Friday, November 8, 2013

Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast: An Interview with Don Shelby

At the end of this month Sons of Norway is hosting the 29th annual Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast! It’s an exciting event and this year our slate of speakers is top-notch with the likes of broadcast journalist and event MC Don Shelby, Thrivent CEO Brad Hewitt, Dr. St Olaf President David Anderson and Bishop Ann Svennungsen.

In the run-up to this year’s big event, Sons of Norway has interviewed each of the speakers and over the next couple of weeks we’ll be sharing what they had to say. To kick things off, this week we bring you an interview with Peabody and Emmy award winning journalist, Don Shelby. Mr. Shelby who is well known in Minnesota and throughout the United States for his investigative journalism, community work and his popularization of the Pratt knot, will be leading the event as this year’s NATB Master of Ceremonies.

SofN: Please tell us about your connection to the Nordic American community.
Don Shelby: One cannot live in these communities for 35 years and fail to be swept up in the Nordic tradition.  And, before I became a nephew of Norway, my heroes were Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen.  I am a member of the scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars known as the Norwegian Explorers.  And, as they say, 'some of my best friends are Norwegian.'  I am of Welsh descent,  but after 885 AD, I expect that I have a good share of Nordic blood in my veins.

SofN: Have you ever attended the Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast before?
Don Shelby: I have attended the Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast and have been a featured speaker.  I have attended past events with my late great friend General Doyle Larson. 

SofN: We are very excited to have you as this year’s MC can you give us a sneak peek into what the audience can expect from this year’s event? 

Don Shelby: At this year's Thanksgiving breakfast you can expect a long list of dignitaries, consuls, and diplomats, plus the cream of the Norwegian crop in the Twin Cities.  And, as always, we will be surrounded by friends who simply wish they were Norwegian, and will behave as though they are Norwegian  for this day of Thanksgiving.  We will be entertained by the finest college choir in America from St. Olaf, as well as the M-Saxteens from the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard.  We will have speakers on the topics of Friends, Family, Faith and Freedom.  As a part of every Thanksgiving breakfast, we will raise money this year for the Second Harvest Heartland foodshelves and the Minnesota Military Family Foundation.

SofN: You probably receive a lot of requests to speak at events throughout the year, so can you tell us a little about what convinced you to participate in this year’s event?
Don Shelby: I am often asked to participate in events like the Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast, and I cannot say yes to each one of them.  I have developed a method of winnowing the requests down to a manageable number.  I accept those requests made by Gary Gandrud, Major General Richard Nash and any request made by anyone whose name ends in "sen" or "son."  Therefore, I am busy in Minnesota every day of the week.

SofN: Over the years you’ve spent a lot of time focusing on local issues. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of supporting local charities, like Second Harvest and the Minnesota Military Family Foundation?

Don Shelby: I have had a long association with both Second Harvest and with the Minnesota Military Family Foundation.  I'm currently the capital campaign chair for the Washburn Center for Children's new 25-million dollar building in Minnesota to serve the needs of children with mental health issues.  As host and master of ceremonies, I've been a part of the generous giving nature of the Twin Cities and in my career at WCCO and after, have helped raise more than 200 million dollars for causes ranging from the Ronald McDonald House to Cystic Fibrosis and Cancer Research, to town libraries and sports fields for children.  It sounds like a large undertaking, but in a community like ours, it is fairly easy to do.  This community loves to give.  All you need is a good story, a wonderful cause and the people will give. 

SofN: Can you share your thoughts on the role that local events, like the NATB play in making Minnesota a vibrant place to live?
Don Shelby: The Nordic American Thanksgiving Breakfast has set a standard for how to make everyone feel like Minnesota is their home.  The emphasis on heritage old and new is essential in communities like ours.  We are reminded, by events like the Breakfast, that we all came from some place else, and, in order to stay vibrant, we must always hold out the hand of welcome to those who still come to find a home.

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