In 1929, Ole Rolvaag wrote Giants in the Earth, depicting the trek of Norwegian immigrants and their families coming to the upper Midwest and instilling their values of hard work, perseverance, community, vision, sacrifice, and a love of God and their new land. They were truly giants.
Now fast forward to March 6th and the annual gathering of MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and the honoring of another Minnesota giant, Wheelock Whitney. On this date, he was being lauded for his efforts in founding MOFAS along with my wife, Susan.
But like most giants, his fingerprints are on virtually all efforts that define Minnesota’s quality of life ranging from bringing big-time sports to Minnesota to his leadership in the arts and education.
However, in chemical dependency there is hardly a program that does not reflect Wheelock Whitney’s vision and personal commitment.
What I have always appreciated about Wheelock was his ability to think big and radiate optimism.
For instance, in 1976, the 200-year anniversary of the freedom of our nation, Wheelock thought it a good idea to celebrate freedom from the confinement of chemical addiction by bringing everybody to Met Stadium in Bloomington. At first blush, the idea of attracting over 45,000 to an outdoor stadium to celebrate sobriety seemed impossible. But it wasn’t.
The stadium overflowed. Freedom Fest became a national event, and Dick Van Dyke, who came to Minnesota for treatment, returned as Master of Ceremonies. That is a Grand Slam in any park.
Due to Wheelock’s efforts, Minnesota became the world’s leader in chemical dependency treatment and many of those providers and recipients of treatment were there to simply say “thanks.” Among those were Governor Mark Dayton who personally expressed his gratitude for the impact that Wheelock Whitney had on him and his family.
It should be noted that it is impossible to be in a room with Wheelock without humor and laughter. But the surprise was the quick and delightful banter between Dayton and Whitney.
More than anything else, it is nice to know that giants did not pass away with Rolvaag’s book. No, they live on and we are truly blessed.