“Minnesota Nice” and Better – John Skogmo

Minnesotans are known for Minnesota Nice, a phrase that describes Minnesota’s Scandinavian culture of civility. Sometimes Minnesota Mean lies just below the surface. Other times civility and gentleness pervade a person’s character. John Skogmo was Minnesota Nice at its best. There was no meanness in him.

Minnesotans also don’t like fanfare. That Minneapolis is called “the little apple” refers not only to the city’s size compared to “the Big Apple” but also to Minnesotan’s disdain for big splashes, big stages, and floodlights. ‘Ego’ and ‘Minnesotan’ belong together in the Thesaurus as antonyms.

Working back stage behind-the-scenes is what Minnesotans are about at their best. ┬áJohn Skogmo’s obituary, laced with subtle humor, is a great tribute. John was a man without guile; his faith was the foundation of the quiet stature universally recognized by his family, friends, church, and work colleagues.

Obituary, published April 12, 2015 [highlights added by VFTE]

John Gunderson Skogmo died April 4, 2015 of cancer. Born in Fergus Falls, MN, July 15, 1947, to James Bertram and Joyce Shirley Skogmo.

John found his calling at age nine, reading his father’s issues of Kiplinger’s financial magazine. He became fascinated with compounding interest and saw the benefits of delayed gratification. As a teenager he ran a concession that sold popcorn, cotton candy, and caramel apples at local events. At the end of the day he laundered money-at the kitchen sink, to get the sugar and grease off his cash intake. He used his earnings to buy shares in the Security State Bank of Fergus Falls and was frequently excused from school to attend shareholders’ meetings.

After graduation he left for the Cities to attend Macalester College, where he received a treasured liberal arts education. He earned a J. D. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1972 and went to work immediately in the three-person legal department at Northwestern National Bank. Except for a summer at the Cornell University School of Business as a 1978 Bush Foundation Fellow and the bank’s temporary displacement by the 1982 fire, John spent his entire career at the corner of 7th and Marquette, as NWNB became Norwest and then Wells Fargo. He was fortunate to work in several departments before finding his true home in 1989 in Wealth Management, where he applied his stellar relationship skills to helping individuals and families. He was set to retire in June 2015 after 43 years with the bank.

John Skogmo’s volunteer work, much of it behind-the-scenes, helped assure the solvency and stability of some important organizations. As a trustee of Macalester College, he reinvigorated the Alumni Fund at a critical juncture. He worked with Artspace to maintain affordable housing and workspace in gentrifying neighborhoods and was instrumental in establishing the Cowles Center. He served as president of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library and was appointed by the city council to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.

His proudest achievement was his long-term service to Westminster Presbyterian Church as a deacon, trustee, elder, and treasurer. John’s was the voice of prudence in many crucial financial decisions, and his steadfast leadership earned respect for Westminster’s endowment as one of the most wisely managed church funds in the country.

He was predeceased by his parents and a grandniece, Lily Irene Martyn, and is survived by Tom Morin, his partner of 32 years and husband of 1 year; his sister, Shirley Nelson; niece Sharri Martyn and her daughter Claire; nephew Trevor Steeves (Jana) and his children, Elizabeth (Kyle) and Joshua; half-brothers Phillip Skogmo (Yukiko) and David Skogmo (Linda); two aunts and many cousins. Memorial service on Friday, May 1, 2015, at 3:00 PM, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette, Minneapolis. Reception following at the Minneapolis Club. Memorials preferred to Westminster or donor’s choice. No Flowers Please. www.Washburn-McReavy.com Edina Chapel 952-920-3996.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 13, 2015

Marriage Equality in Minnesota

gaymarriageMy younger son is gay. For 12 years he’s been in a committed relationship in New York.

His response to the news that Minnesota will now become a marriage equality state was:

“Great. One more state in which I get to choose not to get married!”

He doesn’t want to get married. He just wants for anyone who chooses the covenant of marriage to have that choice. He just wants to live his life.

In 1978 students at The College of Wooster began “coming out” to me in the safe space of my office at The Church House”, the campus ministry center that housed the offices of the College Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. I served the dual role of Pastor of the church and Pastor to the College of Wooster.

Dr. Violet Startzman, the physician at the College’s Health Center, came home with the results of a three-year study on homosexuality commissioned by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Westminster sponsored public forums, adult studies, and less formal conversations about the core finding of the study: same-gender orientation is not a choice; it’s part of the natural spectrum of human sexual attraction and love.

It was in that context that previously fearful or confused students shared in the privacy of the pastor’s office and found affirmation. They were active in the college church. They were ordained (student) elders on the church board.

My story since then is complicated, more so than I would like it to have been, in retrospect. Pastors are teachers and educators as well as advocates. Those of us who seek to minister to a congregation wear the mantle of conflicting responsibilities of conscience, patience, unity, and advocacy. We are first and foremost rabbis (teachers). Teaching is different from preaching, although the good preacher is also a teacher. And teachers begin by respecting their students, no matter what their views are on a given subject. Each of us perceives the world through eyes that see what experience has taught us to see.

When my son came out to us, we were grateful. Grateful for his self-knowledge. Grateful for his trust. Grateful that a (not-so-secret) secret was no longer a secret. So very grateful and proud of who he was as a young man and all that he had done and stood for.

Now, today, I am in Minnesota. He is in New York. I, like him, am grateful that there is one more state in which he can choose whether or not to be married.