Busy wife, mom and career woman has a twin sister, too.

First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?

    I grew up in the Southwest part of Minnesota in the small town of Fulda, MN whose population was around 1000 people.  I was adopted from South Korea with a twin sister to Shari and Robert Howe.  She was a dental hygienist and a horse judge and my father was a banker.  I had two older brothers Bobby and Charley and I had fond memories of my sister and myself riding horses, swimming with horses, showing horses, water skiing, and playing with all our animals.  My growing up years, my mother always wanted to improve her education.  She went on to get her masters in vocational education and with her horse experience was offered a job with the light horse management program at both Waseca and Crookston.  I was happy to know she chose the right school to work since two years after working at the University of Minnesota Crookston the Waseca campus closed.  

    When we moved to Crookston, I was amazed with the flat land we moved to and the one-way streets.  I really thought I had made it to the big city.  Going from a town with one street to a town with several one-way streets was not a great experience for me driving in Crookston but it made me think, “Wow now you are in a big town”.  Also going from a class size to a class size of 24 to a class of over 100 students was scary but I felt I was moving up in the world.  What made things even sweeter was the fact my new home had the best bakery shop ever.  I loved our lunch breaks from CHS. 

     Many events in Crookston shaped who I am today.  This included theater choir, band, and speech and showing my Quarter horse.  It also included my first ever jobs in customer service at Hardees and at the pool.  

“Up with People” changed my prospective about myself and about my future.  After my world tour, I decided to major in International Relations at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where I could learn the Korean language and learn more about my cultural roots.  The big lesson I learned was “Not everyone is cut out to learn language”.  After a couple of years of a very enjoyable college experience, I decided to transfer to Moorhead State where I did obtain my degree in Communications with a Theater Minor.  Thinking I’d work for a Korean company someday it was serendipity that brought me back to Crookston.  It was the University of Minnesota, Crookston that lured me back getting a great job in the admissions office under Jack Bywater.  I worked there for 7 years and since then I have shifted jobs as the Director of First Year Programs to coordinating the International Programs and the Study Abroad.  This job has exposed me to students from over 30 different countries that include large in fluctuations from Korea, China, Nepal and Brazil.   I’ve also had a chance to send students to more than 15 countries.   Really I believe that I am a very fortunate person who’s been able to have a dream job and has had the great fortune to return to Crookston the town that had shaped me growing up.

Behind the scenes or when no one is looking, are you really as happy, upbeat and enthusiastic as you appear to be when you are around others? Please explain…

    Of course I am!  I have a lot to be happy about!  My family is most important to me and raising them in Crookston couldn’t make me happier.  It’s a town that has shaped my life and now I see it shaping the lives of our kids.  I’m married to my soul-mate George who makes me feel happy every day of my life.  He is always positive and keeps me grounded.  I don’t know what my life would be like without him.   He is the magic that makes me feel whole.

From my outside perspective, it would seem like you lean toward the left politically, and your husband, George, leans to the right. Assuming that’s at least somewhat accurate, how do the two of you deal with that on a daily basis, especially in today’s hyper-partisan, overcharged political climate? Do you just not go there? Or do you have enthusiastic disagreements?

    With only 12 channels on our TV CNN happens to be a very popular channel.  Regarding our political views I think both George and I are pretty bi-partison in our views.  I think we ask each other “why” a lot?  We were both surprised with the last presidential debate with how rural Minnesota really rallied behind Trump.  I went to the democratic caucus and George went to the republican caucus.  I think we support each other in the fact that at least we are taking an active role in the freedom we were given.  Both of us regardless of political views believes that we need to get the best person for the job into office.  Even though we may lean one way or another we want the best person in office. Seeing our kids and their friends talk about political issues also makes us both smile.

When I cross paths with George, he almost always brings up a recent column I’ve written, and usually the columns he refers to have something to do with our family life or something happening in our house. We’re neighbors, we each have spouses, two kids and busy careers. I get the feeling, though, that your day-to-day life is particularly hectic and chaotic at times. You’re both so busy. So how is life in the French household, typically? What’s a typical day-in-the-life like?

    My life day –to – Day is anything but routine.  Over the last year, I think we have complicated our lives even more.  Life before was without animals and now we have the responsibility of a horse, a cat, a dog and gold fish.  Also in the last three years, we have had two other family members move to Crookston, which is my dad and my brother – in - law so life in the last couple of years has really changed and really for the “better”.  I love that kind of craziness but at times making things work can be challenging. We have always been a busy family who loves to travel, to be involved with community, and who loves going to work everyday.  However, I think compiling the busy schedule with the kids, the animals, and with our own schedules things become interesting at times.  We are busy but we would not have it any other way.  The kids are active in music, theater, speech, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Builders Club, and sports like soccer, tennis and golf.  We are big believers in life long sports and building skills early in life.   George and I are busy with things from work.  Right now preparing groups for traveling abroad, and preparing International dinners where we can bring the community and the international student population together.  This is the one time where I can work with George and that always brings a smile to me.   George and I are involved with several organizations in town and really love working on projects together.  This does pose some issues in the fact that we do not have a very scheduled or planned out life.  Seriously, if it were too traditional I am thinking we would be dull.  Although with that said, I have to admit I do like our summers when things slow down a little and we can enjoy the lake.

