Impact Maker Interview 7 – Jeanne Edevold Larson
We have a lot to learn from others that are trying to build their communities and their woodpiles. Today’s interview picks another person we’ve identified as giving back to their community in some way and tries to learn from them.
If you know someone you would like to nominate for an interview, please drop me a note with a brief story about why that person should be featured.
My questions are in bold italics, with responses in plain text.
Today’s Interview: Jeanne Edevold Larson
Tell us about yourself, where you live, and your family.
I am a 4th generation resident of the Bemidji area. I grew up on an intergenerational farm where my father still works the land. I twice graduated Bemidji State University, receiving a BA in Philosophy in the 80s and my graduate degree in 2002.
My parents, Marv and Ruth Edevold instilled a sense of place in me that continues to drive my life. My two kids are 5th generation BSU/NTC students; Jake who now works at Gregg’s Plumbing and Cassi, who just completed her sophomore year of classes.
What makes your community special?
My affection for this region comes from the nostalgia of extended family, the beauty of the land, being educated by the lake, the fellowship of neighbors, adventures in the parks and being lifelong customers of generational small businesses.
It’s not lost on me—that others may experience my hometown very differently. My white privilege has allowed me to avoid many of the traps we have set for those without that privilege. I’m honored to work alongside so many others who help bring voice to people our community has silenced.
What do you do to make your community better (volunteer, donate, etc.)?
I have worked in the nonprofit sector for 30 years, growing and learning about ways to leverage resources and build on the positives of our community to address the challenges. My work as the Executive Director of Northern Dental Access Center has certainly been a focal point for over 15 years. But, I offer my experiences and skills to other agencies when asked…I want us all to succeed and if I can help, I try to show up.
How do you impact others with your work/vocation (or did you if retired)?
My goal has been to create a positive work environment where women can be fully empowered to participate and succeed. I’m pleased to have a high-functioning and successful team of mostly women—at Northern Dental Access Center. I had the good fortune of being able to create the environment from the beginning and I’ve been lucky to work alongside some very talented women who have helped build it for the last 10 years.
Secondly, I’m humbled that my work has resulted in the improved health and access to care enjoyed by tens of thousands of people. Northern Dental Access Center has become a shining star of the region. I started with the organization six years before it opened, facilitating the community planning efforts and raising the funds. As the founding Executive Director, I am so incredibly proud of this work.
You may think these two things should be reversed, with patient care having priority—but I truly feel that if your internal client is your top priority—they will make the external client feel the greatest impact from a team who enjoy their jobs, respect their customers and have a personal investment in success. This approach has served me well; Northern Dental has held a 98% patient satisfaction rating over the years, with many people commenting how welcome they feel in this place where employees are so cheerful.
Tell us about how you build your family up for success?
Regretfully, my family has paid the price for my insecurities, depression and external motivation to achieve. My mother died during the critical early days of my marriage and babies. It took many years for me to re-engage, and with my role model and best friend absent, I floundered. A lot. I hope that since, I have at least modeled the values and community focus that steer my moral compass. I love a great deal; I just don’t love very well.
Which area – your community, vocation or family – do you feel you are the best at, and why?
A combination of community and vocation, for sure. I’ve led a number of regional and community collaborations over my 30 years of work. My facilitation, strategic planning and continuous improvement experiences have helped build consensus and transform community ideas into action. My grant writing has resulted in over $14 million coming to the region—building community assets such as public broadcasting, arts and culture, public safety, higher education, health and human services—even my own mother-in-law’s home improvements so she can stay independent in her own house.
Talk about the event, organization or activity you’ve been involved in that made the biggest impact. Why was it impactful, and how did you help?
So far, Northern Dental Access Center feels like a pretty impactful legacy. I was fortunate to use my planning, facilitation and grant writing skills to help a few visionary leaders make their idea a reality. I was so inspired by the humility and grace of the founding advisory group who dreamed of this place where people would be treated with dignity and offered a true dental home.
My work was behind the scenes, but it was incredibly rewarding when the business plan emerged, cooperative decisions were made, sector-wide support was harnessed and grant funds came through. I was further humbled that, when the time came, members asked me to take a leap of faith and leave my job at Bemidji State University to lead this fledgling nonprofit. I’m so pleased I had to courage to take that leap.
Who or what inspired you to give back of yourself?
My mother’s commitment to ‘Servant Leadership’—where the goal of the leader is to serve rather than to dictate—this turning things on its head feeds right into my unwillingness to accept the status quo.
Look at our organization chart, it’s upside down…patients and staff are at the top, the Board and I are at the bottom. Our job is to serve them, to make sure they have the resources to succeed. That just makes so much sense to me. And it reduces the pressure for an introvert like me—I can do my work behind the scenes and let the team shine.
My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly 20 years ago, just as she was building her own legacy with these ideas. I’d like to think I’m carrying on where she left off.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you personally in trying to be a community builder, and how did you or do you hope to overcome it?
Like many women, I struggle with depression and a long standing sense that I’ll never be enough. Some days I give into this and it’s hard to get out of bed; other days I fight to prove that I am worthy—this is partly what feeds the high-achievement drive that pulls me away from family and relationships, toward the next accomplishment.
What legacy do you hope to leave?
Ultimately, I have to know that the greatest thing I ever do—must lie ahead. If it’s behind me, then that would mean that I’m done. And I’m SO not done.
The question of my legacy—I truly hope is still unanswered. Like others, I hope to not be forgotten. I’d like for the people I’ve touched over the years to remember me once in a while, as someone who supported or inspired them in some way.
What advice do you want to give someone trying to build their woodpile?
Those who have come before me have said many things that have kept me focused over the years, so I’ll share these:
- Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. (my grandpa, my dad, and many others)
- Don’t look back; you’re not going that way. (unknown)
- Staying positive does not mean that things will turn out okay. Rather, it is knowing that you will be okay no matter how things turn out. (unknown)
- The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. Winston Churchill
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Susan Stamberg
I’ll add one that is my own: try to always say ‘yes’. I know it goes against what we, especially women, have been warned against—that we should learn how to say ‘no’ to limit our burnout and exploitation. Yet, in my work especially, the more I say ‘yes’ to those who ask something of me—the more those people show up when I need them the most. Over time, I have an army of people who will return my help, at a moment’s notice. That makes me stronger in the end, and I’m rarely battling any obstacle alone.
Any questions you would like to ask our Woodpile community?
What will you do to bring hope and optimism to those people in our community who have been marginalized over the decades?