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Can this Danish tradition help us ​cope with winter?

The holidays are long past and we are a week into January which is known for its cold, gray days although today seems to be the first day that its reputation is coming to pass. So far this winter has been incredibly warm—except for Hallowinter when we had several inches of snow and below freezing temperature for Halloween. We can, however, be sure that slippery sidewalks and bone-chilling winds will inevitably come our way.

While we wait for spring, sunshine, warmer days and better weather, what can we do when the weather outside is frightful? We might take a tip from Denmark where Danes have become experts in dealing with winter through the art of living well. Despite the fact that in deep winter they enjoy just six hours of sunlight each day—and that’s if it isn’t cloudy—they have a reputation for being among the happiest people in the world. In fact, the country ranked first among 156 countries in the latest World Happiness Report.

Not the least of the many reasons for Danish happiness is hygge—pronounced HOOguh. According to Bertel Haarder, Denmark’s culture minister, it can be described as a special way of being together in a relaxed atmosphere.

While there is no direct translation, the word that comes closest to it in English might be “cozy.” The word hygge comes from a Danish word meaning "wellbeing". But hygge might actually come from the word hug. Hug in turn comes from the word, hugge, which means “to embrace” and is associated with an old Norse term, hygga, which means “to comfort.”

You can experience hygge in a group of close friends or with people that you’ve just met. You might even be blessed with hygge by yourself. Candles help set the mood along with warm drinks, good food and a snuggly blanket or perhaps a beloved dog snoring softly on the hearth in front of roaring fire while big white snowflakes fall softly to the ground outside.

Hygge for me means tossing my favorite comforter into the dryer for five or ten minutes and then wrapping up in it in a recliner in front of the fireplace. This tradition, which creates a mood of comfortable conviviality as well as feelings of wellness and contentment, has become a defining characteristic of Danish culture, but when you discover your own version of hygge, it can become your way of celebrating—or coping with—the coldest, darkest season of the year. 

First Lay the Egg! Then Cackle!

Once upon a time, three hens came to live at Farmer Jones" Chicken Farm. The first little hen was a "good layer" as they call them in the chicken farming industry, but she was a quiet little hen. When she laid her eggs (and there were many), she just sat quietly on her nest and hoped the farmer would come to the henhouse and find them.

The second little hen was not a "good layer." But she figured that if she just cackled a lot, the farmer wouldn't notice that she really never laid any eggs. 

The third little hen was a "good layer." And she was good at cackling too. Every time she laid an egg, she cackled loudly and Farmer Jones came to collect it.

One day, Farmer Jones wife came to him and said, "Little Jimmy has a cold and I'd like to make him some chicken soup. I saw three fat, fine looking hens in the henhouse. Can I use them?

"Well," replied Farmer Jones. "Let me think, as he scratched the stubble on his chin. "The first one never lets me know that she has laid an egg. The second is always telling me that she's laid an egg when she hasn't. But the third one is a fine layer and always lets me know right away when there's an egg to be collected.*

Make the soup out of the first two, but spare that third one. I like the way she lays eggs"

And so the farmer's wife went to the henhouse and threw the first two hens into the soup pot. But the third little hen lived happily ever after, laying eggs and cackling about it until the end of her days.

*No substitute for performance, public relations must be combined with a job well done to be effective because credit is not given automatically. 

This story was the introduction to a brochure about the value of public relations that won an award in the National School Public Relations Publication Contest. It was inspired by Professor Mack Palmer's definition of the profession, First Lay the Egg! Then Cackle!

A Telegram from God 

Three weeks after our third grandchild was born, our son called one evening. “I’m not distraught,” he said, “I’m just depressed.” This wasn’t just the ordinary depression of learning to live with less sleep because there was a newborn in the house. A few days after Ben was born, doctors had discovered that his heart had four major congenital defects. According to his cardiologists, the problems were serious, rare, but fixable and Ben would require multiple surgeries if he was to live and grow to adulthood. We all learned infant CPR and not to panic—too much anyway—when he turned blue.

