Ken Anderson's resume, up to 1985, was rich and varied, but not exactly one that pointed toward a career in nonprofit social services.
Growing up on a turkey farm near Perham, Anderson served in the U.S. Navy, worked as an accountant for Scorpion and Crow Wing County, was a distributor of fruits and vegetables and unsuccessfully ran for county auditor and the Minnesota Senate.
"My life has not been planned," Anderson, 63, said Thursday, as he finished up his last week before retiring as executive director of PORT Group Homes in Brainerd. Anderson, who lives in Baxter, worked 19 years at PORT, serving as executive director since 1989.
PORT Group Homes provides a variety of services to young people who are referred to the organization by probation officials and social workers. Some of the children use PORT's residential services. The organization has both a boys' home and a girls' home, separated by the Mississippi River, near the Washington Street Bridge. Average daily population at the homes is about 21 residents. That figure is scaled back considerably from 2002 when the average daily population was 54.
State and local government cutbacks have hurt nonprofits such as PORT, Anderson said, but he predicts the future will be brighter.
"I expect PORT to continue to meet the needs of the community," he said.
That service to the community started in 1972 when Brainerd area citizens saw the need to provide a structured environment for young people who were facing tough challenges in their lives.
Anderson said many people were involved in PORT's establishment, including George Bedard, Gene Goedker, Winston Borden, Glen Gustafson and Judge Ben Grussendorf.
Anderson had faced struggles of his own as a food distributor, just before joining PORT in 1985. He had gone out of business, modifying that statement a little later to describe his situation as being "between successes."
The executive director of PORT at that time had gone to Moorhead State University with Anderson and asked him to coordinate the organization's truancy program that was scheduled to shut down in 2 1/2 months. Anderson took the job, helped secure a grant that kept the program running for another three years and found himself excited about helping young people who had experienced rough breaks.
"I really liked the kids," he said. "These were kids who, for some reason or another, their life was going nowhere. They were just like anyone else. They wanted to be successful."
They didn't see many successes, however, he said and were easily discouraged when obstacles were in the way.
"They started hearing those old records again: 'You're no good.'"
Anderson and other PORT staff members encouraged the troubled youngsters to take responsibility for the remainder of the lives rather than complain about the tough breaks they experienced. Building on a youth's positive attributes was emphasized.
"They definitely craved the limits and the structure," Anderson said.
Anderson used his business background (a degree in economics and a minor in business administration and social studies) to help keep PORT on a sound financial footing. He was named development director in 1987, deputy director in 1989 and executive director in 1990.
Replacing Anderson as executive director will be Karen Johnston, PORT's deputy director. She came to PORT nine years ago, has a master's degree in management and human behavior, supervised residential facilities for the mentally ill and was director of administration at the Initiative Foundation.
Patti Moilanen, secretary/bookkeeper for PORT, joined the nonprofit in 1989 and has worked closely with Anderson. She said while Anderson's outspokenness could be a little intimidating at first, she found him to be outgoing and very caring.
"He's very interested in what he's doing, very compassionate," Moilanen said.
Like any good secretary, Moilanen looked out for her boss. She once watched through a glass window as Anderson and a program manager engaged in a conversation that became increasingly heated. Anderson stood up from his chair and started leaning forward. Figuring it was time to break the tension, Moilanen intervened with some calming words.
"I just buzzed him on the telephone (during the argument)...he turned and laughed," she recalled.
Even if he disagreed with someone, Anderson would listen to what others had to say.
"He's not afraid to say what he thinks...but he's been a joy to work with," Moilanen said.
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