former Vice President of the United States, Hubert H Humphrey, in his successful bid to be reelected to the Senate.

DJ Leary, political commentator and former media director for Vice President Humphrey has fond and vivid memories of Jen. ‘That campaign was where Jack, Jen and myself first forged a friendship that has weathered time for almost 40 years,’ says DJ. ‘After the campaign, Jen went briefly to Australia but Humphrey was being pressed to run for President in 1972. When he decided to make the run for the White House, he told his campaign manager to bring Jennifer back from Australia, as he wanted her in the US to help him campaign. Humphrey lost the nomination to George McGovern, who lost to Nixon and then came Watergate.’

In 1972 Jen moved to Duluth, Minnesota, as comptroller for the Upper Great Lakes Pilots. The pilots navigated foreign ships through the Lakes. She was also comptroller for Seaway Services, an umbrella corporation whose companies provided tug boats on the Lakes, stevedoring services for the Port of Duluth, and line handling services in several Great Lakes ports. Jen stayed in the shipping industry for about ten years, finally becoming the overall administrator of the entire operation.

Love of her life

It was during her service on the Lakes that she met ‘Verroen’, the love of her life.

Gerard Verroen had retired from his career as a ship’s captain and was the general manager of the freezer terminal for shipping in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The corporation that Jenny worked for bought out the firm which employed Gerard and he was ready to fight for the jobs of his workers when the new company rep entered the room.

‘She was dressed in a white ruffled blouse and a purple jacket,’ recalls Gerard. ‘She had flaming red hair and I thought “God, what a picture”. I was worried that she was going to fire us all but it was settled well, though Jenny kept coming back to Wisconsin for the most minuscule reasons. I thought it a long way to travel for such small things. Then I caught on.’

The two became a pair and were inseparable for almost 30 years.

When Jenny fell in love with Gerard she also became a part of the Verroen clan, and Gerard’s son Hans Peter in Holland found a kindred spirit in Jen. ‘I found a new mother and a good mother she was to me. We “spoke the same language”. She was so clever and understanding. I could discuss any and all topics with her and our kids felt like they had a new “Oma”.’

In the late 70s, Jenny and Gerard moved to a house on St. Clair Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the early 80s she brought her parents over for a lengthy holiday in the US. During their stay, her mother suffered and eventually succumbed to a recurring incident of cancer and Jen along with her father Ted and Gerard, decided to return to Australia, eventually settling in their home at Wilsons Creek.

Jen was involved in so many local projects and associations they are beyond count – she was a champion of the Bush Fire Brigade, the Chincogan Fiesta Committee, the Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers and the Brunswick Valley Historical Society. It was through these community groups she became well known throughout the shire. There was never a time when the Verroens did not have a box of ‘babies’ in the den, a bird flying through the kitchen to a perch on the mantelpiece or a phone call to rescue a snake from some hysterical human, and as members of the historical society, Jenny and Gerard will be well remembered as the Mullumbimby Market managers, for which Gerard says they didn’t miss a single market in 12 years.

The Verroens were new arrivals in Mullumbimby when Nicholas Shand and David Lovejoy started a newspaper in 1986 and with the wealth of accounting practice behind her, she set up a bookkeeping system and became an important part of The Echo team.

Veteran Echo receptionist Felicity Gaze remembers Jenny as an accommodating and patient teacher. ‘I didn’t have any of the skills I needed for this job when I started. She was a very welcoming person who showed me how to do everything. I wouldn’t be in this job today if it weren’t for Jen.’ This was also true for many Echo staff members who were employed over the years simply because of the faith Jenny had in their ability, myself included. Jen worked in some capacity for The Echo right up until her trip to Europe and the US in 2005.

The Verroens had a joyous family gathering in Holland on their European leg. ‘They came to visit us in Holland in 2005,’ said Hans Peter. ‘It was a wonderful occasion and afterwards they continued on to the USA. That was the last time we saw Jen but she will always be our dear mum and oma.’

The Verroens travelled to St Paul. They were staying with their good friend ‘Princess’ Pam Arledge when Jen collapsed on May 26 with a stroke caused by an arterial venous malformation, AVM, a rare condition that occurred deep in her brain. Thanks to Cyberknife technology, Jen survived the stroke and with friends and family across the globe awaiting her every breath, she rallied enough to be transported to Australia to continue her recovery.

Because of her reduced physical capability, Jenny and Gerard moved from their much loved haven at Wilsons Creek to a more manageable house in Mullumbimby and Jen continued to progress with her recovery. But not for this world was such an angel and her recovery was merely a long goodbye, as Jen was struck again by a stroke in November last year. This time her revival was not as stellar. Sadly just before the new year she let go her hold and flew away.

Jenny Verroen leaves behind a legion of broken hearts. She will be sorely and sadly missed and her presence will never be forgotten.