Although all of us rejoiced in the fact that there were positive steps to take to save Ben’s life, Dave still had questions. We all did. Would Ben be able to run and play like other little boys? What about when he got older? How would he share his condition with that certain young woman? What would that do to a potential relationship? Could he ever work? Would he ever be able to get life insurance or hospitalization? And the big question that was almost too scary to say out loud: What if he died?

As we talked about the things that we humans make a habit of believing that we control, we both realized that the only way to take this journey was moment by moment holding tight to God’s hand all the way.

As I began my quiet time the next morning, I noticed a small prayer book that I had received at my confirmation 46 years before laying on top of the books stacked on my nightstand. Not something I used on a regular basis, it was filled with the old-fashioned language of the King James Bible. I’m not even sure why I’d saved it when I found it when we were cleaning the basement the previous fall, but—perhaps for sentimental reasons—or so I thought at the time—I brought it upstairs where it promptly disappeared somewhere in the perennial pile of books next to my side of the bed. Now there it was right on top. Drawn to pick it up, I opened it and this is what I read:

Dear Lord Jesus,

We are ever grateful to thee for the promises of life and joy which Thou didst bring to all men. Thou didst come that men might have life, and have it abundantly. 

Encourage us to trust these beautiful promises when life’s leadings seem so dark and forbidding. We pray to Thee for one who seems to be cut off from many of life’s privileges, from many of the tasks and joys which make life so rich.

Thou, O Lord, healed the stricken man at the pool of Bethesda. Our faith assures us that Thou canst heal, even here; Thou canst return this stricken one to ways of usefulness and joy and thanksgiving. But we are glad to know, also dear Lord, that 

Thou hast the means of blessing him even in his frailties, in his affliction; to use his life for Your glory even now, and to make it rich and full, abounding in all grace. Amen

Trembling, I walked to the phone to call the kids and read them my “telegram from God” because beyond the thees and the thous, the cansts and the didsts, the message was clear, God was here this moment holding our hands. Then I called my husband, Dick, to tell him about the amazing communication I had just received from heaven, but when I finished, he said, “You don’t know half the story.” And then he explained what he meant.

Because you see the previous evening, while I was on the phone with Dave, Dick had been hunting for a mysterious beeping noise that had started in our bedroom that afternoon. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. It was going off every 60 seconds. I checked the phone, the alarm clock and the smoke detectors and told Dick when he came home, that if he didn’t find it, I wouldn’t be sleeping upstairs that night.

What he found was a carbon monoxide detector that neither of us remembered ever seeing before that turned out to be part of the original construction of our house. The battery had gone dead—after 12 years. As he had moved furniture in his search, he found my little prayer book wedged up against the wall behind the nightstand and had picked it up and put in on top of the book pile where I found it the next morning.

After five hours of open heart surgery at the age of eight months and the crash cart on the scene twice in the following 36 hours because of post-op complications, Ben is miraculously healed by the grace of God in one surgery—not multiple surgeries as doctors had predicted. 

A baseball player since he first played T-ball at the age of five, Ben will turn 18 in June and is off to college in the fall. I am amazed at God’s grace each time he throws one of his precision pitches that earned him the honor of most valuable player on his high school varsity baseball team his junior year as well as a spot on that year’s all-star team. 

Kalo Foundation 10 Hot Spots-Plus One

Welcome to 10 Hot Spots—Plus One—in Park Ridge brought to you by The Kalo Foundation and Illinois. Mile After Magnificent Mile. Now let's get started with a little background. The center of the settlement that would eventually become Park Ridge began when Jarius Warner and Thomas Stevens, the surveyors of Rand Road, built a small cabin a block west of Prospect on Northwest Highway in 1840. By the time the Victorian Age gave way to the early 1900s—because of its bucolic beauty— Park Ridge had become one of hundreds of towns and villages across the country where people in the creative arts chose to live and work as they pursued their artistic interests. The Kalo Foundation of Park Ridge seeks to preserve this rich artistic legacy. Some of the spaces you are about to visit are public and others are private homes. We hope you enjoy your tour and ask you to respect the boundaries of the private property featured on this trip through history.

