A Q & A with author, historian, businessperson and entertainer seeking DFL nomination for Minnesota House in District 1B
First, tell us a little bit about yourself, i.e. age, family, education, where you live, what you do, etc.
Bergeson: I am 49 years old. I was born August 15, 1964. The crops froze hard the morning I was born, according to old timers. My dad was too panicked to care. He doesn’t remember if he scraped the windshield or not before he and Mom left for St. Luke’s hospital.
I have a partner of 10 years named Lance.
I graduated from Fertile-Beltrami High School after 13 years in the same building.
I graduated from UND twice. I have taught history courses at UMC.
For seventeen years, I owned Bergeson Nursery, a family business which my grandparents, Melvin and Olga Bergeson, started in 1937. My parents owned the nursery for 27 years. I purchased it from them in 1997. I am proud of the nursery’s tradition and am happy to pass it on to my brother and his wife, who have already improved the business immensely.
For the past 750 consecutive Sunday evenings before April 6th, I wrote a column of about 785 words, give or take ten.
For the past fifteen years, I have enjoyed speaking and performing for groups of every sort––as many as 100 per year––although I retired from that about a year ago to concentrate upon writing.
You have been described as an "old soul." Do you agree with that label? Do you embrace it? Dispute it? What do you think being an "old soul" means?
Bergeson: I would be happy to live up to that label.
My next book, which is coming out this spring, is called “A Treasury of Old Souls.” It contains stories of elderly people who have influenced me through the years. I hope the book encourages people to take the time to connect with the elderly, and reap the inevitable rewards.
My personality was shaped by a childhood spent in the company of older people. I had very few childhood friends near home. In fact, the closest friend my age was several miles distant. So I made friends with the older people who worked for my grandparents, and later my parents. I suspect their world view rubbed off on me.
Your name came up in a recent conversation and a person said you have the "dream job." It was a reference to owning and operating Bergeson Nursery in rural Fertile. In the next sentence, the person said you get to work "in paradise." Could you tell readers what it's like to not only have a dream job, but do be able to do that job in paradise?
Bergeson: The nursery and greenhouse business has been my life since I was five. I don’t think I will ever get its seasonal rhythms out of my system. I especially love the busy season, which lasts from April through August. Not much happens in the off-season, however, which is tough on all of us here in the northland engaged in seasonal work.
I think I will enjoy paradise even more now that I don’t have to manage it. We forget how good we have it, especially when it snows on May 4 and you thought you were going to sell some petunias that day.
But overall, what a fortunate life. I wouldn’t have been able to stay here in this area if my grandfather and grandmother hadn’t built up the nursery, and if my father and mother hadn’t made the business profitable and efficient before handing me the reins. I have never met anybody born more lucky than myself.
You recently announced that you're going to run on the DFL ticket in the 2014 election for District 1B State Representative in the Minnesota House. Could you give five reasons why you've made this major decision?
Bergeson: First off, I’m only seeking the DFL nomination, and I would be grateful to earn it.
I want to fight to preserve nursing homes in Northwestern Minnesota. My 102-year old great aunt Olive is in Fair Meadow in Fertile. She calls it the Hilton. But Fair Meadow is threatened, like all small town nursing homes. The funding formulas are tilted against them. Two have closed, others are on the brink.
Our elderly should stay in their homes as long as possible, but when that is not possible, they should be able to stay in their communities.
We need to get in there and fight for roads and bridges for NW Minnesota. If we don’t make noise, others will gladly claim the dollars. We can’t live off former Rep. Bernie Lieder’s road-building legacy forever.
Schools in NW MN must be protected from the edicts from higher ups to thrive. No Child Left Behind. Outcome-based education. Can’t they just let our small schools do their thing and not pile up silly new regulations and requirements, all based upon urban and suburban problems, on the desks of the our rural administrators and teachers?
We’re stuck with government. Instead of decrying the very existence of government, let’s roll up our sleeves and make sure government is cost-effective, responsive and wise. The hard work of improving our government is the price we pay for democracy. Winston Churchill was right when he said democracy is the worst system of government in the world—except for all the rest.
