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Willmar mayor cancels speech by 'Three Cups' author's mom

Jerene Mortenson makes 50 to 65 speeches a year to support the causes founded by her son, "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson.

And she was supposed to come to Willmar May 12 for the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, but now Mayor Frank Yanish has canceled her appearance and brought in three other speakers for the event.

The mayor blamed the news contained in the recent "60 Minutes" episode that questioned Greg Mortenson's claims about his schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and his fundraising methods for the Central Asia Institute.

“In light of the controversy surrounding the son of our scheduled speaker for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, I am making a change toward a more local focus and the issues facing us in Willmar and the surrounding area,’’ Yanish told the Willmar's West Central Tribune.

Jerene Mortenson’s breakfast topic at the breakfast was scheduled to be: “The Fourth Cup of Tea: Empowering children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Here in the United States.’’

In Mortenson's book, he describes how children in River Falls, Wis. — where his mother was principal — listened to his stories about the suffering of students in Pakistan and then gathered 62,340 pennies to help him build his first school there. His mother then founded the Pennies for Peace organization to raise money for her son's work.

Yanish has replaced Jeren Mortenson at the Willmar breakfast with speakers Bob Poe, director of Youth for Christ in Willmar; Dr. Rick Lee, chief executive officer of Woodland Centers in Willmar; and Pastor Pablo Cruz.

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Comments (2)

It is disappointing that Willmar's Mayor Yanish canceled the talk "The Fourth Cup of Tea: Empowering children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the U.S." to be presented by Greg Mortenson's mother, Jerene Mortenson. Greg Mortenson has a gift for story telling. His books have connected us with a country that we are at war with. His work has been a strong bridge to peace. At the end of the 60 Minute program it was said that he has done a lot of good in Afghanistan. Some of his stories may not have been accurate in detail, but they did relay an important story about the possibilities of the human spirit in relating to one another for the benefit of others, in this case schools for girls. Mortenson's mother has inspired children across the nation to build friendships and understanding.

I would urge people to go to to get the other side of the story.

I do feel sorry for Mrs. Mortenson. It is very sad that she had to give this up.

However, if you want part of the real story you should got to the Magazine Outside Online where Mr. Mortenson tells he story, and read the other story buy a guide from Pakistan who demonstrates through Google Maps that Mr. Mortenson could not have been where he said he was.

In addition, there is an article on Outside Online by Mr. Mortenson's friend Scott Darsney, where Scott says they were only separated for 1/2 day and not the 8 days that Mr. Mortenson claims he was spending laying up sick in a village.

"It made me feel really cheated," fifth-grader Kaylee Wallace said of the allegations. "I've donated a lot of money over the years."

In addition, some schools who participated in the Pennies For Peace drive have now started sending the money to the Red Cross and elsewhere.

Vinland librarian DebbieJo Rock met with each classroom April 19 and 20 to help them understand the situation and hear their feedback.

"It made me feel really cheated," fifth-grader Kaylee Wallace said of the allegations. "I've donated a lot of money over the years."

Here is the rest of that article:

While I do feel sorry for Mrs. Mortenson; I do feel more sorry for the thousands of students across this country who gathered over 1.7 Million Dollars through Pennies for Peace and have only $57,000 go towards teacher salaries, which is outlined in the 2009 tax return for CAI. I also feel sorry for the donors who trusted that their money would be used for the purpose that CAI said it would. Lastly, I feel sorry for the students in Pakistan and Afghanistan who never saw the benefit of the donations of the 60 Million dollars donated on their behalf for education.