Iannelli Studios Heritage Center

Drawn to the Park Ridge Artist Colony in 1919, Alfonso Iannelli and his wife, Margaret Spaulding Iannelli, established their art studios in these buildings at Northwest Highway and Elm working with architect Barry Byrne to renovate the former blacksmith shop associated with the brickyard that gave Park Ridge its 19th Century beginnings as Brickton.

Immigrating to America from Italy in 1898, Iannelli embraced the freedom and opportunity that the United States offered. From Art Deco to Modernism, he worked as a painter, sculptor and interior and industrial designer creating a unique American artistic expression that sought to make art an experience for all people in their everyday lives. Based in Park Ridge for nearly 50 years, Iannelli took an active role advising the city on planning, mentoring new artistic and architectural talents, and making an indelible mark on the world’s art scene.


His work can be viewed around Chicago at the Prudential Building’s Rock of Gibraltar, the Adler Planetarium, the landmark Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge and here at the Iannelli Studios Heritage Center, 255 N. Northwest Highway, headquarters of the Kalo Foundation of Park Ridge. You might have even seen his designs in the coffee pot, blender or toaster in your grandmother’s kitchen.

Eicher Home/Grant Wood

Henri Eicher, one of many trained European silversmiths who came to live in Park Ridge in the early 20th Century, and his wife Asta, a silver designer and silversmith as well, lived in this house at 312 Cedar, just one block north of the Kalo Arts Crafts Community House where Henri headed Kalo’s metal working staff. The Eichers also leased their barn—still standing, west of the house—to a series of silversmiths.

One of these was artist Grant Wood, who worked for Kalo owner Clara Barck Welles while studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood returned to Iowa and became famous for his painting, American Gothic. After Mr. Eicher died, Asta was lured to West Virginia by a con artist professing romance in a lonely hearts correspondence. She and her three children came to a tragic end in a story that was the inspiration for the 1951 novel, The Night of the Hunter, and the 1953 movie of the same name. Now another novel, Quiet Dell, by Jayne Anne Phillips examines the tragedy again.

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford, a 1960 graduate of Maine East High School, lived in this home at 109 N. Washington when he was the first student broadcaster on his high school’s new radio station, WMTH. Ford went on to Ripon College in Wisconsin where he did some acting before dropping out. Summer stock inspired him to go to California in search of a career in acting.

When he couldn’t get beyond minor roles, he turned to carpentry to supplement his income. Although he had no experience as a carpenter, he learned from books and became known as the Carpenter to the Stars building a recording studio for Sergio Mendes, a deck for Sally Kellerman, and working as a stagehand for The Doors. Then a carpentry job for director George Lucas, led to a supporting role in 1973 in American Graffiti, and another for Francis Ford Coppala, gave him a role in 1974’s The Conversation.

Later, Lucas hired him to read lines as other actors screen-tested for an upcoming space opera. Won over by his roguish portrayal—which incidentally his high school counselor John Huizinga said was, “Just Harry being Harry”—Lucas cast him as Han Solo. When Star Wars became the highest-grossing film in history in 1977, Harrison Ford became a superstar who has played adventurer Indiana Jones, detectives, the president, military men and many other romantic leads.

Clara Barck

When Clara Barck completed her artistic training, she discovered that there were few people who would hire women as designers and so in 1900 she created her own company, named Kalo, for the Greek word meaning “beautiful.” Initially working in textiles, copper, leather, wood, and baskets, her interest shifted to hand wrought jewelry and silver after she married George Welles and moved to the Kalo Arts Craft Community House, 322 Grant Place, here at the corner of Grant and Clinton where Park Ridge’s silver industry and the Artist Colony that flourished here around the turn of the 20th Century and beyond intersected.

