Paul & Sheila Wellstone
October 2014 marked the 12th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, his daughter, Marcia, and three members of his campaign staff – Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy, and Will McLaughlin.
Join with us to honor their lives and legacy.
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Pam Costain Minneapolis, MN
Paul Wellstone: Always a Teacher
I was nineteen years old in 1969 when Paul Wellstone arrived on the Carleton Campus. A short muscular man with a huge mop of curly hair, Paul took the campus by storm. His passionate belief in activism and social justice made this new political science professor an instant sensation with students. We flocked to his classes, mesmerized by his stories of real people organizing to change the world. He taught us about the struggle for civil rights, about Saul Alinsky and community organizing, about poor people’s movements and our nation’s sometimes bitter fight to expand democracy and build a more inclusive union. He prodded us to look beyond the walls of the elite institution which was our school and to learn about the lives of poor people who lived in surrounding Rice County. Paul instilled in us a belief that the purpose of an educated person is to make the world a better place.
The truth is Paul Wellstone was an extraordinarily gifted teacher long before he became a U.S. Senator, and he continued to teach long after he went to Washington, DC. His influence over his students – thousands of them over 21 years – was enormous. Generations of activists and organizers were schooled by this passionate professor and brilliant political strategist who taught us that change IS possible and that the most enduring change grows from the bottom up. Paul asked, no indeed he demanded, that we sink roots into our communities and use our intellect to shift the power to those who had little.
I was among the first students at Carleton to be deeply impacted by having Paul Wellstone as my teacher and advisor. My colleague Jim McCorkell, who now leads the nationally recognized College Possible, was among the last to have that privilege. In 1990, twenty one years after Paul’s arrived on the Carleton campus, Jim sat in some of his last classes. By January Paul Wellstone would leave the classroom to become a United States Senator. Today both Jim and I lead organizations dedicated to helping low income and first generation college students move successfully from high school to college. I can say for certain it is a path I would never have pursued had it not been for the values, grit and determination instilled in me by Paul Wellstone.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of Paul’s death, I remember a gifted community organizer and a Senator who tirelessly defended the dignity of all people. But most of all I remember a passionate teacher and caring friend who transformed the lives of the young people who knew him.
Rest in peace Professor Wellstone, teacher, friend, mentor and guide. You changed our lives. In turn we dedicate ourselves every day to making a difference in the lives of others.
Pam Costain, AchieveMpls
Dan Hoxworth MO
Here is the rationale for the Congressional Living Memorial being Neighborhood House as I prepared for submission. I thought it is important for you to have this for your archives. The whole design of the Wellstone Center was based on the theme of "embrace" the immigrant and refugee communities.
Rationale: Neighborhood House was founded by the women of Mount Zion Temple in the 1880’s as a settlement house, helping newly arrived Eastern European Jewish immigrants to establish a new life and thrive in their new community. Senator Wellstone always had a genuine affinity for Neighborhood House, as his own family were Russian Jewish immigrants themselves. But his affinity reached far beyond this personal link: Neighborhood House truly embodies everything that Paul Wellstone fought for his whole life – that all people, no matter their background or economic status or country of origin or race or creed, would have a fair shake at life, and an opportunity to belong to and enrich their community.
Senator Paul Wellstone was more than a representative to the people of Neighborhood House. He was the voice in Washington for those who had no voice, and he worked hard to empower them in their local communities and give them hope.
“Senator Paul,” as he was referred to by many Hmong participants at Neighborhood House, was viewed as a “father” and “champion” of the Hmong people. Wellstone had an enormous impact on their lives. It was the participants of Neighborhood House’s Hmong Unity group who, in 1997, invited Senator Wellstone and Congressman Vento to Neighborhood House to hear their concerns about the plight of the Hmong in the United States. As a result of that meeting, Wellstone and Vento went on to achieve the passage of the Hmong Veterans Act into law in 2000. Nearly 100% of the participants of Hmong Unity became United States citizens because of that legislation, and in 2002 they proudly changed their name to Hmong American Unity. Senator Wellstone showed them that they had the power to advocate for themselves, exercise their precious freedom, and make their community and their adopted country better for everyone.
Senator Wellstone came every year to the Freedom Festival at Neighborhood House to honor the new American citizens from the Hmong, Latino and other communities. There was no press there – it was never about PR for Paul – but it was something he believed in very strongly.
Indeed, the Wellstone family was very committed to Neighborhood House. Just two weeks before their deaths, Senator Wellstone sent his daughter Marcia to tour Neighborhood House and talk with staff about important issues for our community. In addition, Sheila Wellstone’s championing of women’s issues is embodied in Neighborhood House programs such as Hispanic Women in Action, a cultural empowerment group that enables women to retain their culture while learning a new one, address challenging family issues, and develop into leaders not only for their families but also their community.
Upon learning of the inability for Neighborhood House to meet community needs in the current facility, it was Senator Wellstone himself who suggested to Neighborhood House President Dan Hoxworth that Neighborhood House put in a request for a federal appropriation for our badly needed new facility. He was extremely committed to getting the project through, and he did all he could to gain the support of his colleagues in Washington.
