Cookies of Consequence
Every Christmas season as far back as I can remember—and even the ones before that—my family reserved an afternoon for a cookie party. We’d pile in the car and head to Elliot Avenue South, to the home of Pauline Altermatt—my mom’s friend and former boss from her days working in the Dayton’s special events department. Pauline was elegant and gracious and impeccably dressed. She preferred books to TV, ballet to pop music. And she did Christmas up big.
Pauline would deck every hall of her cozy south Minneapolis Tudor. A Department 56 Christmas village, complete with cotton balls for snow, took up the entire surface of the buffet that ran the length of her dining room. Her Christmas tree, as large and full as she could fit between the fireplace and living room sofa, was always painstakingly decorated with a mix of glimmering balls, etched crystal, and collectible ornaments, which she hung right alongside the glued macaroni and yarn masterpieces my brother and I made for her when we were kids.
The dining room table would be exquisitely set with a lace cloth, red and gold tapered candles, and ceramic Santas. Out came two platters of Christmas cookies, which she served on holiday china. There were perennials, like chocolate chip–filled meringues, krumkake, peanut butter balls, and a wreath-shaped cookie dusted with green sugar. Each year there were a couple of surprises; Pauline would make the winning recipe from the Star Tribune holiday cookie contest, and we’d discuss whether or not it was worthy of becoming one of her staples.
We didn’t have to suffer through vegetables and protein in order to earn this cookie feast, which made it a magical event when I was a child (and cause for a lead-up diet as an adult). As kids, we’d collapse on the thick beige carpet once we’d had our fill and wait for Pauline’s cuckoo clock to sound its delightfully disruptive chirp on the hour. In recent years, my kids would do the same. Pauline would nudge the minute hand back so they could see the cuckoo bird an extra time.
There won’t be a cookie party on Elliot Avenue this year. Pauline passed away in October, at 86. As I sat at her funeral at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis—a place she loved, in the city she loved—I thought about the many ways someone can make a difference. Pauline led the Dayton’s events team at a time when the department store was the cultural epicenter of the city. She hosted store visits by first lady Barbara Bush and first lady of Egypt Jehan Sadat. She organized appearances by Oscar de la Renta and Martha Stewart. She coordinated gift drops for the underprivileged and managed the crowds that flocked to the Nicollet Mall store every December for the holiday show in the eighth-floor auditorium.
After her retirement, she stayed engaged as a member of Minneapolis Women’s Rotary and a volunteer with the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Friends of the Institute. She was a longtime board member of the Goldstein Museum of Design at the University of Minnesota. She believed that art and design could enrich our lives and our city, and she always found ways to contribute, whether that meant personally delivering flowers to Mia for the annual Art in Bloom event or baking hundreds of Christmas cookies every year to share with friends.
Pauline never landed on a who’s who list. She didn’t get inducted into a business hall of fame. But as you dive into this issue packed with leaders and influencers, from Person of the Year Brian Cornell to our TCB 100 list of people you’ll want to keep your eye on in 2020, think about all the others who make our city and our business community tick. Acknowledge them—better yet, invite them to join you at our Person of the Year event on Dec. 17 at Orchestra Hall. The holiday season is an opportunity to reflect on what great company we’re in here in Minnesota, to appreciate those who are funding startups, bringing in new talent, and working to make our communities safer, healthier, more vibrant. That’s why TCB likes to end the calendar year with a toast to the innovators and decision makers from every industry imaginable. You won’t find a better place to network this month. If there’s someone else you think deserves to be on this list, let us know. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for all the others who make a difference in your life and work, tell them. Take the time to throw them a cookie party. And don’t be afraid to use the good china.