The Kalo Shop later relocated to downtown Chicago, where it continued in business until 1970. Kalo was a major employer and helped to launch several dozen employees in their own silver and jewelry businesses. Clara also was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Illinois and is credited with helping women in this state win the right to vote in Presidential elections in 1913 seven years before the 19th Amendment which gave women full voting rights was passed in 1920.

Frederick Richardson

On the northeast corner of Grant Place and Clinton stands the home of Frederick Richardson at 300 Grant Place, the talented illustrator, who helped to establish the Park Ridge Artists’ Colony in the 1890s. His wife, Josephine Welles, a sculptor, grew up in Park Ridge, where her grandfather and his family were early landowners.

The Richardsons lived across the street from her father, George Welles, a former Park Ridge Village president, and his second wife, Clara Barck Welles. In the 1890s, when photographs were few and expensive to print in newspapers, Richardson drew the news for large illustrated pages in the Chicago Daily News. He also created classic illustrations for children’s literature, including a volume of Mother Goose rhymes and several books by L. Frank Baum, who created the Oz books.

He taught classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Many of his fellow instructors and students moved their families to Park Ridge in the years before World War I, launching the first generation of the Park Ridge Artist Colony.

Rodham Corner

On the southeast corner of Wisner and Elm Street--officially designated as Rodham Corner by the city of Park Ridge--stands the girlhood home of Hillary Rodham Clinton at 235 Wisner. A student for three years at Maine East High School, she graduated from the newly opened Maine South High School in 1965.

Her history teacher, R. Paul Carlson, instilled an interest in American history and government, while her youth minister at First United Methodist Church introduced her to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This young Goldwater campaigner met her husband, William Jefferson Clinton, while they were both students at Yale and the rest is history as she stepped onto the world stage through a series of high-profile jobs first as first lady of Arkansas and continuing as first lady of the United States, a U.S. Senator from New York State, and United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. In Park Ridge, you'll find a Hillary Burger with olives at the Pickwick Restaurant and her picture among the honored alumni at both her former high schools.

Frederic Goudy

Frederic Goudy and his wife lived in this home at 329 S. Prospect, and operated the Village Press modeled on the Arts and Crafts ideals of William Morris in an unheated garage at the rear of the property. Although his primary business was printing fine books, he is best remembered for inventing the Goudy typeface which is considered to be among the most legible and readable typefaces ever developed. In 1908, he created his first significant typeface for the Lanston Monotype Machine Company—E-38—sometimes known as Goudy Light. However, in that same year the Village Press burned to the ground, destroying all of his equipment and designs.

In 1911, Goudy produced his first "hit", Kennerly Old Style, for an H. G. Wells anthology published by Mitchell Kennerly. Goudy is celebrated as one of the finest and most prolific type designers in history, developing more than 120 typefaces. You may find some on your computer: Goudy Old Style and Copperplate are among them. He also developed Remington Typewriter, originally developed for Remington typewriters but later picked up by Monotype. His most popular typeface, Goudy, was similar to older type styles but had a uniqueness of form no other could rival. He designed all his distinctive typefaces freehand.

The Blues Brothers

When filming locations were scouted for The Blues Brothers, Park Ridge was among the many winners for this uniquely Chicago-based comedy film that was shot at a number of locations around the metropolitan area. Standing at the corner of Talcott and Cumberland, you will recognize the Shell gas station and Nelson Funeral Home that Jake and Elwood sped past in a classic police chase sequence from the 1980 hit as the brothers raced through Park Ridge’s South Park community and squads pulled out to intercept them.

In the movie, A trooper radios that the chase was "proceeding on Courtland Avenue" just before the Blues Brothers and the police spin out in the three-way intersection of Devon, Talcott and Courtland. Through the magic of moviemaking, the chase ends just seconds later 40 miles to the south in Harvey, Illinois, where the Bluesmobile crashed through storefronts in the closed Dixie Square Mall.

