Chief among her current passions is putting her heart and soul into Crookston's Ox Cart Days Festival.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I am originally from Grand Rapids MN, I have 4 siblings. I moved to Crookston to attend UMC in the Hotel Restaurant program in 1982 and ended up staying. I am married to James and have two stepdaughters and son in laws along with two amazing granddaughters. I have managed both Hardees and Arby’s in Crookston, was a Director of Operations for Franchise Concepts Unlimited in Grand Forks, an Operations Supervisor for American Federal Bank and am currently the Operations Supervisor for Facilities Management at the University of Minnesota Crookston.
You made a decision several years ago to better take care of your body and live a life more focused on physical fitness and wellness. Can you talk a little bit about what went into that life change? How far have you come from that day, to today?
Although I have always tried being healthy and active, business management and particularly restaurant management can be stressful. It was suggested I try lifting weights for neck pain relief and it not only worked, but I really loved doing it. I was recently diagnosed with an inflammatory disorder that sidelined me for over a year, but am now back to almost full mobility.
So what exactly is your regimen? I’ve been told you’re up and out of bed by something like 3 a.m. most days, and I’ve also heard that you are in these daily and/or weekly friendly, yet semi-fierce competitions with friends and colleagues to see who can get the most steps in, and you routinely destroy the competition.
I have always been a morning workout person and since my shift is quite early, I do get up and at it to put in at least an hour before work. I bought a Fitbit that pretty much owns me and do have some friendly competitions with co-workers and students; it really helps you push things just a little further.
Is it safe to say that much of your new outlook on life and your approach to living might have almost as much to do with mental and emotional well-being versus physical fitness? How much do you think the two go hand-in-hand?
I definitely believe in the correlation between mental and physical well-being. I always feel more energetic and ready for the day when I start with a good work out. I am an introvert/extrovert which is surprising to most as I have managed restaurants and run public events. I do cherish alone time first thing in the morning when my creative side is in high gear and I enjoy walking time with my golden retriever.
You’ve made a few interesting career stops in Crookston over the years, and now you’re at the University of Minnesota Crookston. What it’s like to be a part of the campus community every day?
I love the students here at UMC, they are very friendly and great to be around. Each summer we hire student workers for maintaining the grounds and they are so much fun to work with. This summer over half of our workers were international students and what a wonderful experience that was. They learned as much about our culture and us as we did from them. My job is to walk the buildings and grounds on campus several times a day and since UMC is one of the most beautiful places in Crookston, I probably have one of the best jobs in town.
Do you think the average Crookston resident fully appreciates what it means to have a University of Minnesota Crookston campus in this community?
I am often complimented on the beauty of the campus, and as a grounds supervisor I could not be more proud. I definitely realize the importance of having this campus in Crookston; UMC is such a great partner with the City, the Chamber and many other groups, organizations and events. I know that any of the area businesses could call upon the expertise of the UMC faculty and clubs and they would gladly make themselves available, we are very fortunate to have that resource in Crookston and the surrounding area.
When I told someone recently that you were among the people I was profiling for this year’s Community Connections edition, she asked if I was going to touch on your leadership of the Ox Cart Days Festival and many of your other community involvements. Then, she added, “Nell makes it all look so easy.” When you hear something like that, do you take it as a compliment, or does a part of you want to explain in no uncertain terms that the festival and other things you’re involved in are very hard work and require a lot of time and effort?
First, thank them for me; it is most definitely a compliment. What makes it look so easy is in reality 38 years of leadership experience, which included lots of training, mentoring and learning from my mistakes over the years. The festival definitely takes hard work, effort and structure. Since this is my second year of doing it, I feel very confident leaving it well prepared for the next chair.
Just about anyone living in just about any town is likely going to be most critical of their own town, while also thinking people have it better in other towns. You know, the whole “grass is always greener” thing. But in Crookston, that mindset sometimes seems to be in overdrive. Do you think Crookston and too many of the people who call it home have some kind of identity crisis? Or a defeatist mentality?
I would have to say that a bit of defeatist mentality comes in to play for a few reasons; being so close to Grand Forks and not being a lake town are the biggest ones. When I took over Ox Cart Days, people asked me if I was crazy because it was a dead event. Forever the optimist, I had a vision in my head of what it would be and worked to share that with the committee, participants, sponsors and the town in general. Standing at the packed Downtown Square on Thursday, the standing room only at the Eagles on Friday and the over the top street dance on Saturday, we stood in amazement of what Crookston can do. I had multiple people saying to me that they could not believe they were standing in Crookston Minnesota at that moment and how happy they were that people showed up. It was compared to what they remember growing up and they were so happy to have their own kids experience it. I was profoundly inspired by that moment realizing that we have a unique town with a lot of potential and extremely talented people. Getting people to work together towards the common goal has proven difficult in Crookston, but there are so many good collaborations going right now, it is very exciting to see.
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 have the World’s largest Maxine (of Hallmark card fame) collection and that I buy Barbie’s under the pretense that they are for my granddaughters but they might just really be for me.
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.
Somewhere warm in the winter, celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary and running a doggy daycare.
Please describe yourself in ten words or less…
Creative, thoughtful, generous, helpful, sarcastic, wife, stepmom, grandma, sister, friend.