Civic Stories

In 2012, St. Olaf students in the American Conversations 102 and Intermediate Photography classes worked in partnership with the League of Women Voters to create these photo essays about Northfield-area community leaders. The fourteen leaders profiled in these essays are involved in a range of political, civic, and humanitarian endeavors in the local community and beyond.

American Conversations students have tended carefully to the question “What does Citizenship mean?” This is a question the class has examined in readings and class discussions, but also by crossing the barrier between “The College” and “The Community.”

The League of Women Voters (Northfield – Cannon Falls chapter) engages in “non-partisan political education and advocacy.” The League encourages people to be informed about both public policy and government and stresses the need for all to engage actively in civic life. “Democracy cannot afford bystanders.”

This Academic Civic Engagement Project began during the first semester of 2011-12, when students engaged with local community members, interviewing and pondering what an active citizen does on behalf of their locale. This enabled students to see how people participate in a local community and, through their actions, better define citizenship. During the second semester, the American Conversations and Photography students teamed up, combining sight and sound to craft these photo essays with the intent of providing profiles of community leaders and examples of engaged citizenship.

We would like to thank the local chapter of the League of Women Voters (especially Bonnie Jean Flom and Mary Carlsen), as well of the following community participants who so generously gave of their time and shared their experiences of action and leadership: Beth Berry, David Bly, Ray Cox, Father Denny Dempsey, Bonnie Jean Flom, Sandi Gerdes, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Erin Mayberry, Kari Nelson, Rhonda Pownell, Susan Sanderson, Jessica Peterson White, Griff Wigley, and Erica Zweifel.

Finally, we would like to thank Laura Romeyn (’12) and Ben Golden (’12), two AmCon alums who helped to develop the ideas and plans for this project.

Raymond Dickson and Christian Johnson
American Conversations students

Eric Fure-Slocum and Megan Feeney
American Conversations 102 teachers

Meg Ojala
Intermediate Photography teacher

These leaders of the community whom we would like to celebrate are as follows:

Molly Woehrlein, 1932-2016

Molly Woehrlein, a long-time member and friend of the Northfield League of Women Voters, and a remarkable member of our community, died December 23, 2016. Here is a link to her obituary.

Beth Berry

Beth Berry began TORCH in 2004 to address the gap between the number of Latino students entering Northfield high school and the number of Latino students both graduating and moving on to post-secondary options. With Beth’s hard work to fund the program and to keep spirits high, she has expanded her program to reach low income students in the high school and middle school.


David Bly

David Bly is a former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He served two terms in office beginning in January of 2007 and ending in January of 2011. Most recently, he has written a book based on The Middle Class Amendment, which he was involved in creating. He also worked as a teacher in multiple different environments, including an alternative high school in Northfield. He is currently running for office with hopes of representing the district including Northfield in the Minnesota House of Representatives.


Ray Cox

Ray Cox spent most of his life in Northfield as an active member of the community. Through involvement in political campaigns as a young child and participation in the Northfield school board during adulthood, Mr. Cox has contributed his valuable time to Northfield. Beyond Northfield, Mr. Cox served as a representative in the Minnesota House. Currently, Mr. Cox owns the Northfield Construction Company.


Father Denny Dempsey

Father Denny Dempsey became pastor at St. Dominic Catholic Church in June 2004. He serves as a religious leader and supportive hand to the Northfield community, especially to the Spanish-speaking community. The music at Mass and the faith of the people are inspiring to Father Dempsey, and he enjoys the diversity of co-existing English and Hispanic communities.


Bonnie Jean Flom

Bonnie Jean Flom is a very active member of the community here in Northfield. She recently served as the President of the League of Women’s Voters (Northfield – Cannon falls chapter). Mrs. Flom is passionate about education and served as a teacher and principal for several years. She even helped found the first conversion charter school in Minnesota. Mrs. Flom is still involved with education and volunteers at her grandson’s school every week.


Sandi Gerdes

Sandi Gerdes, a member of the Northfield community since 1979, has strived to actively participate in civic engagement. And through her work at the Laura Baker Services Association, in local Northfield politics, and through her church, Sandi has taken the role of a community educator, helping the people of Northfield through general education services.


Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

Reginaldo Haslett-Morroquin lives with his family on their farm outside of Northfield. He works at the Rural Enterprise Center, a non-profit organization focused on educating immigrant families on sustainable agricultural practices. He serves as a board member of the Northfield Area Foundation and volunteers frequently with his church and children’s schools.


Erin Mayberry

Erin Mayberry is the current Vice President of the Northfield organization WINGS (Women in Northfield Giving Support), an entrepreneurial fund dedicated to financial assistance. Erin, current recreation coordinator of Northfield, was inspired to begin work for the organization after being invited to the annual grants luncheon. WINGS seemed like a worthy cause to her, one that was helping women and children of the Northfield community succeed.


Kari Nelson

Kari Nelson, a graduate of St. Olaf College, received her law degree from the University of Minnesota. She is a multi-term member of the Northfield school board, for which she has served as chair. She also has been a leader in campaigns to secure funding for the schools. She and her husband have three children.


Jessica Peterson White

Jessica Peterson White attended Carleton College and has remained a part of the Northfield Community. Jessica founded a knitting supply business downtown, and then was elected, as one of the youngest women ever elected to a county board in Minnesota, to the Rice County Board. Jessica was the DFL-endorsed candidate for State Senate in the 25th district in 2006, and is also active in the League of Women Voters. She is now a Senior Project Manager at Grassroots Solutions, which is a consulting firm that specializes in grassroots engagement and organization.


Rhonda Pownell

Rhonda Pownell, Mayor, mother, and St. Olaf grad, has devoted her life to service. She graduated from St. Olaf with a degree in Social Work, making a firm commitment to changing lives. Today, she works extensively within her church and the Northfield community as a whole. For Mrs. Pownell, our goal as community members should be to serve others, even in the smallest of acts. From her work as Mayor to inspiring her children through homeschooling, Rhonda Pownell is a leader.


Susan Sanderson

Susan Sanderson is a prominent Northfield citizen who, along with other moms from Northfield, began the Community Builders program, started the middle school youth center, and is currently the head of the TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes) program at the Northfield Middle School working with students who are minority, low-income, and/or first-generation college.


Griff Wigley

Active in the Northfield online community, Griff Wigley helped to launch “” and “” He now uses Locally Grown to cover the people, issues, and events of Northfield. Griff discusses the influences of his blog, one example being on the town council’s decision on replanting trees. He emphasizes the importance of active citizenship.


Erica Zweifel

Erica Zweifel currently is a City Councilor for Northfield, Minnesota. She was a research associate in the Biology Department at St. Olaf and now is the project manager at Carleton’s Science Education Resource Center.  She also serves on Northfield’s Environmental Quality Commission. Projects she has helped develop include the addition of bike trails extending from Northfield to Mankato and a new bus route for the city. One major project underway is the implementation of solar panels throughout the public buildings of Northfield, receiving help and recognition from Minnesota’s Senator, Al Franken.