Pickwick Theatre

At the southeast corner of Northwest Highway and South Prospect Avenue, the Pickwick Theatre at 5 S. Prospect with its distinctive tower is the best known place in town. Located in Uptown, the highest point in Park Ridge, the Pickwick Theatre, and the Pickwick Building which surrounds it with offices and stores, has been a visual landmark since they opened in 1928.

Architects R. Harold Zook and William McCaughey designed the building for visionary developer and Park Ridge Mayor William Malone, but many of the iconic elements inside and out were the creation of Alfonso Iannelli and his Iannelli Studios team. These include the Art Deco detail work, the dramatic fire curtain and matching ceiling mural in the main theatre, the tower stained glass, the metal heating grills, and the statue at the south end of the lobby.

The main theatre, one of the few 1920s movie palaces still operating in the Chicago area, has a restored theatre organ, and a full stage originally designed for vaudeville and dramatic performance. A second wing in the back has three smaller theatres showing additional films. The Pickwick Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a designated Park Ridge city landmark.

The distinctive marquee was featured in one of the first Chicago movie review shows, At the Movies, hosted by the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Check out the bargain rates to see current films at an affordable price.

Park Ridge Non-Profit Center

The Park Ridge Non-Profit Center is the latest use for this building at 720 Garden at the northeast corner of Garden and Fairview. Although it serves today as the headquarters of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and hosts many community organization meetings, in the early 20th Century, it was the home of painter Walter Marshall Clute and his wife, illustrator Beulah Mitchell Clute, members of the original Park Ridge Artists Colony.

The couple called their home and studio “The Birches.” After Mr. Clute was killed in an automobile crash in California in 1915, the property was sold to Kathryn and Samuel Guard, Sr. As head of the Sears Agricultural Foundation, Mr. Guard helped to start WLS Radio in Chicago. WLS stands for “World’s Largest Store.” He broadcast farm reports and religious programs from the house in the 1920s, before the radio station built its first permanent studios. Later, the Fisher family established “The Pantry Restaurant” here. After remodeling and adding the western wing, they hosted many elegant events. The Clute House is a Park Ridge city landmark.

Maine Township Town Hall

The Town Hall at 1700 Ballard Road is the home of Maine Township, one of 30 townships in Cook County. Founded in 1850, the township is the oldest unit of local government in the area. Since its founding it has seen its surroundings grow from a predominantly rural farming community to a major metropolitan area with some 135,000 residents.

Named after the home state of Joseph Mitchell who felt the need for a formal political organization because careless farmers were letting their cattle roam into his corn, today Maine Township remains the government closest to the people—especially for the 33,000 residents who live in the unincorporated area. In 1983, the township moved to these iconic headquarters designed by Lloyd Wright, son of the world famous Frank Lloyd Wright.

When he designed the building—formerly Good Shepherd Church—Wright said he aimed to lift on high—literally as well as figuratively—the site above the existing flat terrain typifying a sense of elevation inherent in religious purpose and structures. Be sure to notice the prairie garden along the east side of the building with plants dating back to prehistoric times—part of renovations and additions to the building made by the Township to honor the Wright design. And as you leave, take a look at the recently discovered and restored antique road grader which shows up at many local parades.

If you enjoyed 10 Hot Spots—Plus One—and would like to learn more about the history of Park Ridge and its Art Colony, stop in at Kalo Foundation Headquarters at Iannelli Studios Heritage Center, 255 N. Northwest Highway, where you can visit our resource center and find out about other upcoming tours and events. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 847-261-4595 or visit The Kalo Foundation website at 10 Hot Spots—Plus One—has been brought to you by The Kalo Foundation and Illinois. Mile After Magnificent Mile.​

As a co-developer of Park Ridge Historic Tours, I was asked to develop and voice this script for a self-guided tour available to the public. 

Thanks for the memories… let’s make some new ones

If I were Bob Hope, I’d sing my version of his signature tune to you right now! And as soon as you read the first line, I think the melody will start playing in your mind.

