Guest speaker Chris Erichsen talks about success, using the Little Husker 1k kids run as an example, during the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation banquet Saturday. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Guest speaker Chris Erichsen talks about success, using the Little Husker 1k kids run as an example, during the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation banquet Saturday. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

When Spring Valley Area Community Foundation President Sue Kolling began her career many years ago, she asked the late John Osterud, who founded what is now Home Federal Savings Bank, for investment advice.

“I remember John looking at me and saying, ‘Sue, the best investment one can make is in their community’,” Kolling told the approximately 160 people at the foundation annual banquet Saturday at Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery.

Kolling said that at the time, she didn’t really get that. She was looking for a hot stock tip, not advice.

“As time went on I really got to understand what that meant,” she said.

Osterud demonstrated his advice by leaving a $1 million trust fund, the Osterud-Winter Fund, to the city of Spring Valley and school district. Others in the company followed his lead, sharing the dream of investing in the community.

“Our foundation board shares that dream and everybody sitting in this room tonight shares that dream,” said Kolling.

Erichsen finds passion

The foundation hadn’t been established when guest speaker Chris Erichsen was growing up in Spring Valley. However, looking back at his time in Spring Valley, he gave evidence that community support, or investment in its young people, can go a long way toward feeding success.

He explained how a little extra nudge in the classroom at a young age and unconditional support in his running at a time when he was ready to quit played a big part in where he is today.

“Those are small efforts that help people go a long way in finding their passions and fueling their passions,” he said.

Finding and fueling passion was a theme in his talk.

The 2004 Kingsland graduate went on to get an economics degree with magna cum laude honors from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and now has a career he loves at Target Corporation in Minneapolis.

That trajectory in life all started as a young student where, looking back 20 years ago, a cycle started fueling his passion.

“Everything, no matter what you do, starts with effort. You have to put in the work...and eventually it will lead to some sort of success,” he said.

Math was always an easy subject for him, but he didn’t put in the effort until teachers moved him up to the challenge of Cheryl Boyd’s fifth grade math while he was a fourth grader at Kingsland. That started fueling passion in math for him, thus he put more effort into math, which led to success, which energized and excited him, fueling more passion, and then leading to more success.

And, he noted to several laughs from the audience, he, or perhaps his mother, still has the Math Masters trophies to prove that initial success in math.

His love of math didn’t end there. The success created a cycle that continued through his life.

His early success in math led to an easy choice for a major at college — economics. And, his degree led to a career he loves at Target, where he has been able to travel the world to work with overseas teams for Target.

To get in that cycle, he needed an opportunity, which local teachers provided to him by advancing him in math.

Not all opportunities work out, as he showed in another example, and his standout running career almost came to an end his first year of college.

His opportunity in running came because of his two older sisters, who were standout athletes in high school. He experienced gradual success over the years in high school, which drove some of his passion.

Halfway through his first semester at college, cross-country wasn’t going well. However, when he returned to Spring Valley for a break from college, he received encouragement from so many people in the community.

“Regardless of how I had actually performed, I had the support from the community,” he said.

That unconditional support pushed him to keep going, and by the end of college, he had received seven All-American honors. At his last college meet ever at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., he was surprised with the number of people traveling several hours, giving up their Saturday, to watch him run.

“Spring Valley people were everywhere,” he said. “There were people I hadn’t seen in five years.”

That support fueled his passion more and he continued running after college. He was named Minnesota state runner of the year twice, won three of the seven marathons he entered and qualified for the 2012 Olympics trials in the marathon, which has a qualifying time that only elite runners can meet. He finished as the 40th best marathon runner in the United States at the trials.

The Olympics trials were in Houston, Texas, yet many Spring Valley people traveled the distance to watch him compete against the best marathon runners in the United States.

Erichsen also talked about the foundation, which he noted creates opportunities, provides support and celebrates success.

“I look around the room and see it growing and growing and it’s only four years old,” he said.

His presentation displayed several images of the work the foundation has been doing, including the Little Husker 1K run for kids, which grew from more than 150 to more than 250 participants in its second year last August during Ag Days.

“That 1K run is introducing hundreds and hundreds of kids to running for the first time, which is a passion of mine and a passion of several others,” he said.

He encouraged those in the audience to share their passions and ideas for potential projects for the foundation and to provide support.

“This is up to us. This is our task,” he said. “We’re going to be the ones to define what that future looks like.”

Foundation review

Prior to Erichsen’s talk, Kolling outlined what the foundation has been doing over the four years of its existence. The foundation has provided almost $30,000 in grant money to community projects, starting with the Gateway Academy, a summer camp for young students interested in science and technology.

The most recent project is helping the summer reading program at the Spring Valley Public Library to encourage young people to keep reading when school is out.

“Keep in mind that if you have ideas for projects, we’re here to partner. We do matching grants. We’re here to help turn dreams into reality in our community,” she said.

The fund balance reached $200,000 in March, thanks to various donations and matches by Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, which manages the money. Kolling noted that SMIF’s return on investment beats even the Ivy League schools.

The fund got another boost Saturday night as a silent and live auction, directed by auctioneer Kevin Grabau, along with several donations brought in $9,450.

The board has staggered terms and five founding members stepped down this year. Steve Hadoff, Steve Harder, Kathy Nagel, Dave Phillips and Deb Zimmer received plaques of appreciation.

Jason Essig, Gina Jahn and Kristi Mettler joined the board, which also includes founding members Dave Foster, Eric Goddard, Stu Gross, Mitch Lentz, Kolling, Rod Thompson and Jeff Vehrenkamp.

She noted that the foundation is looking for one or two more board members and reiterated that it is looking for ideas to make the communities of Ostrander, Spring Valley and Wykoff better by funding projects in need.

“It’s a lot of work, but we have a passion to make...our towns better,” she said.