New leader of Downtown Crookston Development Partner made a serious run for mayor earlier this year.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I am the son of Renae Dahl (44) and Kelly Fenno (45) and the second oldest of 5 boys in the family. I have an older brother, Blaine Fenno (25), and three younger brothers: Cody (19), Austin (17), and Zachary (12). I have two Godsons: Craig Dahl and Xavier Aguilar. I was raised Catholic and still study and practice my religion daily. Growing up, my mother worked as a nurse assistant, daycare provider, and at New Flyer. My father worked many years at Dee Inc. and then made a move to New Flyer as well. My grandparents on my Father’s side (Jerry & Heidi Fenno), are long-time residents of Crookston and my grandfather owned Car Quest (Big A) for many years. He is originally from the Bismarck area and my grandmother moved to the United States from Germany in her late teenage years. On my mother’s side, my grandparents (Roger & Geraldine Dahl), are lifelong residents of the Winger-Bejou area and have had careers ranging from business owner/farmer to police officer.
Growing up, my family fit within the low to middle income range. Neither of my parents had college degrees and they started a family as teenagers, having my older brother when they were just 18 and 19 years old. Within my family, I have been able to experience many dynamics. My older brother has one of the biggest hearts I know, but he has also has a knack for getting himself into tough situations. Being exposed to things ranging from substance abuse to violence growing up, I learned how to have thick skin and empathy at the same time for those going through dark times. My younger brother, Cody, was born with Autism, which took me a long time to understand, but has given me the ability to navigate special gifts given to people and appreciate their differences. Anyone who knows Cody will likely say that his personality and optimism is life-changing. My younger brother, Austin, he is the quiet one. He reminds me of the football player off the Blind Side, as he is not the Brainiac in the family, but he will always protect his brothers. He loves and loves and loves some more. Unfortunately, growing up we did not realize early on that he could only hear about 50% of what others could, which caused him to form a speech impediment. I remember when my mother explained the story of him getting his hearing aids, he turned to my mother and asked what that noise he heard was, and after a few questions, my mother discerned the noise he has talking about was the wind. He had never heard the wind, or a train whistle, or most women’s voices, unless they were very loud. My youngest brother Zach is a fireball! He is full of energy, loves sports, and like my other siblings, in his own way, an inspiration to me. I am excited to see what he decides to do with his gifts in the coming years as he enters Junior High and High School.
In my younger years, I was very fortunate to have grown up in Crookston on a city block with more than 10 kids my age whom I was able to play outside with all the time. It was not uncommon for me to be at friends’ homes 7 out 7 days a week, especially in the summer. Whether it was football, basketball, 4-square, night-games, baseball, tennis, street hockey, golf, soccer, kickball, or just making rivers in the back yard. I kept my parents on their toes all the time and was welcomed into my neighbors’ homes as a member of the family. Our community is special in that way! We could walk from house to house without knocking and we didn’t think anything of it. My mother was very good at getting me involved in every activity she could find to keep me busy. She was also a reinforcement for me to read, do my homework, and always work hard. I attended Crookston Public Schools through 2nd Grade, and then my parents made the decision to put me into Fisher Public School for the smaller class size. It is in Fisher School that I stayed until I graduated, although I always lived in Crookston.
My first job was mowing grass for my neighbor across the street, Martha Wissman (I apologize if I spelt her name incorrectly). After getting confident that I was doing good work, I then started mowing for several others and even was able to get a job doing yard work for Mrs. Baig. At this time, I was about 10 years old and seeing reward for hard work motivated me immensely. I then obtained a job working for the Crookston Daily Times, I delivered papers for several years, rain or shine, and at one time delivered almost 500 papers each weekend! One summer I purchased candy from the local grocery store, set up a display in my garage, and sold them for a profit to my neighbors. I eventually grew out of these jobs, and found employment at McDonald’s when I was 14 years old. I worked for McDonald’s for 7 years until eventually leaving the company as a shift manager and having the opportunity to manage the Duluth Central Entrance McDonald’s for 3 years while in college. During college, I came across the #1 nutrition company in the world, Herbalife. It is here that my mindset changed from an employee mindset, to the entrepreneur limitless mindset that included working harder on myself than on my job. Soon after getting introduced to Herbalife, I opened Synergy on Broadway in Crookston when I was 18 years old, which has evolved into Synergy Nutrition Hub LLC after nearly 4 years in operation. I continued to work as a Distributor of Herbalife as I spread my wings into more of my passions, which include coaching sports, community engagement, and investing. Today at 22 years of age, I am the proud owner of Fenno Properties LLC, Synergy Nutrition Hub LLC, coach football & basketball, started a youth basketball program, volunteer on several boards, and continue to look for opportunities to build quality relationships.
