Get up close and personal with C.K. Blandin and his Foundation

In just a handful of months, we will be blowing out our 75th birthday candles. As we get closer to that date, we want to share with you the ways in which Blandin Foundation continues to honor its commitments to its founder, Charles K. Blandin, and to its local Itasca area communities. So here’s your first of many chances to get up close and personal with C.K. Blandin and his Foundation.

How did the Blandin Foundation get its start?

Charles K. Blandin, teacher, entrepreneur and owner of a world-class paper mill in northern Minnesota, established the Blandin Foundation in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids and the surrounding area.

Since the sale of the Blandin Paper Company in 1977, the financial resources of the Foundation have expanded dramatically, as has its area of service.

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Top 3 Vibrant Communities May 11-15

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions.
  1. Grand Rapids: Come roll with us! The Itasca area community is rallying together to roll this weekend at MyrnaLee Mania. At the event, local residents are gunning for a Guinness World Record for the most people together for a wheelchair roll. Much work has been done to “bring greater cultural awareness to whose who are differently-abled”. Check out the community’s journey thus far. More at the Grand Rapids Herald Review
  2. Brainerd: New technology in Brainerd schools will boost early education learning opportunities for kids across the community. Read how this technology will be implemented in the Brainerd Dispatch.
  3. Thief River Falls: New jobs are coming to the Northland, 39 to be exact. Artic Cat plans to invest nearly $67 million in its Thief River facilities for a new paint line. Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer said, “It’s a huge impact on the city and region.” More in the Grand Forks Herald

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Statewide media raise up rural broadband

Just one short month ago, rural voices rallied together in response to the Minnesota House’s decision to cut broadband funding. Some resource shuffling has happened since then but as the session’s end date is quickly approaching, this week we’re seeing a resurgence of rural broadband-related content in the media and online. Here’s a snapshot…

KBJR: In a multi-part series, the Northland’s News Center is spotlighting stories about the need for high-speed Internet in northern Minnesota as well as how some communities have reaped the benefits of early investment in broadband. Tune in tonight for the second part of the series.

Many lawmakers in St. Paul agree: broadband access for those areas is critical for business, especially if the state hopes to meets it goal of being in the top five states for broadband access.

“Minnesota wants to be a leader in certain areas, and this is certainly one of those areas,” said Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth).

Star Tribune: On Monday, the Star Tribune carried a commentary by Red Wing Senator Matt Schmit that criticizes the pace in which legislators are addressing broadband access in Minnesota and urges heightened attention.

“But at the rate we’re going, we’ll connect the final quarter of Minnesota households with high-speed Internet at a snail’s pace.”

“As a state, we set an important goal that all Minnesotans should have access to high-speed Internet. We’ve measured our progress but are coming up short. We have a tested tool for targeting resources and improving access. But the question remains: Will this Legislature get the message?”

MinnPost: Today, MinnPost explored some of the reasons why state action around broadband has been lethargic —  including lack of a shared understanding about broadband’s economic impact in rural, understanding the differences between wired versus wireless technology, and whether or not the pace of the legislators is a political tactic.

For up-to-date information on broadband in Minnesota, make sure to follow our Blandin on Broadband Blog.


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Calling conversations that matter: Superintendent Matt Grose shines a light on standardized testing

Matt Grose is a core team member for the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success. Here he is at the November 2014 IAISS community convening.

You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone. We use this mantra in all of our leadership programs because if we’ve learned one thing in our nearly 75 years working with rural leaders it’s this — leadership isn’t a one-person show. The true test of a leader isn’t in how loud they can make their voice boom, but in how they can bring people together, under a shared vision, to make real change happen.

But sometimes to bring people together, there needs to be a spark. Something that jolts, that energizes.

We saw such a spark last week in our local paper. In a Grand Rapids Herald Review opinion piece, Deer River Public Schools Superintendent Matt Grose called attention to the obstacles created and exacerbated by standardized testing. Spurred by a sudden suspension of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing, his commentary  zeroed in on how society’s insatiable hunger for teacher accountability, accomplished through the taking of one test, is unrealistic and obtrusive.