Thanks for the memories…of boat rides at the lake, of afternoons at cards, of games and fun, it all was done especially for your sake. Oh thank you so much.

Why am I in this sentimental mood? By now you’ve probably heard that in a few days, the ownership of The Summit of Uptown will transition to Capitol Seniors Housing, and its management company partner, The Arbor Company. The transition has prompted me to reflect on how far The Summit of Uptown has come in the last 32 years, and I take pride in the fact that we have kept pace with the cutting edge of retirement living and the demands of today’s more discerning seniors.

Ever since the Park Ridge Inn got a new lease on life as Summit Square Retirement Hotel in 1983 becoming The Summit of Uptown in 2007, our building at the corner of Touhy and Summit has been an integral part not only in the lives of the people who call this place home, but also those who live in the wider community.

Today The Summit remains a hub of Park Ridge life welcoming both residents and visitors alike. Over its 30 year plus history, entertaining and informative programs have featured such popular regulars as Jack Diamond and Lynn Rymarz as well as celebrities such as Clark Weber, Jonathon Brandmeir and Phil Ponce.

Known for its excellent food, The Summit has also provided a convenient location for meetings for local groups such as Noon Kiwanis, The Kalo Foundation, Lion’s Club, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, the Ministerial Association, and many business networking groups. It has also hosted Happy Twirlers Square Dancers, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and other area clubs and organizations.

Young people in town have had significant interactions with seniors thanks to Summit’s participation in such programs as the Maine Township High School District 207 Cooperative Education Program. In addition to hiring dining room servers, The Summit has provided residents with opportunities to participate in meaningful intergenerational programs with students from area schools, as well as scouting groups.

A vital and contributing member to the larger community, The Summit sponsors a yearly fashion show that benefits the Community Fund and also sponsors and donates to many other area-wide causes. These include New Hope and Maine Township Community Food Pantry, the Maine Township Community Garage Sale, Senior Center, and Center of Concern. Finally, because its central location has been so much a part of the history of the town itself, The Summit is the official sponsor of the Historic Tours of Park Ridge.

The Summit of Uptown and the services it provides to the residents who live here as well as to the people of Park Ridge and beyond stand as an example of the fact that no matter how old you are, the passage of time does not diminish your significance.

Now, although management may be changing, I feel confident that the new team will remain committed to providing high quality and comprehensive services that all the residents and their families have come to expect. The care, friendship and concern that we at The Summit have been known for over these many years will only be enhanced by adding services and amenities that this transition to Capitol Seniors Housing, and its management company partner, The Arbor Company will bring.

If things are changing in your life, you can take some positive steps to lean into your future and reframe the way you think about tomorrow. You may want to consider a visit to The Summit of Uptown where you can learn about premiere retirement living and meet new people.

Visit or call 847-825-1161 to schedule a personalized tour of our completely renovated community where we provide seniors with both independent and assisted living services. To find out more about programs, activities, services, and amenities at The Summit of Uptown, which has been providing quality services for seniors for more than 30 years, visit the Summit Facebook page or our website at

Ghost written for Audrey Yohanna, Owner of The Summit of Uptown

OP-ED Submission to Florida Newspapers

Do you remember the last time you or someone you love was in the hospital? Do you remember the fear, pain and anxiety that accompanied you as you walked through the door? If you were lucky enough to be at a hospital where chaplains are part of an interdisciplinary team that treats the whole person—rather than just the fractured hip, the diabetes complications, or even the cancer—then you or your loved one received the human touch, the compassionate presence, and the calm reassurance from a chaplain who gave you the peace so important to the healing process.

Sadly, not all people are lucky enough to have that experience when they are hospitalized. That’s because less than two-thirds of hospitals employ chaplains, according to the American Hospital Annual Survey of Hospitals (2003). Of those that do, staffing is often inadequate to meet patient needs.

When people are sick or hurting, they are more than the sum of their illnesses or injuries. Real caring and healing means focusing on the whole person—body, mind and spirit. When the whole person is treated, the whole person is healed. This body, mind and spirit approach is not just touchy-feely nonsense.

