All countries celebrate national holidays commemorating great wars, independence, and various religious holidays. Our Thanksgiving is unique as a secular holiday. It was first observed in 1621 to celebrate the harvest enjoyed by the Plymouth Colony after a particularly trying winter (like the old days in Minnesota). Our first president, George Washington, was also the first president to declare a day of thanksgiving. A Thanksgiving Day proclamation has been issued by every president since then. Following this presidential precedent, this is my thanksgiving for those who truly make this state a better place.
››› Eric Jolly. Jolly, the recently appointed president of the Science Museum of Minnesota, long known for his contributions to mathematics and science education, has re-energized the museum. Currently, the museum is hosting Body Worlds. I won’t go into the details of the exhibit, some of which are highly controversial for a Thanksgiving article. However, a culture that promotes scientific inquiry is essential to our progress and economic well-being. (A scientist named Jolly!)
››› Minnesota National Guard. The founding of our National Guard—formed as the Minnesota Pioneer Guards in 1856—precedes that of our state by two years. Today, the National Guard comprises more than 12,000 volunteers, and more than 2,800 members are deployed around the world. Appreciation for their service is, and should be, widely held. In addition to giving thanks, perhaps we could consider guaranteeing full benefits and pay differentials (at least for state employees) for those who are called to guard service.
››› Minnesota Police and Firefighters. This holiday cannot pass without expressing appreciation for the great service rendered to all of us by those who serve in police and fire-safety positions. More than 227 Minnesota police officers have died in the line of duty since 1874, and countless more have been injured. We should never forget the spirit of those who served during 9/11 in New York City. Thousands ran out of the burning Twin Towers, but hundreds of police officers and firefighters ran into the buildings to save others. More than 343 New York area firefighters died that day. We should give thanks to all who serve.
››› Pat Harvey. Harvey finished six years as the superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools in the summer of 2005. By any measure, her tenure stands as an example of successful leadership in an urban school system where 42 percent of the students come from homes in which a language other than English is spoken, where those students speak 70 different languages, and where 71 percent of students are eligible for free lunch. Large multi-ethnic urban school districts can be successful.
››› Hennepin County Commissioners Randy Johnson, Peter McLaughlin, Mark Stenglein, and Mike Opat. These are the commissioners who provided political leadership when no one else had the courage to do so on the Twins baseball stadium. Governors and legislative leaders have all postured as problem solvers, but they dithered on this issue until four county commissioners stepped forward. Only four elected leaders had the guts to do the right thing. When the stadium opens, we will wonder why it took us so long to do what these four men had the courage to do.
This is a great state and I’m thankful to the many who have made it that way.
Vance K. Opperman
A Dedicated Thanksgivingist