Letter to the Editor

A tribute

Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Photo submitted

In 1994, the Clay County Fair employed me as general manager. I was there until 1999 when I left for an opportunity in the Twin Cities.

It was fall of that year and the Save the (Arnolds) Park campaign had achieved its astonishing success. Of course I was aware of the campaign and knew some of its principals but only a few well. Paul Hedberg was one I knew well from both the Spencer fair and my time at the Minnesota State Fair; Berkley Bedell was not.

'Paul and I kept in touch and in 2003 he contacted me to ask if I was interested in taking a look at the park's operations. I said I wasn't. Later Paul sent an email updating me on some of the issues being faced and asked again about my interest in being involved, a very nice and flattering message to which I again said no.

Paul is a very persuasive guy but the next time I declined he decided to send in the A team and asked to have Berkley Bedell give me a call. If nothing else I thought it would be fun to chat with Berkley, who I had not met, so I said sure. A couple of days later he called and the next day we were sitting on his lakeside deck talking about the park.

In retrospect, I see that afternoon having two hugely important influences on my life; for both I will be eternally grateful.

First, the erstwhile teen-aged entrepreneur, soldier and aviator, family man, successful businessman, member of Congress, philanthropist, community pillar and cancer survivor with whom I was speaking, asking questions and then using quiet persuasion laced with determination, was not going to back away from what he started. Two days later I went to work helping the park.

Over the years, I've learned what I did not know then; that's the way Berkley went about getting things done.

Second, no doubt like others who knew him, I got to know a man who became for me a wonderful combination of best friend, older brother, mentor and even father figure.

We worked together on many things over the years since a blog, books, op-ed pieces and research about political and societal issues of concern to him. We spent time in Washington, D.C., speaking about his issues with two of his close friends, Tom Harkin and Rick Nolan, as well as others, including Bernie Sanders, and the folks at Common Cause, founded by another close friend, Bob Edgar (1943-2013).

His concerns included proliferation of nuclear weapons; the need for the United States to spend an inordinate amount for defense; financial burden for students to become college educated; failure to adequately explore medical alternatives; failure to provide adequate healthcare for all; climate change; and at the root of all an impediment to finding solutions the influence of money in politics.

I do not intend this to be a political screed but these are real issues. The day he had the stroke that ultimately caused his death they were on his mind; only the stroke forced him to give up seeking solutions. My message on his behalf to all: We honor Berkley Bedell's memory by continuing to pay attention to what was of concern to him.

Along with our time in Washington, the best times for me were our road trips; travels all over Iowa meeting with supporters or friends, including a 7 a.m. appointment at the Capitol with former Gov. Terry Branstad; a wonderfully memorable RV ride north from Naples with Elinor; and most of all our annual summer trips from MSP airport to Spirit Lake and back.

That's a three-hour, one-way trip during which Berkley never failed to let me chat away but during which I now wish I would have listened more. And even more than that, I wish we could do it again.

Jim Frost

Wabasha, Minnesota