Research indicates that patients place a high value on their emotional and spiritual health and well-being. Professional chaplains provide the fundamental relationships that best address these concerns. Highly trained members of the interdisciplinary team, chaplains are uniquely equipped to meet those needs across a broad spectrum of backgrounds, both religious and non-religious, alleviating the worry, dread and loneliness that often accompany hospital stays. With the proven benefits that professional chaplain services provide in hospital, hospice and other health care settings, including for patients across Florida, every institution in the United States should be taking advantage of this invaluable service.

As medicine shifts from a model where payments are based on the number of visits or number of tests a patient receives to a model where payments are based on the value of the care received, hospitals face new challenges regarding both economic survival and patient satisfaction. In this new world of health care, hospitals simply must maintain a patient-centered focus to provide superior care and to improve the bottom line. Professional chaplains can provide a vital link in the new holistic approach.

It is time for health care institutions to not only recognize the need to address the spiritual needs of patients, but also to provide highly trained, highly effective and compassionate professional chaplains who can fulfill this important component of total health care. In this new paradigm shift in the world of medicine, patient satisfaction translates to dollars. So as it turns out, there is an added bonus: Caring for the spirit may just prove to be very good for the bottom line.

Op Ed ghost written for Dr. Mary-Margaret (Margie) Atkinson BCC,  who was President-Elect of the Association of Professional Chaplains, a national, not-for-profit association of chaplaincy care providers. 

Norman Borlaug: 

Father of the Green Revolution

When Norman Borlaug left the Iowa farm where he was born in 1914 to pursue his education, his grandfather told him “You’re wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on.” The American agronomist and humanitarian who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace by increasing food supply went on to do far more than that.

Rather than filling just his own belly, Borlaug filled the bellies of a hungry world through his work on food production at it’s most basic level—on the lands of individual farmers. Credited with saving more than a billion lives, the plant scientist began his love affair with agriculture at an early age. According to his sister, Charlotte Cuthbert, while he was still a boy in Iowa, Borlaug began wondering why grass was greener in some places on the farm than others.

At a time when most farm boys dropped out of school, Borlaug went to college at the urging of his grandfather who regretted his own lack of education. But because his rural Iowa education had ill prepared him, he failed the entrance exam at the University of Minnesota where a building is now named in his honor. The one-teacher, one-room New Oregon #8 rural school in Howard County built in 1865 where he attended through eighth grade is owned today by the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation as part of "Project Borlaug Legacy". At Cresco High School where he played football, baseball and wrestled while he continued to work on the 106 acre family farm where he fished and hunted, raising corn, oats, timothy grass, cattle, pigs and chickens, his wrestling coach Dave Bartelma continually encouraged him to give 105 percent.

“Wrestling taught me some valuable lessons…I always figured I could hold my own against the best in the world. It made me tough. Many times, I drew on that strength,” said Borlaug, who did just that after being admitted to the General College where he was on track to earn a two-year associate’s degree. But after just two quarters—because of his hard work—he was able to transfer to the College of Agriculture—a move that would change the world.

To finance his studies, Borlaug often had to put his education on hold to earn money. In 1935, as a leader in the Civilian Conservation Corps, he worked with people who were unemployed—many of whom were starving. Indelibly etched in his mind, those images of starving people stayed with him and eventually proved to be another determining factor in choosing the work he would pursue until the end of his life.

He first studied forestry but soon became the protégé of Elvin C. Stakman, another legendary expert in plant diseases, who persuaded him to switch to plant pathology. Taking a job with DuPont in 1942 to work on chemicals related to the war effort, Stakman once again altered Borlaug’s life path by urging him to join the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican hunger project in 1944 where Borlaug would go on to develop semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

Upon seeing the desperate situation in Mexico and reacting with despair as he recalled those images of starving people in the depths of the Great Depression from earlier in his life, Borlaug was determined to do something about the lot of his fellow human beings. By then a trained scientist with a doctorate in plant diseases, he still relied on his farm boy’s instinct for plants and how they grow. Untold hours hunched over in the blazing Mexican sun paid off. In 20 years time, his team of young Mexican scientists and technicians had created and distributed some 75 new varieties which led to the four which comprise the bulk of the wheat grown in Mexico, much of the Middle East and Latin America. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India. His breeding of high yielding crops helped avert mass famines in Africa, China and India that were widely predicted for the 1960s.