Neither I nor my staff fear accountability. In fact, my teachers hold themselves to higher standards of care than any test could measure. I would argue, however, that spending $33.8 million on testing isn’t being accountable with our money as a state. I would argue that having 5th graders take tests in Reading, Math, and Science within the same testing season isn’t being accountable to them or their parents. I would argue that testing every child when we could use scientific sampling to measure school progress isn’t being accountable to intelligent use of time. I would argue that having to suspend teaching, cancel field trips, and reserve most of April for testing isn’t being accountable to our responsibility to provide learning opportunities. What we need is a system that provides measurement in a way that is fair, accurate, and unobtrusive.

Agree or disagree — this is leadership.

It calls a conversation. It invites reflection. It does not cast stones, but offers an opening for our communities, our state, to begin thinking about new possibilities, to question “What if?”

This article was not an echo of just one person’s voice, but countless teachers, students, parents, and community members. But someone’s name had to be attached. Someone needed to be the spark.

You have to do it yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone.

It’s sparks like these that make our home communities — and communities all across rural Minnesota — vibrant.




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The Wi-Fi on the bus goes…click, click, click!

Photo courtesy of Osakis Review

For Milaca students who ride the bus, “hitting the highway” now has a dual meaning. As the wheels on the bus go round-and-round on the highway pavement, tech wheels are turning too as they connect to the information highway.

Five, ten, fifteen years ago, if you attempted to do homework on the bus it would most likely come out looking like one long EKG line, mimicking all the bumps and dips in the road. Now, rural schools like Milaca are hooking up buses with Wi-Fi so students can make the most of the lengthy travels to and from school, which can be up to 36 miles round trip.

For Milaca Public Schools Technology Coordinator Steve Bistrup, the idea to connect buses to the Internet followed naturally after the school voted to offer tablet devices to move more instruction and homework online.

“When we moved forward with the 1-to-1 iPad initiative in 2012, I had to look at what was needed to make it a success,” said Bistrup. “An obvious starting point was our community’s broadband infrastructure. We needed to make sure students had the connectivity to do what we were asking of them.”
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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 27 – May 1)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions.

  1. Cuyuna Lakes: In a presentation to the Aitkin Chamber of Commerce, two members from Cuyuna Lakes Trails Association provided a historical overview of community work around the local trails system and pointed to the future potential. “Cuyuna Lakes Trail could be a revenue-generating machine,” said Association member Aaron Hautala. “Trails are not a conduit from point A to point B. It’s the experience in between.” Full story at Aitkin Age
  2. Lucan: Brewing some of the wackiest, tastiest barley beverages out there, Dustin Brau, owner of Brau Brothers Brewing Company, is the epitome of a rural innovator.  In his hometown of Lucan, population 220, Brau grew a small restaurant into a booming brew business. When asked why he chose to stay in his small town, he says,”We never seriously considered doing it anywhere else. Being rural was — and is — part of our identity.” Full story at The Growler
  3. Nobles County: Bankers, construction professionals, construction suppliers and elected officials gathered in Worthington this week to talk housing. Taking effect in the spring of 2014, the NHI Housing Construction Tax Abatement Program was created to “to encourage individual home builders as well as developers of new single-family, multi-family and rental homes to build in Nobles County.” Nobles County is not the only rural area dealing with housing shortages, but communities are coming together in creative ways to build bright futures. Full story at the Worthington Daily Globe

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Cuyuna Lakes Trail - Copyright Aaron Hautala

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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 20-24)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions.
  1. Gaylord: Minnesota could be getting a new medical school thanks to a chance encounter while looking for broadband funding.”There are a lot of things Gaylord has done over the last 15 years to improve the community. It’s nice to have affirmation from someone not in Minnesota who sees the values and community feeling we have that you can do business and live a life in rural Minnesota.” More in the Mankato Free Press
  2. Mille Lacs: Businesses and organizations came together at the beginning of the month for the first-ever Mille Lacs Job Fair. “The whole event started from a request from local employers indicating that they needed employees.” More in the Mille Lacs Messenger.
  3. Tower: Progress has been made to reopen a harbor connecting boaters on Lake Vermilion to downtown Tower. Vibrancy is on the horizon!  “There’s a few people who have been watching what’s been going on. We’re going to make things happen.” More in the Star Tribune

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Is wireless the answer for rural Minnesota?

“Broadband access — and the skills to use it — are fundamental to healthy, resilient communities… It deserves more than a one-off response.” — Dr. Kathy Annette, Star Tribune, April 20, 2015

On Monday we added our voice to the chorus of rural Minnesota voices rallying in response to the House’s decision to zero out all broadband funding. In a Star Tribune editorial, our president Kathy Annette said that opportunity should not be limited by zip code.