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monticello Times, Monticello MN
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kenneth J. "Kenny" Vetsch, 84, Monticello

Kenneth J. "Kenny" Vetsch, 84, Monticello, died Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at his residence.

A Mass of Christian Burial was 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009, at The Church of St. Henry in Monticello. Father Timothy C. Rudolphi was the Celebrant. Visitation was Friday, Jan. 2, 4-8 p.m., at The Peterson Chapel St. Michael-Albertville Funeral Home. A Prayer Service was held at 7 p.m.

Kenny was born Nov. 8, 1924, in Buffalo Township, Wright County, the son of William and Antonia Wey Vetsch. He honorably served his country in the U.S. Army.

He married Millicent I. Peterson July 24, 1971, at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights.

Kenny worked in dairy farming in Monticello Township for many years. He later became a construction laborer and belonged to The Construction & General Laborers Local # 536.

He was a faithful member of The Church of St. Henry in Monticello. He was also a longtime active member of The American Legion, V.F.W., Catholic Order of Foresters and Knights of Columbus.

Kenny loved the outdoors, especially working at Beebe Lake Park for 17 years and having a large garden.

He is survived by his wife; children, Gary Peterson (James Davies), Debra (Jeff) Lewis, Patti (Patrick) McCann, Tim Peterson and Sandy Peterson; 11 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; brothers and sisters, Orville (Marlene) Vetsch, Willard "Willie" Vetsch, Anna Mae (Gilbert) Valerius, Earl (Joan) Vetsch, Fred (Alice) Vetsch, Nona (Lyle) Lindenfelser, and Dianne (Duane) Kemmetmueller.

He was preceded in death by his parents; four brothers, Ralph, Lloyd, Joseph and Donald Vetsch; a granddaughter, Bernadette Lewis, and by first wife, Kathleen.

Casket Bearers were Kevin McCann, Aaron McCann, Kelly McCann, Ryan McCann, Peter Lewis and Brian Vetsch.

Kenneth Vetsch Eulogy, St. Henry’s Catholic Church, Monticello MN
by Tim Peterson - January 3, 2009

Good morning. Happy new year everyone. This would certainly be Kenny’s wish for each of us on this fine day of remembrance and celebration.

How does one even begin to summarize the essential character of someone as beloved and dear as my step father Kenny?

The author Dr. Stephen Covey wrote that in order to truly become fulfilled, each of us seeks to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy. I would add my own personal fifth
item: to laugh often. Kenny’s life had the gift of many years to master fulfillment in each of these areas.

As I stand before you today, I am struck by the greatest of ironies among my many reflections over this past week. When Kenny married my mother back on July 24, 1971, I was but a scared, awkward, pimple faced, 12 year old kid. Beginning way back then, I literally ached to emulate and to always be as much like him as I possibly could. This was apparent in everything from wearing my Jacques seed corn cap, my leather work gloves, my blue jeans, and my red wing brand work boots that we acquired from a big trip down to Minneapolis. I must confess to you all that here I am now today, almost 38 years later
, and I still ache as ever to be as much like him as I can!

Although certainly more numerous, there are at least six reasons why:

1. Kenny had a Quiet Kindness to him. He was authentic, non-superficial, the REAL deal. Kenny was not a talker. He let his actions speak more loudly than his words, as was shared so eloquently last night in comments from both my brother, Gary, and my brother-in-law, Patrick McCann.

2. Patience. Kenny showed this in spades throughout his years, but perhaps no more directly than after the April 26, 1973, construction accident when, at roughly the same age of 49 that I am at today, he fell three stories off of an apartment building that he was working on. He landed upon his seat on the hood of the cement truck below and his hard hat also came off from the fall. Moments later, he was struck in the head by the wheel barrow full of concrete which followed him in the fall. Kenny was nearly killed from this mishap and he suffered through great pain during his recovery and was challenged by great disability and hearing loss throughout the remaining years of his life from that point forward. I cannot even imagine how difficult that must have been to endure such an ordeal.

3. Dutiful. Kenny was the guy who always showed up with his legendary work ethic. He pulled his weight, or in his own words, he "cut the mustard." He always did his job and he did it well.

4. Adaptable Kenny was often resourceful in overcoming adversity and embracing change. I will be forever amazed by how well both he and my mother made the proactive decision 12 years ago to move off of the farm and into town as they proceeded in age into their early 70s.

5. Kenny could be tremendously Humorous. He liked to pull the occasional prank in order to tease my mother. He would help to lighten her up and keep things easy going. Many of you may not know this, but Kenny spoke German, learned long ago from his early farm family upbringing, and this would happen often when he would get together with his many siblings. We kids would be utterly fascinated by this and would beg them to say something in German. "Spechen se Deutsch, spechen se Deutsch," we would plead.