I have always been one to get involved in as many activities and organizations that I can. I thrive off of the energy from others and building many kinds of connections and relationships. The different activities I have been involved with over the years include: basketball, football, baseball, track, golf, knowledge bowl, National Honor Society, drama, band, choir, student council, peer mentoring, Tau Kappa Epsilon National Fraternity, softball, booster clubs, C4, Herbalife, DCDP, CFYBP, and a few other smaller specialized organizations whose mission was often revolved around specific events. Some of my proudest achievements include: 2-year varsity football captain, graduating top of my high school class, academic all-state award in football, receiving a full-ride academic scholarship to a 4-year university, being an officer of TKE fraternity, graduating in the top 7% of the University of Minnesota Duluth 2015 class, opening a successful business at 18 years of age, launching two separate LLCs, founding and building the Climax-Fisher Youth Basketball Program, running for mayor, and being able to contribute to my family, schools, and community at large in a powerful way.
During the process of finding a new Crookston mayor, a person came into the Times to buy a copy of the newspaper, saw your name in a headline, and said, "More of the Dillon Fenno phenomenon..." How do you react to a statement like that, or how does it make you feel? Have you taken Crookston by storm?
It is my belief that no productive effort goes unrewarded and that positive actions and thoughts attract positivity. When I was turning 12 years old, I made a decision to leave every situation better than how I found it, and that philosophy has guided me in everything I have done. When I hear a statement like that, my initial reaction is an appreciation for the recognition and a sense of humility as I know not a single accomplishment of mine was done on my own. What is often overlooked is the consistent, daily discipline that goes into every decision, activity, and conversation I am engaged in. In general, we cannot control when a specific action will draw attention or how it received by others, but we can control our habits, beliefs, work ethic, and enthusiasm. I see a comment like this as a sign that the work we as a community are pursuing is being noticed and although my name was being used, it reflects everyone and everything that is a part of the progress.
As far as taking Crookston by storm, I do believe that I caught some people off guard, as it is easy to get in a routine and accept a norm that is comfortable. However, I did not create anything new or “invent the wheel” so to speak, I just opened my ears to the conversation and the community’s desire for change and took on the opportunity to be a voice for it. Running for mayor was a new experience for me, but welcoming challenge, taking risk, and trusting in people is who I am. I am honored to be associated with the direction of Crookston.
Was there some a-ha! moment that led you to apply to be Crookston's mayor? Or were you more analytical and pragmatic in your approach?
As I have been building a lot of relationships in the community and making some larger investments, I was attracted to following the last election closely. The first time I had thought about running for the mayor position was when a close friend of mine explained that the position may become available if Mayor Whillhite wins the election for County Commissioner. Once the election finished, I heard there was talk about appointing someone from the City Council to fill the vacancy or even opening it to a general public special election. The decision to make it an application and selection process made it a more financially attractive option as opposed to the cost of running a campaign. I sat on the idea for awhile and had many conversations with my customers, peers, and people of many different roles in the community to learn more about what mattered to them. I have had the privilege of working inside many different circles of influence through my hobbies and passions, and I felt I could represent a large demographic that was not being voiced in the community. Also, understanding the role of the strong council with a synergistic mayor, I felt that I could bring the entire community together and bring a new energy to our changing community. I did receive a lot of criticism before deciding to run, saying that nobody would take me seriously and I had no experience or chance.