These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution and Borlaug is widely described as the father of that broad agricultural movement. However he was disinclined to accept the title calling it “a miserable term” with his characteristic humility. In fact, when he found out that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Borlaug was at work in a wheat field outside Mexico City. Because of his remote location, he was unable to be reached directly and his wife, Margaret, took the call and then traveled 30 miles over rough and muddy roads to get to the wheat plot where he was working. When she drove up to tell him the news, he replied, “Someone’s pulling your leg,” According to one of his biographers, Leon Hesser, when he was assured that it was true, he kept on working saying that he would celebrate later.

On the day Borlaug Hall was dedicated, Norm reflected on E.C. Stakman’s influence on his life. “Stak had a reputation for instilling commitment. That man lit the skies for me. He made me reach for things I thought were beyond my grasp.”

When Borlaug was a boy on that Iowa farm, he might have dreamed of being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an honor he was accorded in 1992 for helping introduce the sport to Minnesota high schools. While he was working and going to school he put on exhibition matches around the state after reaching the Big Ten semifinals while he was a member of the varsity wrestling team at the University of Minnesota. But he probably never saw himself as a man who would be awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor or as one only six people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Written for the Agronomic Science Foundation Annual Report 

The Hidden Benefits of Charitable Giving

Starving children, homeless animals, disabled veterans, cancer research, unwed mothers, abused women, hurricane victims—the list of causes seems to be endless and requests for help seem to come at us 24 hours a day, seven days a week by telephone, television, through the mail, on the Internet—even on billboards. And because you are an agronomic, crop and or soil scientist, you can add to that list your intimate knowledge of the challenges we face in feeding the world. How do you decide where the best place is to give your hard-earned dollars?

One way to better focus your charitable giving happens when you take the time to find out about the places where you are being asked to make donations. Therefore, one of the best ways to select a local worthwhile charity is to work with the organization as a volunteer. If you decide to volunteer you will gain the first-hand knowledge that will help you make an educated decision about the best place to spend your time and money.

But many causes that deserve your dollars are not necessarily local and do not afford you the opportunity to learn about them firsthand. If you are asked for donations from charities you are unfamiliar with, private watchdog organizations such as the Wise Giving Alliance; Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Foundation or the American Institute of Philanthropy can help you determine if they are legitimate. These organizations may also be able to help you find ways to remove yourself from mailing lists that stuff your mailbox with unwanted solicitations.

If you get a phone call, ask the charity to send you written information about its revenue, expenses and programs as well as how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible before making a donation. Always confirm the charity’s name, address, telephone number, proof of exempt status and registration with your State Attorney General. You can also call the charity directly to find out if the organization exists and is aware of the solicitation.

However, it’s good to remember that money is not the only way to be charitable. When you are generous with your time, many benefits accrue to not only the charity of your choice, but to you as well. According to Steven Post who wrote “The Hidden Gifts of Helping,” of the 41 percent of Americans who volunteered in some way last year, 96 percent say that contributing to others made them feel happier and he added, “If you could put that outcome in a bottle and sell it, you’d be a millionaire.”

Finally, the only way to make a change in the world today—whatever cause you decide to support—is to start with the person you see in the mirror. The Agronomic Science Foundation offers many volunteer opportunities in the Gateway Fund, the Golden Opportunities Scholars Institute, or the Pathway Fund. To find out more about options that might interest you, call me at 608-273-8095 or email me at To make a monetary donation online, visit

Written for the Agronomic Science Foundation Newsletter

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