Remembering Our Veterans

October 2010 Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota veterans who visited Washington, D.C. to see their memorials.

It’s already Memorial Day. It may seem like we’re rushing to take advantage of spring—which finally arrived here in Minnesota. Maybe your holiday weekend plans include celebrating a graduation, gardening, going to a ball game or camping. However you spend your weekend, I hope you’ll join me in taking time to recognize and honor at least one veteran and their family.

If you haven’t heard me share my Honor Flight story—which I’ve come to call, “What am I doing on this flight?”—I can sum it up by saying it was a life-changing experience for me. In October 2010, Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota took 104 World War II Veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Air Force Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery/Changing of the Guard, Navy Memorial, Korean Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the Air and Space Museum. I will never be the same. What an incredible honor it was for me to serve as a guardian and volunteer on this well-organized flight. I am deeply grateful for all the veterans who participated.

And, this experience made me realize more clearly how important it is to thank our veterans.

This weekend we especially remember veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving our country, and those men and women who served but are no longer with us. We must never overlook what all generations of our veterans have done and continue doing for our communities, southwest Minnesota regional community, state and nation.

I wish you a safe and meaningful Memorial Day.

Last Call for Leadership In Philanthropy Event!

If you’re still not sure about attending SWIF’s Leadership In Philanthropy Conference next week, here’s a final word of encouragement. For those of you who serve in a fundraising role at work or as a community volunteer, this is an event you do not want to miss!

Our keynote Marcy Heim is so excited to come to southwest Minnesota and help us learn and practice new skills. And, SWIF staff have an engaging afternoon activity that will help us connect and work through real opportunities and challenges we’re facing together.

Here are the event details. I hope to see you there!

Leadership In Philanthropy: Equipping Ourselves to Inspire Others

Join the Southwest Initiative Foundation and keynote speaker Marcy Heim for a day of energy, inspiration, and collaboration right here in our region. This conference will equip you to increase your fundraising capacity while building a stronger network of colleagues across southwest Minnesota.

  • Date: Friday, May 2
  • Time: 8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
  • Location: Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel in Morton
  • Cost: $25 includes conference, book, lunch and refreshments

This is an incredible value that we want to make available to our partners, donors, friends and entire region!

Each attendee will receive a complimentary copy of Marcy’s featured book. Plus, three attendees will be selected for the opportunity to apply for a $1,000 grant to support the southwest Minnesota organization they are representing at the conference!

A special Evening Networking Reception is available from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 1.

Full Conference Details and Registration.

Ag Outlook Meetings

This week, more than 400 farmers in our region-and even more throughout the state-attended the Linder Farm Network’s Ag Outlook Meetings. These farmers were looking to learn about weather outlooks, market trends, ways to improve yields. They heard from speakers who stressed our global economy.

I’ve often shared one of the most exciting things about our region is that we have something the rest of the world needs–food. This creates so many opportunities for us.

SWIF was at the Alexandria, Marshall and Willmar meetings to introduce our foundation and our Keep It Growing farmland giving program to local farmers. I want to thank our board chair Rob Saunders and vice chair Bob Thurston for attending with us. It was great to be able to acknowledge this entire group of farmers for their leadership.

Economic development is a huge part of what we support at SWIF, and agriculture is the driving force to our region’s economy. That makes each farmer a true economic leader!

Farmers are the ultimate entrepreneurs. Just looking at the agenda from this week’s meeting, we see all of the things a farmer needs to watch and know. And, think about the constant changes these farmers face.

As just one example, Dr. Jim Orf noted that narrower rows are one reason for higher yield in corn. Rows used to be 42 inches–because that was the width of a horse. Now, rows are 30, 22, even 20 inches. This is a huge change many current farmers have watched during their own lifetimes.

Here are a few tools shared at the meeting that you, or perhaps a farmer you know, may find of interest.

From Tragedy to Inspiration – Bigler’s Way

We all face challenges—in our personal lives, business or work, communities. And, we all choose how we face those challenges.

This week, I learned about the Bigler family who has faced major tragedies in the past couple of years. Brad Bigler is the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall and was featured on ESPN’s E:60 show that aired in December. The video was posted online this week.

After watching, my heart goes out to this family for their great loss—but it also is lifted by how they’re taking one step at a time and treasuring life on their journey ahead.

It’s clear that Coach Bigler is an incredible role model to his players and this family is an inspiration to those around them. Now, they’re touching even more lives as more of us hear their story. I hope the Bigler family knows that they have MANY people in our southwest Minnesota regional community who continue sending them thoughts of support and encouragement.

Join me in thanking this special family for sharing a hard chapter in their lives to remind us that hope and perseverance are keys to “moving on” even when life is hard.

Please take 15 minutes to watch “Bigler’s Way.”

Photo by Sara Grasmon

Check Out a Regional Destination

We had a great group attend our Board Social. From left, Greg Raymo, former board chair Sandy Ludeman and wife Peggy, current chair Rob Saunders and wife Renae, Tim Connell and former board member Connie Connie, Sherry Ristau and husband Bruce, and Bob Thurston.