Legislators spend their days solving knotty problems. I am happiest when solving knotty problems.
What do you love about Minnesota?
Bergeson: Lakes, potholes and swamps; three of the four seasons—but especially September; the Twins; open roads, solid civic traditions, Lutherans, hot dishes, basic decency, general politeness, kindness, seldom locked doors, keys in the car, high levels of guilt which keep us nice even when we don’t really feel like it, not getting arrested for forgetting to pay the tab at the cafe.
What about Minnesota do you feel could be better, maybe even much better?
Bergeson: We could knock the ball out of the park in education and eldercare if we put our mind to it. And we should. No state is better-equipped to innovate and improve. We need to emphasize our civic-minded roots and build upon the traditions and institutions so wisely built by our ancestors.
We also should stop by for coffee more often than we do.
You've been with your partner, Lance Thorn, for many years. Could you describe the range of emotions you have felt over the past few years relating to marriage in Minnesota? First, an effort is put forth to define marriage in Minnesota as a union between only one man and one woman, but a strong majority of Minnesota voters rejects the proposed constitutional amendment. Then, on the heels of that, same-sex marriage is made legal in Minnesota. That's quite a turn of events. How did you feel then, and how do you feel now?
Bergeson: The gay marriage debate was divisive and unpleasant. I am glad it is over.
With your column writing, your six books and your blogging, you're quite the prolific author. You can spin a witty yarn about days gone by, or show appreciation for something or someone, but sometimes you really put some zingers out there and make it absolutely clear to the masses how you feel about something, usually in the form of some particularly pointed criticism. It takes thick skin to put something out there like that and then potentially deal with the potential negative consequences. How do you do it? Were you ever thin-skinned?
Bergeson: Oscar Wilde reportedly said, “A gentleman is somebody who never hurts anybody unintentionally.” I am not bothered when people get upset at a column which hits the intended target. What stung me hard was the time I wrote what I thought was a glowing tribute to a person I respected who had died, only to have the person’s family—who I didn’t know—be outraged by one of the stories I shared. I felt like a heel. I still sometimes wake up at night with that one staring me in the face.
In addition to writing, you're also a performer. You speak to groups from little kids to the elderly, telling all sort of tales and trying to teach all kinds of lessons. You also often do these things while pounding away at the piano or otherwise being musical. What kind of charge do you get about of doing these types of things in front of such a wide array of people?
Bergeson: The most satisfying thing in the world is to watch Alzheimer’s patients respond to music. They are so open and free, despite the tragedy of their condition. I pump myself up before a visit to an Alzheimer’s unit, and the people respond in exact proportion to the energy I expend at the piano. Then I go home and take a long nap. I don’t know how the staff at those units does it. They are angels. But so are their patients—at least when a person has the luxury of waltzing in and enjoying them at their spontaneous best.
I love to speak to people who are above age sixty––and I also enjoy speaking to kids under 10. Both groups lack self-consciousness and are able to let loose and have a good time without the need for chemical stimulants. Maybe the issue is that neither the younger or older group is biologically preoccupied with mating or child-rearing issues, so they are free to have a good time without trying to impress or control the human sitting next to them.
Just a theory.
One thing reaches folks of all ages: Music.
The older I get, the more important I think high school choral programs are. Everybody should have that minimum of experience producing music together. Such musical training lasts a lifetime, and produces tangible benefits at future funerals, weddings and holidays. Piano lessons are lost on the less musical students who suffer through them, but singing in harmony as a group sticks with most everybody until their last days on earth.
Do you have any unusual or unique hobbies, talents and/or abilities that people outside of your inner circle are mostly likely unaware of? If so, do you care to share them with our readers?
Bergeson: I am a talented Boggle player, but only because I have wasted hundreds of hours playing the online version of the game. Rumor has it word games stave off dementia, so that’s my excuse.
In one sentence, with a maximum word allowance of 12, who is Eric Bergeson?
Bergeson: Eric Bergeson hopes to both embrace his heritage and build something new.