However, I accepted this as the exact reason why I needed to run. People need a reminder that striving for greatness and taking risks is a necessity for a leader and to build unity. I may not have had the experience, but I knew I had the support, connections, and determination to fulfill and exceed the duties as our Mayor. With the overwhelming sense of support from the community, there was no outcome that wouldn’t benefit the city, regardless of win or loss. The moment I came to this realization, I was all in.
Seriously, even though everyone in the council chambers agreed that you absolutely nailed your interview with the selection committee, did you ever think you had a realistic chance to be approved as Crookston's new mayor? Do you seriously think you could have navigated that steep of a learning curve? Please explain…
Going into the process, I knew that it was going to be a challenge and that I would have a small window of opportunity to allow the council and selection committee to understand who I was and what I was bringing to the city. Something that my close friends and my family know about me is that when I decide to do something, I do it with all my passion and I see it through to the end or until I feel it is being adequately handled.
Yes, I did and still do believe that I have a realistic chance at becoming Crookston’s mayor. The people of Crookston provided a fair and adequate process, and I believe that I was well represented in the hiring conversation. Unfortunately, the current time, setting, and happenings in Crookston caused the group to have caution before taking a leap of faith on someone that, until very recently, they knew very little about. Like I had mentioned, I was going into it knowing the uphill battle I was facing and my chances, but whether I did or did not win, it was a step in the right direction and it got the city thinking. I provided a different demographic with hope as to their role in our community’s future.
The learning curve for mayor would have been a challenge, but I am confident that I have the capability of executing the position with time, and while I may have been new to the council, I am not new to the organizational scene. In addition, the council, city departments, and staff are full of experienced Crookston residents, whom I know would have been great partners the entire term and beyond.
I've written on more than one occasion that the Crookston City Council is pretty much represented by a very similar demographic. The words "good old boys club" have even been used, by me as well as other council critics. What are your thoughts on those opinions?
First, I think it is fair to say that nobody likes to be called “old”. As for the representation of the demographic type on the council, we must remember that each of the positions are voted on by residents of Crookston. Crookston is in a good position as we stand today. Are things perfect, well maybe not, but the city has made great strides.
I do believe that there is plenty of wisdom in the individuals on the council, and that to keep progressing in an exciting and changing future, there must be opportunities for the next generation and diversity to be included in these leadership roles.
My final words on this topic will be directed to the public: “For things to change, we must change. For things to get better, we must become better. We have momentum and we have a vehicle for your voice to be heard. You must take action and vote in the election for those who represent you and will battle for our future. The outcome of the council and the city is in OUR hands.”
You mentioned during the mayoral interview process how important it is to show young Crookston residents that they matter. In your opinion, in general, how do young people in Crookston view their community, their community's leaders, and where their community is headed?
I interact with much of the youth in our community through athletic activities, the nutrition club, and by having younger siblings in my own family. I believe that the young people of Crookston feel a sense of comfort in our city mixed with a lack of an outside experience to compare it to. A combination of this nature enables them to overlook how incredible our community really is. The point I wanted to make when I spoke of the young Crookston residents is that they have a right and some would say an obligation to engage in activities they are passionate about. They are the future of our community, the state, and the world. At times, I hear some resistance about how they feel, but as soon as they are reassured they matter and you engage and recognize their achievements, they become powerful ambassadors and vessels for good change.
As for the leadership, there is an obvious gap between them and the youth. A missing piece in our city is a figure-head that they can relate to, feel comfortable engaging with, and whom makes a point of making them feel important. When they are reassured that they are making a difference, they will be excited about where we are headed.
Last year you received a loan from CHEDA to help you pursue your Synergy relocation to a larger building downtown that you’d purchased. After you made your pitch and left the room, a CHEDA board member said that he'd read on the web that Herbalife is basically a "scam" and a "pyramid scheme." Your business is affiliated with Herbalife. How do you respond to that characterization?