Through your position at UMC but also in your life in general, you are a world traveler, and your two kids have made several trips with you and/or you and George. How important do you think it is for kids to see the world? Please explain…

    The world indeed is getting smaller and smaller. So much of the happenings worldwide in my opinion is grown out of “fear”.  The fear of not knowing, the fear of change, the fear of the “other” and the list goes on and on.  I believe that we need to expose our kids to others, and most important to bring exploration, communication, and the curiosity to their core.  We have that freedom now to travel and to see the world outside of the propaganda from TV, paper and radio. We only live one and a half hours from the Canadian Border and we feel our kids even going into Canada can experience a different culture.  We especially have enjoyed the Fringe Festival and Folklarama.  
    I am fortunate in the fact that my husband does love to travel and I believe we have exposed our kids far more than just the privilege to travel.  They may not see the benefits now but I feel confident that they will see the importance later in their life when they will face a cultural clash, or when someone asks them to travel for work.  The idea is that we will instill the love of travel verses a fear to travel.   What we hope is that travel is not just a privilege but indeed,it is a cultural learning experience they will be able to use in school, at work, and in their day-to-day life.  

You have a twin sister. What’s that like? Is there a connection between two twins that people who don’t have a twin simply can’t comprehend? Or is that more of a longstanding myth?

    I do have a twin sister and her name is Lea Waldridge.  I think as we have aged we look more and more alike.  Sometimes when I look in the mirror I can’t believe how much I look like her.  We have never been tested but we both believe we are “mirror twins”.  This is where we look alike but we are mirrored in life.  Some examples of mirror is Lea is left handed and I am right handed.  My sister lives in a large city and I live in a small town.  My sister has had her children very spread out in age where as I had kids close in age.  So that is just a sample.  We are connected and George knows that and the term “it’s a twin thing” happens a lot in our house hold.  I love my twin and knowing she is doing well makes me feel content.  I think as we get older we would love to live out a dream of visiting Korea together.
    Regarding the myth of a twin connection, I think everyone who lives together has that “connection”.  Mom’s have it with their kids, siblings have it, and partners have it.  It could be a look, a sound, or a silence.  There is a connection with everyone.

You are an animal lover. I recall years ago when you came across a wounded squirrel and you got emotional and wanted to take it to the veterinarian for treatment. Just how much do you love animals? Are you, like, on an animal activist level? Please explain…

    No I am not an animal activist but I do love animals.  Yes, it is true that I have tried to save many animals over the years.  I actually forgot about the wounded squirrel, but there are so many more animals I tried to save.  Remember the rabbit who was pregnant who was being attacked by the bird, and we put it in our garage in a doggy kennel where it gave birth and hopped away.  How about the time where we wanted to save the starling fledgling by bringing it into our house overnight and hearing it squawk all night long just to discover that the bird was not dying and that we just needed to return it to the bush.  Then their was the time where we  found a baby owl who fell out of the tree so we took it home to discover that it just needed to go back to another tree and that the mother owl would find it.  Our newest is that we are helping take care of an orphan baby horse by helping feed the baby.  I do have an extremely big soft spot for animals and even though George and Georgie are allergic to most of the animals they have opened the door to accepting animals into our lives.  I love they somehow have given in to all this craziness.

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 think I am quirky and I wear my emotions on my sleeve.  What people see is what people get.  I love to visit, I love to stay busy, I love to travel and I really do love life.   Regarding a talent:  I am able to downhill ski, ride horse, play the saxophone and water ski.   

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.

    I hope I will continue being involved in the lives of students.  I love seeing our students going abroad and seeing the transformation they come home with.  I also love working with students who are from other countries or other walks of life.  You learn so much from others and helping people share a little of themselves fulfills me career wise.  I have always wondered “can I make a difference in the lives of others?”  I think I try to do this one student at a time, one life at a time, and I do it in moments.  I hope in 10 years that I will continue working in higher education and that I will move up the educational ladder.  Most of all I hope to continue feeling happy and that our children will be successful and happy themselves.  

Please describe yourself in ten words or less...
    When taking my strengths finder this is what it came up with
    •    ACHIEVER
    •    MAXIMIZER
    •    BELIEF
    I also am extroverted, organizer, doer, and fortunate.