Paul and Sheila Wellstone loved St. Paul; he had his campaign headquarters in St. Paul; they lived in St. Paul and walked the neighborhoods of St. Paul to get to really know and understand the people. To honor them in St. Paul – through the organization that settled St. Paul, gave her so many dedicated leaders, and continues to do so today – is a fitting tribute to their legacy that lives on.
Sally Miller Minneapolis, MN
As a girl from small town Minnesota, the thought of working in the United States Senate in Washington, DC for my rabble rousing hero Senator Paul Wellstone was beyond belief. I started answering the front office phones for the Senator just 2 months after graduating from College and for the next 8 years, I worked the spectrum of crazy campaign and senate office jobs for Paul and his amazing wife Sheila.
While I thanked Paul and Sheila countless times for their hard work and for the opportunity to learn and grow from them professionally, I never got the chance to tell them how they monumentally changed the course of my own life.
So, I want to take this opportunity to share just a few…
Thank you for gathering together some of my best friends; the kindest, smartest, funniest, and most loyal people in the world. On a daily basis, I continue to learn, laugh and become a better person from those you surrounded yourselves with.
Thank you for giving a retired high school history teacher from Buffalo, Minnesota the time of his life. When I volunteered my Dad to drive the Wellstone Bus for a few parades, I had no idea for the next 6 years he would be on the road driving the Senator and his family, meeting dignitaries and many of his personal heroes. It changed his life and my family forever.
Thank you for giving me the energy, confidence and chutzpah to leave Minnesota and go organize low income workers in places like Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. You taught me there is no struggle to small or too large to take on.
Thank you for showing me what absolute love looks like. I had never been around two people who loved each other more than Paul and Sheila Wellstone. Know that your love and devotion to each other has taught me to never settle for less and I never miss the opportunity to tell those I love how much they mean to me!
I left Minnesota shortly after the plane crash and have only recently found my way back home to be closer to family and friends. I am looking forward to spending time on this heartbreaking 10th Anniversary not reliving that unimaginable day in October, but all of those thousands of incredible days that preceded it.
Thank you and I miss you every day Paul, Sheila, Tom, Mary, Marcia and Will!
Teresa Tanzi Wakefield, RI
I did not ever have the honor of meeting Paul or Sheila, but I must say Senator Wellstone was an inspiration to me as I began my career in public policy. When I found out there was a training program to help candidates run for office, I instantly knew there was no other campaign that I would want to model my own after than his. I ordered the book, read it from cover to cover, and flew all the way to Seattle from RI to complete the training. I even sent my campaign manager (now a candidate herself!) to a training in NY. Now, as an elected Representative, I look forward to continuing to promote progressive values through legislation at the Rhode Island State House. Through my work with Progressive States Action in revitalizing our state's Progressive Caucus, myself and other members of our caucus, hope to bring Wellstone Action to RI to help us successfully organize around, and implement progressive policies!
Julie Lee Plymouth, MN
I moved to Minnesota in 1983 and I was married in 1984. For a long time, I thought my life was about carpooling to work with my husband every day, collecting a paycheck to help support our family while raising our children together; thinking that someday I would retire when my boss retired. My professional life came to a sudden stop after I was wrongfully fired from my job in 1995. Shortly after my devastating experience, Senator Paul Wellstone came into my life by sending me a letter indicating that he was furious about people like me not participating in politics.
Cynthia Kafut-Hagen Hibbing, MN
I went for training several years ago. It was invaluable for me to get the courage together to run for office. My only contact with Paul Wellstone was a letter I wrote him shortly after he won the first time. I am an artist/hairstylist living and working in Hibbing, which is in Northern Minnesota's Iron Range. Paul had made the paper because a hairstylist in the cities area told him that he was a senator now and should have a professional cut his hair instead of having his wife Sheila cut it. They made a big to do about it and how much it cost etc. I wrote him and told him he should come to Hibbing and have me cut his hair because it was quite a bit cheaper. I think my salon was charging about seven dollars for a cut at the time. I also told him that I appreciated his courage for standing up for peace. He was the only senator in Washington at the time with the guts to stand up and be against the war in the gulf.
Kate Fellman Durham, NC
I was an intern on the Paul Wellstone Campaign in 2002. At the time I was a new mother, working full time and trying to finish my college degree. I was so lucky to work for a Senator like Paul, who didn't always do the popular thing, but always did the right thing. Along with everyone else who worked on that campaign and his constituents, you always knew where he stood. I thank him for being my progressive mentor, and think of Paul often when I need a moral/political compass. I am now living in the wonderful progressive city of Durham, North Carolina. I believe my work would do Paul and Shelia proud. I'm working as an organizer for a progressive community based organization that fights for social and economic justice.
Katie Eukel Minneapolis, MN
I only met Paul Wellstone a few times, but I always thought of him as my Senator. He died before I made a career choice, but his dedicated friends and colleagues have since become some of my most valuable mentors. They've inspired me to believe that I can make an impact. In turn, I hope to inspire others. I like to think that Paul Wellstone would be pleased by this. People whom he never met are carrying on the work that was his passion. I, and so many others, would not be doing the work we're doing today without having Paul Wellstone as an influence.
