The United Way story the Herald published Tuesday, May 21, quoted Phyllis Johnson, United Way’s interim CEO, to the effect that someone from either coast or from a city would be a poor choice as the agency’s new leader.
The Johnson quotation you printed argued that “people who come from one coast or another, or some distance, it’s harder for them to kind of settle into the community.” Johnson cited reasons that at once skirt violations of federal civil rights laws, oppose efforts at economic development and community building, and further undervalues the predecessor she forced from office last year.
That predecessor, Patricia Berger, my wife, first moved to Grand Forks in 1990, shortly after we were married. Pat and I grew up in the New York City metro area, and she joined me here a short while after I began my work in UND’s History Department. Patricia had been executive director of a suburban Chamber of Commerce, and she sold a start-up business to move here. She has worked since — worked hard — as a nonprofit community builder, as president of United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Area since 1994.
Phyllis Johnson’s innuendo is that my wife and I are birds of passage, transients without interest or understanding of this community where we have made our home. We know why people like to live in New York, and we also know why people like to live in Grand Forks. We live in Grand Forks. And Grand Forks has been our home for much more of the last quarter-century longer than it has been Johnson’s — and Grand Forks remains our home in retirement.
I am a husband defending my wife’s accomplishments, a grateful immigrant who found a home here. But this is about more than the two of us.
The civil rights laws and our hopes to make this lovely, prosperous place more lovely and more prosperous both dictate that we seek out and welcome neighbors to join us. It is common decency — and it is good business.