Part of the opportunity for rural is tied up in the question: Is wireless broadband the answer to rural Minnesota’s broadband barriers?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve listened to what our rural partners are saying about wireless and what we’re hearing is that wireless cannot be the only answer.

In a Blandin on Broadband post, Janet Keough, a representative of Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative, says, “Wireless internet is not the medium or long-term answer to connecting our rural citizens and businesses to the internet…wireless is only a short-term incremental solution to helping people get a ‘taste’ of what the internet can do.”

Marc Johnson, Director of East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative, posted a letter he wrote to the House saying, “We have wireless providers in our area including fixed wireless, cellular and satellite. In ALL cases the costs to consumers are significantly higher than wired (copper or fiber) services due to high equipment costs, data caps and generally high monthly fees.”

Blandin on Broadband blogger Ann Tracey expounded on Johnson’s letter, featuring five reasons why wireless broadband is necessary but not sufficient.

In short:

  1. You need wired to support wireless
  2. Distance matters so rural areas will still be difficult to serve.
  3. Weather and trees matter
  4. Current wireless options available to users are more expensive
  5. A move to support wireless-only will increase the digital divide.

When the FCC redefined what counts as adequate broadband earlier this year, Chairman Tom Wheeler concluded that wireless isn’t an equally viable option — yet.

“We have great hopes for wireless as a potential substitute for fixed broadband connections. But today it seems clear that mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband, especially given mobile pricing levels and limited data allowances…Once fiber is in place, its beauty is that throughput increases are largely a matter of upgrading the electronics at both ends, something that costs much less than laying new connections. While LTE and LTE-A offer new potential, consumers have yet to see how these technologies will be used to offer fixed wireless service.”

On the national stage, wireless has been called out as an inadequate substitution for fixed connections, so is it the only answer for rural Minnesota? We will keep following the conversations happening in rural and in the legislature to bring you the answers.






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Freeborn County’s Lift One; Lift All teams up for Homeless Day on the Hill

Today we welcome Amy Gauthier, member of Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty – a group born out of our Leaders Partnering to End Poverty program. Lift One; Lift All members traveled to Homeless Day on the Hill last month to push legislation to benefit the homeless in their county. This is Amy’s experience.

Representatives from Lift One; Lift All show their strength in front of the Capitol

March 12th 7:30 a.m., six very motivated women piled into a vehicle and head north. To the Capitol or bust! We were armed with coffee and conversation. We had no real plan on what we were going say or how we were going to say it. We had half a handle on the issues being presented at the Capitol and how they pertained to our very special piece of Minnesota. We just knew we were going and we were motivated to make a difference!


“We” are Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty, a group focused on building leadership capacity to increase opportunities for people to move out of poverty in Freeborn County.  Last month, we headed to Homeless Day on the Hill to ask our legislative leaders for their support of new homeless legislation. Little did we know, we were also on a leadership journey to strengthen our relationships and explore new ways to further our work.

Together, we made something beautiful happen.
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Top 3 Vibrant Communities (April 6 – 10)

To lift up local community leadership in rural Minnesota, every Friday Blandin Foundation will post the Top 3 Vibrant Communities based on timely news coverage and reader submissions. If you have a vibrant story to share, email

  1. Crookston: It’s 1981 – Charles and Diana marry, the original 5150 IBM PC launches, Raiders of the Lost Ark dominates the box office AND Crookston, Minnesota’s Comprehensive Plan was born. After 34 years as a dust collector, the city is getting serious about building a new plan for a vibrant future in Crookston. The city plans to engage community during the planning process. “An updated plan would be a great asset to have for economic development, and may help the city realign our current land use to fit the needs of today’s market and economy,” said Building Official Matt Johnson in a Crookston Times article.
  2. Grand Rapids: It’s 1981, again! This time the Myles Reif Center opens their doors for the first time. This week, however, Reif Center celebrated the closing of its doors and the groundbreaking that kick started their $8.1 million expansion. With oodles of Reif supporters present, the event was marked with song, dance and performance. Here’s what attendees had to say…
  3. Morris: In ten short years, the Latino population increased 274% in Stevens County. As cultures coverage a “silence of misunderstanding” often blankets incoming immigrants. To chip away at these barriers, University of Minnesota Morris students Jordan Wente and Natalie Hoidal embarked on a project to visually transcend differences through photography. Check it out!

Reif groundbreaking

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