Kenny would then glance at his conspiring brothers with a twinkle in each of their eyes and state something like the following (hopefully, those of you who are fluent will forgive my attempt to pronounce correctly here): "Ah-Bay-Say, Kat-Schlecken-Sneigh. Sneigh-Dey-Vet, Kat-Schlecken-Det!" Fully believing that we had just heard something very deep and profound we would then plead with Kenny to translate what we had just heard. "Say it in English, say it in English," we would beg. Kenny and his brothers would by then be laughing so very hard as they let us all into their little linguistic joke by stating the following: "A-B-C, the cat sleeps in the snow. The snow then melts, the cat sleeps in the dirt!" I guess you just had to be there in order to most fully appreciate how humorous and priceless of a memory this is!

6. Finally, Kenny was very Spiritual. He would never let on himself outwardly about such a thing, but his very persona once again spoke volumes through his love of husbandry and all agrarian activities. His actions were almost always in sync with the seasons. Kenny seemed to get the "inside stuff" right. I did not realize it then, but looking back, it is very apparent that his ongoing, quiet example of living opened many doors to the unfolding of my own spirituality which has continued over the years since he came into our lives.

To conclude my comments, I wish to share some timeless wisdom from my friend, Joe Henry, who lives as a rancher on the western slope of the Continental Divide along the roaring Fork River Valley in southwest Colorado. My friend Joe is an elder of native American, Cheyenne tribal ancestry. His words provide a significant measure of calm and comfort ... so appropriate as we all remember and honor Kenny this day:

I know that love is seeing ALL the infinite in one.

In the brotherhood of creatures; Who the father? Who the son?

The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold.

Take my hand now to remember, when you find yourself alone.

You are NEVER alone!

For the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens.

It fills the endless yearning of the soul.

It lives within a star too far to dream of.

It lives within each part, and is the whole.

It is the Fire and the Wings that fly us home.

Fly us home … fly us home.

Ah-ho, Ishinyuwanta … you are the blessed servant Kenny, filled with joy and peace.

Ah-ho, Ishinyuwanta … we are all the blessed ones this day, filled with joy and peace.

Friday, January 2, 2009

For all the saints

St. Michael, Minnesota

I am the eldest of my mother and stepfather's five children.

As we have gathered over the past several days and shared stories and memories, I have felt envious of my three youngest siblings who had the opportunity, as our oldest sister and I did not, to live day-to-day for many years with our stepfather. I was living across the country when my mother and Kenny met and, beyond an occasional extended visit, I never lived here in Wright County.

On Tuesday, my youngest sister, an aunt, and I joined my mother at her house. On Wednesday, my carpenter sister returned from vacation to join us. My brother arrived from Denver on Thursday. With the arrival of our oldest sister today, all of us are together for the first time since the somewhat-expected-but-unbelievable happened.

Throughout the week, we have had an awareness that the news of Kenny's passing, at home and at night, was rippling out to the extended network of his friends and family of 84 years. This is similar to the way that news of a whirlwind courtship emanated from these environs during the spring of 1971.

In addition to brief phone calls, I relied on letters to keep me posted. First came a letter from my godmother, in March, 1971: "Your mother has met a man." Then, in a letter from mother, he had a name: Kenny. In a subsequent letter, she shared news of one of their first dates, on Apr. 10, the day before Easter, at the Monti Club in Monticello: "He seems to know a lot of people around there." [He hailed from a family of 12 children, each of them networked with hundreds of others in ways that only Facebook could hope to unravel.]

A letter from my youngest sister, age 10 at the time, told of Kenny's first date with just the three kids: "It was May 2nd, to be exact," she wrote. He introduced them to his farm and had them painting fences.

Mother and Kenny married in July.

As we sorted through pictures for the display boards this week, it was clear that, when it came to being the subject of photos, Kenny always took a good picture. He is smiling in nearly every one, just as he is now, lying in repose.

More than anyone else I know, Kenny took seriously the dictates of the Old and New Testaments to practice hospitality. His farm, and later his home in town, was the destination of a regular and unending stream of visitors, young and old, from all walks of life. All were welcome. Always.

All of us do our best to deal with what life throws at us. Like all of us, Kenny did not have – or was not able to give – everything that someone else might need in a given circumstance. Unlike some of us, however, Kenny always gave everything he had when it was needed.

ADDENDUM [01/04/09]: Kenny was buried yesterday at Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis. His death last Tuesday marked the end of both an era and an extraordinary number of departures from my circle during 2008. Last Monday, I received word that Jennifer, a friend since 1970, had died that morning in Australia. In October, two political friends of longstanding, Allan Spear and Gene Lourey, passed away, as did Sam, a friend and arts patron. Jim Dusso, a longtime arts advocate, departed in September. The mother of an artist friend died in an auto accident in August. My father's cousin took his leave, at 102, in July. The mother of my best high school friend died in April. In February, another political friend, David, and the father of another good friend passed away. Last January, I gathered with others to celebrate the life of a friend and former employer. On the same day that Kenny left us, the final court proceedings took place by which a sister and brother-in-law adopted J and R, my brother-in-law's nephews. Blessings on them all.