One of the goals I share with Board Chair Rob Saunders for the next year is to stay well-connected to both current and former board members. Despite the cold weather this week, we gathered in Marshall with a great group of our organization’s past and present leaders.

We were excited to visit Brau Brothers in Marshall. This is a great regional destination, serving not just their signature beer, but also now serving food in their taproom. What made this visit extra special is that SWIF’s Business Finance Program provided a loan for Brau Brothers to expand into this new location after outgrowing their space in Lucan.

Our loan helped them purchase equipment. As a food and beverage business, it’s providing regional impact as not just a great place to work and produce their products, but also for southwest Minnesotans to enjoy.

Bob Thurston checks out some hops during our tour.

Brau Brothers distributes 500 cases of beer every day, and their products are available throughout the Midwest in about a seven-state area. Their Hundred Yard Dash, a seasonal brew, is one of their most popular. The hops for this beer are grown right in Lucan—so it’s absolutely a southwest Minnesota product!

Check out the recent feature that aired on Keloland TV out of Sioux Falls for more about this business.

Our board is proud of the many projects we support. And, it’s always fun to learn new things about the region and businesses, like we did during our tour of Brau Brothers.

What’s one of your favorite places to go in southwest Minnesota?

Inspiration to Ring in 2014

As we ring in the New Year, I am excited about what 2014 has in store for Southwest Initiative Foundation and our entire southwest Minnesota community! Our work to build connections and grow and promote people, businesses, entrepreneurs and communities in our rural region will continue at full speed.

I’m also looking forward to continued work with our outstanding volunteer Board of Directors. We recently started a series of interviews with our board on our weekly Linder Farm Networkshows. Each Friday between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. you can tune into your local LFN affiliate station and hear what inspires our board about Southwest Initiative Foundation and our region.

Vice Chair Bob Thurston was today’s featured board member. He’s also chair of our investment committee and chair of our farmland retention committee, which provides leadership specifically to our Keep It Growing farmland giving program. Listen to Bob’s interview.

And don’t worry if you missed past interviews—you can listen to them on our website!

How would you respond to our question, “What inspires you about Southwest Initiative Foundation?” 

Merry Christmas!

With the holiday season upon us, we want to thank each of you–our valued partners from throughout southwest Minnesota and beyond–for a wonderful year. We have so many blessings connected to our region, including the best people, families, businesses, organizations and communities!

As a note, our office will be closed Dec. 23-25. We’ll have regular office hours Dec. 26-31.

From our entire Southwest Initiative Foundation Board of Directors and staff, Merry Christmas!

A Brand New Board Meeting Location


Board Chair Rob Saunders led SWIF’s first virtual board meeting this week with President/CEO Sherry Ristau.

As many of you know, our SWIF Board of Directors holds meetings in different communities throughout our region. It’s one of the things our board has always enjoyed because it gives them the chance to meet community leaders, tour unique businesses and speak directly to the people impacted by our work.I always look forward to our meetings as a chance to connect with our board—they represent an amazing group of regional leaders who care deeply about our rural region. I leave them energized to continue raising the bar on our work.

This week, we held our December meeting in a brand new location—online. Some may be surprised we’ve never held a virtual SWIF board meeting, especially since our board members and staff cover such a large area. We’ve felt that the benefits of face-to-face conversations outweigh the reduced travel and time required for a meeting.

But, hosting a virtual meeting is something we as an organization have to be prepared to do. An obvious reason is weather. We were reminded this week that winter doesn’t work around our schedule. We also want to know we can use technology to help us work better, faster and on short notice, if needed.

Even without the in-person connecting, our board accomplished important work and had great discussions. A big thanks goes to Board Chair Rob Saunders and our entire board for making this new experience a success!

What new technology or ideas are you using to help better your business or organization?

Remembering Former Board Member Mary Page

A few weeks ago, many gathered to celebrate the life of an amazing southwest Minnesota woman, Mary Page. She was one of our earliest members to serve on the Southwest Initiative Foundation Board of Directors in 1986.

Mary’s leadership helped shape SWIF’s work right from the beginning, as she challenged the board and staff to think differently. She also served two more terms on our board in the ’80s-’90s, a time that saw the foundation continue to grow and evolve to meet the region’s changing needs.

Mary was committed to promoting rural communities and the role women played as leaders. She served in so many in her own community of Olivia and beyond, including Olivia mayor, Renville County commissioner, University of Minnesota regent, and countless volunteer roles. Her strong, thoughtful presence was felt by many organizations, businesses and people she worked with.

In our most recent SWIF video, Mary made a cameo appearance as she volunteered at the Christian Community Outreach Center in Olivia, where she touched the lives of many local children.

Being at Mary’s funeral, seeing and hearing her children, grandchildren, friends and remembering ALL Mary did totally INSPIRED me for all the work and opportunities ahead in my own leadership work and with my family. I am grateful for Mary’s contributions to our regional community. She will be greatly missed, but her legacy of leadership will continue in our rural communities.