Biography - Part 2 (the beginnings)

The Beginnings

I was raised in a very rural area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, 17 miles south of Houghton and Hancock, out in the sticks, not far from Lake Superior. My dad died when I was two and a half months old, leaving Mom with six kids, with my oldest sister age 16.

We were raised on welfare until I was 17, as there were scant opportunities for work for Mom in the area. We owned our own home, a 24’ x 24’ story and a half structure, located on a 40 acre parcel. Our property was comprised primarily of scrub soft maple and aspen that sprouted after the big forest fires of the early 1900’s after the mighty White Pine were logged. We had no phone, no TV, and heated the house with two wood stoves. We got an indoor toilet when I was 6, but no indoor shower or bath. We warmed the sauna every Saturday and took a bath whether we needed it or not. (I am of Finnish descent, as all of my grandparents immigrated from Finland around 1900. My paternal grandfather, John Carl Drugge (the Swedish version, or Trykke in Finnish) first came to the US in 1888, and somewhere along the line changed his name to Olson. (Oh, by the way, I don’t advise jumping into the snow after getting heated up in a sauna. It is not so bad in the snow, but once the snow stuck to your body melts when you get back in the sauna - Yaowwww!)

Family, December, 1944    

February 5, 1950 (dad died later that day)

Family, other than Ruth


The Importance of Education: The Huge Potential in All of Us

Mom believed strongly in education, having graduated from high school when few others did in 1928. She had to attend 11th and 12th grades in Houghton, 17 miles away, as John A. Doelle Agricultural School did not go beyond 10th grade in Mom’s school days. This was quite an achievement, considering she flunked kindergarten – primarily because her mom did not always allow her to attend kindergarten when the snow was deep on the mile and a half walk to school, as Mom was soooo tiny (reaching 4’11” fully grown).

Mom instilled in us the belief that hard work and education were the way out of poverty. All six of us kids have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and four of us have a Master’s degree or more. We have lived Mom’s dream for us, as all are successful in life. That is a major reason for all the education I have received, and the basis for my belief that all kids can achieve – being a child in a single parent family on welfare does not necessarily equate to poor academic performance.

Mom’s Mental Toughness and What Rubbed Off On Me
Mom was mentally tough. Despite the responsibility of raising us six kids by herself, I never saw her worry. When my sister Kathryn took the train to Chicago to try to find a summer job as a nanny, and we did not hear from her for a few days, Mom would just say, “If she is not there, she is someplace else.”, without showing any worry.

I have only seen my Mom cry twice. The first time when my brother Jim was drafted into the Army during the Viet Nam War, and the second time when Linda and I got married right after college and our honeymoon was the trip from Michigan State to attend the University of CaliforniaDavis to begin my Ph.D. program in Agricultural Economics.

When my sister Kathryn (or “Dolly” as I still call her) tried to knock me into the ditch while sledding down Saavola’s hill, she wrecked, broke her glasses, and cut herself just above the eye. The Saavolas marveled at how calm Mom acted, as they prepared Dolly to be taken to the doctor for stitches. But don’t mistake this unexcited behavior for callousness, as she was a very loving, nurturing woman. She just maintained a very stoic exterior.

Mom could come unglued, however, when she saw a garter snake. The sunk into my sub-conscious (that hidden part of our brain that we have no conscious awareness of, but in which our past experiences are recorded in great detail and which trigger reactions long after those past events), and I have a hard time not reacting in at least a startled manner when I see one, until I have the time to mentally process the lack of danger. When I learned about our subconscious minds, the realization of what was happening hit home.
Home, 1953 (me, peeking out)   

Still a babe in the woods
Some may think that Mom was a “permissive” parent, as she allowed us kids to do things other parents would not. For example, after the 4th grade, I was mesmerized by the idea of camping. A family friend, John Saavola, loaned me an old waterproof nylon World War II pup tent. My cousin Pete and I wanted to hike down an old logging road through the woods toward Otter Lake to camp overnight in a clearing in the woods near Waisanen’s (it was only a little over a mile, but it seemed like a looooonnnnnggg way back then). She did not say “No”, but rather asked me many questions about what would I do if …. When I had satisfied her that we had thought through various contingencies, she approved. Pete and I camped a lot then, but other parents would never let their kids come with us. Mom taught me to be independent – confident in trying new things and going new places, but only after having thought through what some of the difficulties might be, and how I could prepare for or would react to them