Larry Smith Cumberland, MD
There is not a s single day that goes by when I do not think of Paul Wellstone. My name is Larry Smith, a public school educator who, like Paul, I battle Multiple Sclerosis. I am the son of 4 generations of coal miners in this nestle of Appalachia in Western Maryland. Although I never met Paul Wellstone in person, like many Americans, I feel as though he knew me. When he ran his first US Senate race in 1990 for the US Senate, I was so moved by the fighting spirit of this, "true progressive", that I wrote letters to the editor around various newspapers in Minnesota supporting him.
Liv A. Anderson Minneapolis, MN
When I was 9 I went into the voting booth with my mom, at the time a Republican. I noticed that she had voted for someone who was on the Democrat part of the ballot. I thought she had made a mistake. She told me that while Paul Wellstone was a Democrat he was the person she agreed with because he stood for what he believed in and supported the people in Minnesota. I was 15 when their plane crashed. About a month before that I had started volunteering for his campaign with my parents' blessing. It was the first political campaign I had ever volunteered for. I was devastated. When the first Camp Wellstone occurred, one of my high school teachers got me in to the program. I later got the chance to participate in Campus Camp Wellstone at the University of Wisconsin. Since then I've served as a Teach for America corps member and this fall I'm starting grad school at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Eugene (Gene) M. Nichols Shoreview, MN
I did not meet Paula or Sheila, but remember the green and white bus in my south Minneapolis neighborhood, the north side of Minneapolis, and Maplewood where I worked prior to departing Minnesota in 1989. I was impressed with how Paul appealed to so many people on multiple levels. I moved to NY, and watched Minnesota politics from there for many years. I admired what Paul represented, and wished I could be in Minnesota to work in his campaigns, etc. I returned to Minnesota in June, 2001, knowing that I would get involved in the work that Paul had led for so many years. As fate would have it, I did not have a chance to realize that goal. I later became active in Minnesota grassroots progressive organizations, and the DFL, where I continue to devote my time and energy.
Linda Winsor St. Paul, MN
Paul never lost touch with regular people. He always remembered the names of our children and asked how they were doing. It wasn't a formality. He deeply cared about our families and knew that he had a responsibility to work for bettering regular people's lives. Paul rarely took vacations. One year, a family vacation was planned on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Paul talked about it for weeks. I saw him a few days before his vacation and wished him a happy time. He looked in my eyes and said that he was headed to the Red River Valley instead, as the flood victims needed his attention more than he needed a vacation.
Rhiannon Jones San Diego, CA
Paul Wellstone is not why I got involved in politics. It's why I stayed involved. After several years working in progressive politics, I was burned out and frustrated - ready to quit. I watched Wellstone's speech on the Iraq war. Then read Conscience of a Liberal. It gave me hope. The kind of inspiration that gets you through the worst days. And still does. I remember where I was when the news came out about the plane crash. And in my tiny office in Planned Parenthood in San Diego, I cried. Kind of thought I wouldn't stop. But I did stop crying. And then I got back to work.
Colin McGinnis Baltimore, MD
Paul recognized that no politics can serve the needs of justice without great hope. And as a leader, he recognized that we needed strategies for hope; coupled with a vision that extends to the far neighbor as well as the near, and that recognizes much of our work will be realized only in the fullness of time, and perhaps by others.
Ten years after the tragic deaths of Senator Paul Wellstone and Sheila Wellstone, their daughter and staff members, we offer this eulogy, originally delivered November 13, 2002 in Washington, DC, by Senator Wellstone's Chief of Staff, Colin McGinnis.
In 1994, I came to Washington as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow. After an incredible 10 week orientation, meeting with the luminaries of health policy, and living through the 1994 elections and flip of the Congress to the Republicans, I began my quest to find an office in which to work for the remainder of the year. I interviewed with all of the Democrats on the Labor and Finance Committees- I was (and am) a nephrologist deeply concerned about the care of the complex, chronically ill, and underserved. Once I had met with all of the staff folks and some members, I remember my meeting with Paul's staff and the joy I felt at having found my home. 1994-5 with Paul and Sheila, Alex Clyde- a first year (but incredibly knowledgeable and experienced) health LA- was one of the seminal times of my life and for my family.
Jeff Bauer MN
I worked on the '96 reelection campaign as the statewide college campus coordinator, traveling all around the state in to start up Students for Wellstone groups and to register new student voters. That's me in the middle of the attached photo, holding my Wellstone sign high! What a bunch of crazy kids we were back then. I always relished the opportunities I had to travel with Paul and Sheila during those days, and to meet up with them on college campuses all around this great state. I learned so much from both of them along the way - not only from the things they said, but especially from how they lived their lives. They felt the struggles of ordinary Minnesotans so profoundly and sincerely that they literally couldn't help but fight for them with every ounce of their beings.