Back in the saddle again

Foundation Partners why I partnered

Today I am going to take one day and depart from my usual news and commentary on the death care profession to tell a little about my position on the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota – the 12 person public board that governs the University.  I do so because as you read this article I will be attending my first “in person” board meeting as well as stepping foot on campus for the first time since February when we started to get concerned about the coronavirus.

Since that time board members have been in constant contact with administration for running a campus system that has close to 60,000 students, a budget of $4.2 billion, and the last time I was told, had 941 buildings to maintain.   All of our meetings since March have been by Zoom. . . .some as long as nine hours long. . . and I have a small case of Zoom fatigue so I am grateful for the opportunity to meet in person today and tomorrow.

I am in my 6th year serving as an unpaid Board Member.  It all started for me after I had sold the funeral home I had operated in 2013.  My wife, Angie, and I made some contributions that year and one was to the University of Minnesota’s Lillehei Heart Center where it is pretty much understood that “open-heart” surgery was invented.  Here is a story on my connection to the Lillehei Heart Center. . . take a look at page 3.

After a visit to the Lillehei Heart Center and seeing what they were doing in the lives of children, I decided I wanted to use part of my retirement time to help in that space.  It was my goal to make sure that Minnesota children continued to receive world-class care regardless of their ability to pay for it.  When I mentioned that to some friends, they suggested that I apply to be on the Board of Regents.  I call myself “The Accidental Regent” because until that time I was unaware of that board and their duties.

In any case, I applied for an open position in the Fall of 2014 and was selected and approved by the Minnesota Legislature in March of 2015.

I found this sign while walking the basement of the Variety Heart Hospital on campus

I had no idea of the selection process when I applied. . . I thought it would be like a job interview and did not know of the legislature involvement until I was already involved in the process.  In what I describe to people as “The Lord works in mysterious ways”, I would never had applied if I had known the depth and length of the selection process.

However, if you know me, you will know that I don’t do things half-baked.  Situations. .  if you take them on, they are worth being done all-in or not at all.  It was that way with me and going through the process.  The State Capitol, where the interviews took place, is a 270 mile round trip from my house.  Angie asked me several times during the process, “Are you going to St. Paul again tomorrow?”  My answer was always, “I’m not going to lose because I didn’t show up.”

I’ve been told 54 people applied in 2014 and, I’m guessing, I had the skinniest resume of all. . . . for 33 years I had just been a small town funeral director.  At the end of the day, however, which included 29 interviews and 2 candidate forums, I carried the legislative vote by a margin of 155-45 against the other finalist who had been a member of President George W. Bush’s administration.  I became the first graduate of the University’s Mortuary Science program to be selected for the Board of Regents and was told by some legislators that it was my career as a funeral director that impressed them. . . . they came to believe that I had worked with people from all walks of life in my profession and that they believed that experience would be helpful on this board.

There has been a lot to learn, but the experience to work with the administration, professors, researchers, staff, and students has been gratifying.  Over the years my colleagues on the board have put me in leadership positions as the Chair of the Finance Committee, the Chair of the Mission Fulfillment Committee, the Chair of the Debt Management Committee, as well as the Chair of an ad hoc committee that dealt with an issue from the athletic department.   And, former University President Kaler selected myself and one other board member to search for a new Athletic Director.  The work, especially in the capacity that I feel I am serving my state and its people,  has been incredibly fulfilling.

My opinion is that COVID-19 and the ensuing aftermath of issues – not only at the University of Minnesota – but at colleges across the country will dictate that changes will be made in higher education.  I think money from state governments for public universities will be tighter and institutions are going to have to learn to be leaner. . . as tuition has reached the pinnacle that people will pay.

Sitting with Football Coach Fleck at a Williams Arena Basketball game

Speaking of COVID-19, at the onset the University of Minnesota made available to our researchers what we call “Rapid Response Grants”.  It was these grants that allowed U of M researchers to develop a low-cost ventilator by April 15, that was then made available to the public.  You can read about that here.  And, our MHealth brand, which works with partner Fairview Hospitals, had recently closed a hospital as a cost saving move.  Upon learning of the coronavirus, that hospital was re-opened within days as a COVID treatment hospital and, in that capacity, has had one of the highest success rates in the nation for treating seriously ill COVID patients.

I could go on and on about what I love about the University of Minnesota.  And, that is without mentioning the school’s Mortuary Science Department, headed by Director Michael LuBrant, and the great work done there. (Here’s a recent article on Director LuBrant and the U of M School of Mortuary Science).  I would be re-miss here if I didn’t suggest to any of you that know young people interested in a funeral service career, to make sure that you look at the University of Minnesota Mortuary Science program.  To my knowledge, it is the only mortuary science program that is part of a medical school in the country.

Suffice it to say, that I love what I do here and many times just pinch myself with the realization that a small town kid has had this opportunity! . . . . And, I’m so excited that I’m back on campus today!

Funeral Director Daily’s “Lesson for the Day”Land-grant university –— You hear that word all the time but do you know what it means?  In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law.  That law allowed states (rather than the federal government) to establish colleges which were required to at least have four teaching focuses — Agriculture, Science, Engineering, and Military Science.

In return for providing that collegiate experience in  states at the time, the federal government “granted” each state 30,000 acres of federal land per congressman to raise funds and endow these colleges.  Hence the term “land-grant”.

Since it was at the time of the Civil War and the confederate states were not part of the Union, a second Morrill Act was passed in 1890 for these states.

Editor’s Note:  This article was scheduled to run yesterday, Thursday, September 10.  As I’ve told you we are updating our technology to improve our delivery and this time I made a mistake.  The article did not fit into a category. . such as Business, Cemetery, Finance, and so forth. . . so I did not catigorize it.  Turns out that one safety feature of our e-mail system is that if an article does not have a category, it will not be sent.  So, I learned something . . . and you did not get an article from Funeral Director Daily yesterday morning — Sorry!!   And, it is okay, I’m involved in my second day of board meetings today. . . . . and it was enjoyable to see everybody at the “U” yesterday for the first time since last winter!!


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  1. Thank you for your service to the University of MN. I appreciate all you do for our profession.

  2. Funeral Director Daily

    Great article Tom, fun to read! Thank you!
    Jeff M

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