You never know when you will meet someone exceptional. Of course exceptional is in the eye of the beholder. This is about someone I met that makes me hope I can be like that when I grow up.
I had the great fortune to work at the Iron Range Research Center for over 20 years. During that time I was able to interview many people who lived really interesting lives. They shared their stories and reflections with me, a stranger. Technology allowed us to record those stories and archive them for future generations. Many, if not most of those people, have crossed over and left us behind. I am so glad we took the time to immortalize their lives.
My recent experience goes back a few years. I was on the St. Louis County Fair Board. I met some great people who really cared about agriculture. The Fair Board and IRRRB staff navigated the difficult process of relocating the Fairgrounds to Chisholm. Many people worked to make the Children’s Barn a reality. It is a place where children and animals can connect even if it is only for the “Five best days of summer”.
The grand opening was special. We worked up to the last minute and a few minutes more to get things ready. There were speeches, ceremony, accolades. What I remember most however was meeting Willard Pearson.. He is Marvin Pearson’s father. Marvin is a dairy farmer from Cook MN. He and I were on the board together.
Willard is the son of Swedish immigrants. His father came to the Cook area at the very beginning. Willard is 91 now but it really doesn’t matter because he was as young at heart now as he was when I met him at the Fair. His retirement passion, after a colorful career and life, is making ropes. Sometime after officially retiring, someone gave him a hand crank rope making machine. If you have never seen one, the best I can say is that they are magical.
Willard grew up on a farm. Farm children usually grow up to be self sufficient and down right handy. Willard looked at the primitive rope machine and decided to make some improvements. Scrounging some pulleys, angle iron, hooks and a crank he soon fashioned a pretty sophisticated super duper rope machine. It wasn’t long before he added an electric motor. The rest is history.
I was fortunate to be there when he arrived with his van. I helped him unload his portable model and watched him set it up. The colorful balls of twine, moving gears and spinning rope is truly an attention grabber. Soon the children and adults were lining up to watch him work his magic. At the end he presented them with their very own rope. His gift is his natural ability to work and converse. Each rope has a little bit of Willard in it. His passion was inspirational. I remember Marvin telling me to make sure he takes a break once in a while. Each rope took about ten minutes. Willard never wanted to disappoint anyone. Amazing!
Last fall I went to the annual Fair Board Meeting. I asked Marvin and Peggy how Willard was doing. They said pretty good except he couldn’t get out to make ropes as much as he would like. Shortly thereafter I called him and set up a meeting in hopes he could show me how to make ropes. I told him what I was doing with Mr.Ed,s Farm and he graciously agreed to share his secrets. After a wonderful afternoon of listening to his stories and trying my hand at making a rope, he did something amazing. He asked me if I wanted to borrow his portable rope machine. He didn’t need to ask me twice! I loaded it up in my van and took it home. I set it up in the Welcome Center and after a few ugly ropes, I began to get the feel. I started making ropes for children and quickly realized why he was energized by it.
I returned his machine yesterday as promised. However, he provided me with some parts that I was able to build my own rope making machine. He asked me how old I was. Fifty nine. He smiled, “well you have a lot of time to make ropes”.
I guess life is what you make it. You never know when you will be inspired. I hope I grow old to be a Willard.