Glensheen, the historic mansion bequeathed to UMD from the Chester Congdon estate, hosted its inaugural Chester Chat on Thursday, Sept. 26. A Chester Chat is a Ted Talk-style event where multiple presenters deliver mini-lectures in 10 or fewer minutes. Glensheen will host one every other month. Daniel Hartman is Glensheen's interim director and organizes the bi-monthly Chester Chats. He came up with the idea after realizing Duluth lacks a forum for public servants to engage the public. "And I love Ted Talks," he added.
Last Thursday’s topic was Public Service. The speakers were state senator Roger Reinert and state representative Erik Simonson. Both represent Duluth in Minnesota's bicameral legislature. Hartman, a City Council member, also presented.
Sen. Reinert's talk focused on the nexus of self-interest and the public good.
"We think the pursuit of happiness is about 'my' happiness," said Reinert. "It's not how the statement was originally written . . . Thomas Jefferson, the primary author, wrote 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of public happiness' in the original draft."
Rep. Simonson spoke about his experience at the state capitol and gave advice to aspiring politicians.
"Everyone's got an opinion," Simonson said. "But so very few people are willing to take it to the next step . . . and try to effect change at a policy level. To me, that becomes frustrating."
Simonson's political advice was rooted in his own experience.
"Market 'you' . . . go to voters and tell them, 'This is who I am. This is what I do. This is what believe in,'" he said. "Once you get into these positions (of government), it's important to remember where you came from and who you're representing."
Hartman spoke last, delivering a slightly longer than 10 minute talk on Chester Congdon's achievements in the early 20th-century Minnesota legislature.
The few dozen audience members appreciated presenters’ pithiness.
"I thought it was great," said UMD School of Fine Arts’ dean, Bill Payne. "The format of giving people a compact amount of time to speak their ideas was really effective."
Payne thinks that events like these are positive outlets for student involvement in local government. "I was really encouraged to see so many students here," he said. "I think the opportunity to engage in the larger community conversation is really important for UMD students."
All three presenters stuck around after the event and fielded one-on-one questions. "(Chester Chats) give people an opportunity to get together and talk about civic engagement," said Rep. Simonson.
"UMD is a big part of our community, and the student population is hugely important to Duluth. Ultimately, we need to find a better way to work together, and one of the pieces that has been missing is input from students."
Hartman organized the event, and was happy with how it turned out.
"This is a really exciting opportunity to bridge the gap between (UMD) and the larger community," he said. "A lot of times, people don't think of Glensheen as part of (UMD), and now we're really pushing that."
BY JOHN FAHNENSTIEL