One of the important lessons I learned early in my mission to work on developing myself as a person, was that all good will be attacked. Even amazing individuals such as Jesus, Ghondi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. had people that rejected and despised them. I bring this up, because Herbalife is another example of an entity doing so much good in the world, and it will always be attacked by those who do not understand it. There was a lot of hype in the media when a Billionaire made a bet against Herbalife and made it his mission to lower the value of the company. As he had many resources, it drew a lot of attention. However, Herbalife leads the DSA in setting the Gold Standard and disproved these accusations and showed the world what we represent. I take pride in focusing in the facts about Herbalife which include the following:
• Herbalife has been in business for 37 years.
• Herbalife is NYSE Listed
• Herbalife is in over 90 countries around the world
• Herbalife has over $7 billion in suggested retail sales annually
• Herbalife employs the best doctors and scientists on nutrition and health in the world including a previous US Surgeon General, a Nobel Laureate, and doctors who have been voted #1 among their peers many years in a row.
• Herbalife has the world’s #1 meal replacement shake.
• Herbalife has a CASA program that feeds over 200,000 impoverished children daily with proper nutrition.
• Herbalife sponsors the Special Olympics, athletes, teams, and athletic events.
• Herbalife and its distributors educate, empower, motivate, and drive positive change in communities all over the world.
• Herbalife uses the world’s best practices, ingredients, and science in all operations and has helped hundreds of thousands of people reach their health goals and pursue a business opportunity that in my opinion gives the average person an above average chance at taking control of their life.
When people question Herbalife, I can only respond with how it has impacted my life (I have lost over 60 pounds) ,my family (my mother lost over 100, and my brother has lost over 50), and so many people whom I have had the opportunity to work with and help. Like I said, good will always be attacked, but I choose to focus on what matters and changing people’s lives.
Many people of any age probably wish they could be as happy and enthusiastic as you typically seem to be. Is it your Synergy products and way of life that are a major contributor, or something else instilled in you? Or is it a combination of many things that leads to your seemingly positive, enthusiastic and energetic approach to things?
I do believe that fueling your body correctly is a huge part of sustaining energy. However, my outlook on life comes from growing through experiences, successes, hardships, and relationships. I have and continue to work daily on my spiritual, mental, and physical health. The company I work with makes it a priority to find happiness and develop as a person. I fuel my body everyday with the Herbalife products and surround myself with things I love to do. It is hard to not be happy when you take control and responsibility for everything that happens in your life. I do at times get sad or angry, but I have equipped myself with the people and skills to recognize it, feel it, and move past it. I have seen a lot of bad things happen, and so everyday I am grateful to be able to work with people, motivate, love, and create hope. Ultimately, I have accepted that I cannot control the future, but I can control my beliefs, work ethic, and my reaction to what happens. The rest is in God’s hands.
Do you possess any quirky or unique talents, skills or habits that people outside of your inner circle are most likely unaware of? Care to share any?
I cannot think of any specific things that I do exceptionally well other than having the ability to be overly persistent, passionate, and speak to people. Outside of these characteristics, I welcome challenge and use my energy to highlight the extraordinary things others can do.
Describe where you think/hope you'll be in 10 years, or what you think/hope you'll be doing, personal life-wise and career-wise.
In 10 years I will have helped over 50 people take control of their lives financially and spiritually as well as help them find time freedom. I will be married and have at least 1 child by then. I will have $50 million in assets and be able to give back in a very powerful way to athletics, community programs, as well as invest in young entrepreneurs. I will be actively involved in state government and in the local school systems. I will be present at all times in my child’s life and be the best father I can possibly be. I will retire my mother and empower my brothers to pursue their dreams. I will build a home in the country right outside of Crookston with a large yard, a dog, and a pick-up truck. I will be 10-years more personally developed and will lead public talks, events, and empowerment sessions for thousands of people. I will have the opportunity to travel the world and pick vacation dates as I would like. I will have a 6-pack and continue to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle. I will have friends from all over the state and even the nation whom I collaborate and work with daily. I will host family and friends over for dinner often and will get to know God more and more each day. I will be grateful and never forget every person who has helped me along the way and will instill my values into my family.
Please describe yourself in ten words or less...
Passionate, consistent, persistent, faithful, responsible, humble, visionary, disciplined, optimistic, forgiving.