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MARILYN HAGERTY COLUMN: Kathy McFarlane is down to earth

Kathy McFarlane doesn't think she is interesting - which is probably why people like her so much. She's just plain down to earth. No pretenses. She hass worked alongside her husband as he built up a business rated North Dakota's Small Business of...

Kathy McFarlane doesn't think she is interesting - which is probably why people like her so much.

She's just plain down to earth. No pretenses. She hass worked alongside her husband as he built up a business rated North Dakota's Small Business of the Year and a national runner-up. And she sat back with pride as her husband, Dave McFarlane, of McFarlane Sheet Metal spoke at awards luncheons.

He's the president and chief engineer of the company. So what's Kathy? She's his sidekick, office manager and maybe the practical side of the business. He said, "She is my confidant and adviser." She said, "I'm the queen bee who flits around the plant." She relates well to the crew of 25 to 30 workers. Actually, she and Dave get along very well, but Kathy admits there are times when she can "blow."

Their business has prospered in Grand Forks for many reasons. Among them are bywords of Kathy: involvement and attitude. Involvement in the Chamber of Commerce, their church, boards and clubs has led them into a wide acquaintance with people of Grand Forks. Attitude had brought them through times when their business was faltering, and she would remind Dave that success could be just one phone call away. Attitude has taught her on the worst day of winter to think of the warm days of summer. It has taught her to go to performances at the Chester Fritz because if those artists are coming here, she is going to see them. Attitude has convinced her you can live in a town the size of Grand Forks and make a difference.

Maybe Kathy, or Kathleen, got that attitude from being the middle child in a family of five. She was born in 1949 in Lakewood, Ohio, where she grew up and went through high school. Then, she moved on to a secretarial job with Proctor and Gamble in Cleveland. She met Dave while on a ski trip to Colorado. He was doing the driving for a group going through the mountains.

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She liked him. "He was smart, and he was tall and he was funny. He was an electrical engineer. And frankly, I liked the fact he had a college education," Kathy said. "It took three years to get him to marry me."

They were married at Avon Lake in Ohio in 1974 and moved to New York where he worked for GE plastics factory. It closed after he had been there four months. He had previously worked for large corporations including BF Goodrich and Stephan Chemical. He was reaching the point where he would like more control over his life.

The McFarlanes came to Grand Forks in 1979 to take over the family business now located at 3473 N. Washington St., started by his father, the late Robert "Bob" McFarlane. Though Dave had lived in East Grand Forks for 12 years while growing up, Grand Forks was new to Kathy. The two of them dug right in and started getting acquainted. They joined a couples bridge club fostered by the Newcomers Club. They found a church home at Holy Family Catholic Church where Kathy is a lay eucharistic minister and lector. She has "been there, done that" when it comes to Cub Scouts and the school board at Holy Family. They raised a family of four children and got involved in parent groups at Red River High School. They made a home for foreign students.

Every year, they host one of the Great Dinners to support the downtown Empire Arts Center. The McFarlanes open up their home and host 24 guests. Kathy says Ann Brown and Denise Karley do the cooking, but, she adds, "I might do the carrot curls." On Christmas Eve, Kathy herds her family down to St. Michael's Church to help with the annual dinner for the community. In recent years, she has become the organizer for the dining room. The McFarlanes paved the way for ballroom dancing for the public on Tuesday nights at the Grand Forks Country Club. Dave heads up the Rotary Wraps program, which donates gifts for needy children. He has served as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. And the Chamber led them into an association with a cross section of the city and with couples from Grand Forks Air Base.

Along with involvement in the community, their business has grown. Most work is in town. Some is in the area. McFarlane Sheet Metal is into retro commissioning to get older buildings to function better. They go in and tweak structures for maximum service of the inner metal linings.

Along with success, they have known nights of little sleep. "The lows have been pretty low," Kathy says. "But the highs have been really high. There has been a lot of praying and a lot of bargaining with God . . . and He is still helping."

At a glance:

The McFarlane family includes four grown children, all still single:

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-- Robert McFarlane with Best Buy in Shanghai.

-- Richard McFarlane, a speech and drama instructer in Castle Rock, Colo., who has accepted a similar position at Red River High School. He helps out with SPA during the summer.

-- Michael McFarlane, an MTV film editor in Los Angeles.

-- Mary McFarlane, a student at Carbondale, Ill.

Kathy McFarlane:

-- Laughs easily and often.

-- Reads biographies and is into DVDs. She's good for two books a week sometimes.

-- Is never bored.

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-- Can't sing.

-- Loves Scrabble and crossword puzzles.

-- Could probably be a guide at Gettysburg with her knowledge of the Civil War and the battlefields.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or (701) 772-1055.

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