It was 1972 when Marv Campbell first greeted the Rev. Gary Sartain in his office at the Citizens State Bank. Marv was the bank president and a Catholic, Gary Sartain was the assistant pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. But proselytizing was not the reason for his visit. Pastor Sartain was promoting a criminal justice project called PORT of Crow Wing County and he needed money.
Now called PORT Group Homes, PORT celebrates 30 years of service in the community. In honor of the accomplishment, PORT invited the first board of directors to its annual dinner in March to hear stories from those, like Campbell, who started it all.
Board members in attendance greeted each other like long lost friends. Gene Goedker, then a Brainerd Council member, Marv Campbell, retired bank president, Elaine Chesley, community activist, Win Borden, then a state senator and Glen Gustafson, attorney.
Borden traded barbs with Campbell like old political cronies.
"I was in charge then, but I let Marvin think he was," quipped Borden, sending a broad smile across the table in Campbell's direction. "People used to raise their eyebrows, but we always loved going at each other," said Borden of the banter.
Campbell said he lent Pastor Sartain $500 in seed money when PORT was just a good idea and a year later contributed another $3,000. Always a canny judge of character, Campbell often approved loans to those whose hearts were bigger than their bank accounts -- especially if he thought the project would benefit the community.
Glen Gustafson remembered being tapped for the board as a young attorney, just setting up a law practice. Sartain met Gustafson on the racquetball court at the YMCA and brought him on the board. In the beginning Gustafson incorporated the organization as a nonprofit and then negotiated a lease for The Riverside Apartments next to Riverside School from Crow Wing County as the first group home.
Gene Goedker described a harrowing trip to Rochester in a March snowstorm. Two cars from Brainerd braved slippery conditions to see the Rochester PORT facility in person. Those caravanning included Jim Allen, regional director of the Department of Corrections, Tom Hegstad, Crow Wing County probation officer, Linda Bader, Rev. Sartain, Chesley and Borden.
Elaine Chesley remembered selling the PORT project idea to Mayor George Bedard and the Brainerd Community Action Council. Bedard later became the honorary chairman and established a PORT committee that embraced a PORT Group Home in Brainerd as a worthy project.
Both Chesley and Gustafson remained active board members for nearly 10 years. Gustafson salvaged packets of moldy PORT files from a storage garage near his office. Chesley and husband Tom, combed through several file cabinets in their basement to collect material that details the PORT story.
The story began with an increase in crime all across the country in the late '60s. Even prisons in Minnesota were filling faster than the flooding Mississippi. Gov. Wendell Anderson and his administration touted community-based crime services as the answer to crowding prisons and streams of funding flowed from the capitol into those areas that organized.
It didn't take long for the Brainerd community to take action. In October '71, Jay Lindgren from Rochester, spoke to a combined AAUW/Lions meeting about an organization called PORT of Olmsted County. With him were two young men for whom the PORT in Rochester had changed their lives. Their stories, plus her own experience working in a group home in Illinois, convinced Chesley that a PORT group home was a worthy cause.
In March '72, state Sen. Borden and Elaine Chesley testified at a Prison Reform Hearing in St. Cloud, selling the Department of Correction on the notion that Brainerd should be the site for a facility like the one in Rochester. Quoting statistics from a regional study, they documented an increase in crime and probation cases. Chesley also identified community resources like the Brainerd Junior College, the Brainerd Vocational School, and the Northern Pines Mental Health Center as cooperating agencies that could contribute services.
Back in Brainerd, Mayor Bedard sold the PORT concept to 65 people at Van's Cafe. From there a legion of volunteers including Connie Piggott, Charlie Peterson and Bob Hurst carried the word about PORT into the community through news releases, radio programs and presentations to churches, service clubs and schools.
Flushing out the seed money received from Campbell's bank, the board eventually received a $23,847 grant from the Governor's Commission on Crime Prevention and Control and $136,000 for two years from the Community Corrections Act. Robert Aufderhar was hired as the first director and in May 1973 PORT opened its doors.
With the ongoing support of the community, PORT Group Homes has grown to four group homes serving up to 62 children, ages 10-18. Master of the sound bite, Borden summarized those early years, "We didn't know who we were or where we were going but we knew we were going to get there."
(Douglas is communications coordinator for PORT Group Homes.)
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.