About me and why I'm doing this

March 24, 2022

On this, our 49th wedding anniversary, I've gone out and bought a domain name and started this blog. It may be an ego-driven effort at self-aggrandizement. It may be I'm just a bit too close to my end of days and want to share something for my family and friends, those willing to read it at least.

Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have many, but who really cares about that?) If I was selling myself, I’d write about all the benefits I could bring you if you agreed to retain me. But that’s not why I’m here. (But if you are thinking to retain me, keep reading anyway. We may make beautiful music together.)

So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren, and all but one are able to read this now, and that one, being just four, is forgiven for being late to the read.

I, like most people my age, have had more than my fair share of experiences--good and bad. So here’s a bit of mine.

Married at 18 and a dad at 19, it was clear to me that I needed to make a decent living to support us all. A somewhat above average student in my pre-majority days, I was supposed to become either a forest ranger or a lawyer according to the aptitude tests we all took for school guidance counselors back then. Mom thought me better suited to the clergy.

Once I was certain I wouldn’t need a college deferment to avoid the Vietnam Era draft, I married my high school sweetheart and embarked on a career in freight transportation. At the time, it was the largest industry in the country, except for agriculture. It was also clear to me that I wasn’t going to “work for the man” all my life.

After completing the College of Advanced Traffic courses at Humboldt Institute in Minneapolis, I went to work in the trucking industry. With a few years of trucking under my belt, I took a job at a manufacturing company in Anoka Minnesota, Halloween Capital of the World. I was second in command of what is now called the logistics department. Even in those days, I worked nights at various trucking companies to help pay the bills. You might remember the inflation of the 1970s.

I was struck by an odd mentality among those I worked with at the manufacturing firm. Middle-aged guys were counting down the years, months, weeks, days, and hours to their retirement. That wasn’t for me. I didn’t know then how my life would go, but it wasn’t going to be that. And it has ended up being one hell of a ride.

After a short stint as a sales rep for a large trucking company, I was recruited to join a small freight forwarding firm that was a vendor of the manufacturing company where I worked. I was hired by a man named Dan Conway who was an owner, soon to be the sole owner of the firm. He became my friend and mentor and in 1980 he named me president of his company, eventually granting me ownership of half the business.

By the time I was a 26-year-old company president, Becky and I were parents to four kids, three girls and a boy. In addition to running a business, we had the kids in all manner of outside activities, and school of course. Among the hats I wore was President of the PTA at Olson Elementary School in Bloomington. A great lesson in the leadership of diverse interests for common goals.

As the 1980s progressed, our company was threatened with a large number of claims and lawsuits resulting from the lack of Congressional follow-through when they deregulated trucking in 1980. The only thing to do to keep our business alive was to get involved in lobbying Congress for relief from its screw-up. Joining with industry peers, I made several trips to our nation’s capital to lobby on our collective behalf to get legislative relief from the so-called Filed Rate Doctrine.

One thing became clear during my first lobbying visit. Members of Congress and their staff have a very shallow pool of knowledge about trucking--real life, on the ground let’s say. Over the coming years, I met and worked with a number of leading power figures in DC--some with real power, others who would go on to have it in this century. If a Congressperson was ignorant of my business, I needed to be skeptical about everything they promised.

This work led me into a leadership role on the board of directors of our trade association serving members with businesses similar to ours from across the country. And my lobbying visits convinced me that I could, and would, do a better job legislating than most of those I’d met. So in 1992, I ran for the Minnesota Legislature, unsuccessfully as it would turn out. But once again, the lessons were worth the investment.

In the winter of 1990, our company created an Employee Stock Ownership Trust (ESOT) that bought the share of the business owned by founder Dan Conway. He retired to Arizona and we began the process of building an employee-owned company. By March of 1995 the ESOT was able to buy my shares in the business and it, Twin Modal, Inc., became 100% employee-owned.

As for me, at the tender age of 40, retirement was on the table. With three kids through high school already we sold our home in the Twin Cities and moved to Grand Marais, MN. My friend and financial advisor Steve Klaers told me, “You don’t have enough money to retire!” No, but I had enough to not work for a while.

That not working wasn’t going to last long. By January of 1996, we’d become the owners of the Cook County News Herald, the weekly newspaper serving Grand Marais and surrounding Cook County. Once again, a sharp learning curve for me to become a newspaper editor and publisher. Not long after, Becky, an ardent coffee aficionado, started up BrewHaHa. Her marketing tagline was, “Coffee With Character” under the Jester logo she created.

By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold the publishing business and the coffee shop and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada.

Tired of maintaining two properties, and electing to make a snow-free environment our permanent home, we moved full time to Las Vegas in 2000.

Our kids, all grown now, followed us to Nevada. To our actual delight.

Proving that I had more self confidence than brains, I started a freight brokerage business again. My son and son-in-law worked with me then, along with another freight business veteran. Sadly this venture did not turn out so well after a good five-year effort, a failure that I take 100% credit for.

After the 2004 election of George W. Bush, I started attending meetings of the Red Rock Democratic Club. Its purpose was to build the Democratic Party in the west side of the Las Vegas valley. The club saw about 20 to 30 or so in attendance at each month’s meeting. I was then about the youngest member at 51. Some members had been Adlai Stevenson delegates in the 1956 nominating convention. I was encouraged to run for Vice President in club elections and agreed to put my name in the hat since I didn’t think a young newcomer like me could win an election where everyone else already knew each other. Surprise. The next election elected me President.

Credit to W. for helping us build the club. Many of our attendees wanted to switch parties and help elect a Democrat in 2008. As the state Democratic party prepared for the first-ever early caucuses--just a couple weeks after Iowa, club attendance was clicking at 50-60 per meeting, and sometimes many more. Our success got me my fifteen minutes of fame as a “rock-star” in the Nevada Democratic Party.

The coming years found me diagnosed with prostate cancer and beginning radiation treatments. The nation’s economy was headed for a deep economic crisis and we, as a family, found it hard to keep our heads above water. See whose fault it was above.

I was recruited to help run a business east of St. Louis and it appeared to be an opportunity that a desperate, flat broke man in his 50s could not pass up. The stories from that experience will fill a book someday.

After a few years, that job fizzled out and I began a business consulting and executive coaching practice. I even wrote a book about my 40-year career in logistics. I found out the truth of the statement I’d heard about consultants. “A consultant is someone who asks to borrow your watch so he can tell you what time it is.”

One day in 2016 Becky said from the kitchen, “I’d like to retire to the North Shore someday.” I asked, “Where will I go?” She responded, ever so lovingly, “Well you can come with me if you want.”

By that fall, we returned to Grand Marais, buying a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house.

We now have two kids and one grandchild living here in Cook County. One daughter in Reno, NV with her two kids, now nearly grown. Our youngest daughter is leaving Las Vegas with her husband and two kids for a new life near Duluth.

In 2018 I faced a health scare that almost killed me. A story for another day of three hospital visits totaling almost two months, multiple surgeries, and a brutal infection.

So that’s my “about me” page. Not all experiences and lessons are here, else I’d have nothing else to share.

I’ve been employed by two hardware stores since my return to paradise and many stories to come from that. I’m writing a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m posting my columns here after publication so any of you not getting the weekly Journal can read them too.

God bless you for having the patience to read this far. You can reach me at steve@stevefernlund.com if you’d like.

And remember this, “Letting readers describe their everyday life is journalism.” A quote from a distant relative Per Ackerson.