Mom also “went to solution” very quickly when problems arose. One cold (probably about -30 degrees) and windy winter day when I was junior in high school, we could get no water out of our kitchen faucet. The water pump in the little cellar off the house entrance would not run. We guessed that the water in the pump had frozen. So, we put some of the hot water in the kettle on our wood heated kitchen stove in Mom’s favorite remedy for all kinds of problems, the brown rubber hot water bag, and placed the hot water bag on the pump. We then went to the store two miles away. When we got back, as we approached the house, we could see smoke rolling out of the little cellar. I reached through the smoke, and flipped the pump switch off. We were sure the pump was ruined.
Mom asked me to look up in the Sears and Roebuck catalog what a new pump would cost. I think it was something like $68. We thought that our family friend, John Saavola would probably be willing to install it for us, as he was one of many neighbors that were generously helpful to us. She got out her bills and other financial information and started figuring. “Well, we have about $200 of income each month, and we pay $8 per month for electricity, etc…  If John will install it, and if we delay this payment here, we should be able to make it.” Meanwhile, we began to wonder whether the pump might still be ok, and that perhaps the water pipe going to the pump may still be frozen. So, while she did her figures, I put some hot water in the hot water bag and put it on the pipes near the pump. When she got done calculating, I went to try the pump, flipped the switch, and the pump worked. Halleluiah! I’ll be darned if that old pump did not work for the next 25 years, before my cousin Pete who bought the place after we moved had to replace it.

Mom, Jim and me   

Little brown shack out back in background

Mom also taught me perseverance. In fact, we were indoctrinated into the FACT that the Finnish had sissu, or stick-to-it-ism. When I was 12, we picked strawberries for the Wistis. Another farmer offered the crew 7 cents per quart picked, versus the 6 the Wistis were paying. Mom and I were the only ones who stayed with the Wistis. Mr. and Mrs. Wisti picked with us, as we tried to salvage as much of the crop as we could (and their finances). I remember one day, I was very tired (and picking strawberries is not the most thrilling thing for a 12 year old boy to be doing in the first place). Mom just said, “Just keep plugging along” and I did. That day, I ended up picking 106 quarts, the most I ever picked, well beyond the usual 50-60 quarts. Admittedly, it was a long day, with good picking, but it taught me how much could be accomplished if you just stick to it. I still remember being able to buy that new baseball glove that I wanted with some of my summer’s $45 earnings. Yea, I got that much because the Wistis gave us a half penny bonus per quart for sticking with them!

Family at Lake Superior

The role model played by Mom has served me well. I rarely get rattled when a problem hits, but rationally begin to develop options, evaluate them, choose and implement one and get on to the next thing I need to do. On the other hand, that unemotional exterior I show the world causes some to think I am insensitive, that I don’t care, but it all stems from how I learned to deal with things from my Mom. She was such an emotionally strong woman!

Neighbor and me   
Working Man, Helping Out  
Woodshed & basketball

We hold the future in our hands

Once upon a time in a far off land, there lived a Wise Old Man.  People would gather around him in the town square to ask him questions, to learn from his wisdom.

The Prince of the land grew jealous of the Wise Old Man's popularity.  One day he told his aide that he had come up with a plan to discredit the Wise Old Man. The Prince would go down to the town square holding a bird in his enclosed hand.  He would ask the Wise Old Man whether what he held in his hand was alive or dead.  If the Wise Old Man said it was alive, the Prince would crush it and let it fall to the ground.  If the Wise Old Man said that it was dead, the Prince would release it into the air to fly away.  Either way, the Wise Old Man would be discredited.

The next day, the Prince went to the town square and amidst the crowd asked the Wise Old Man, "That which I hold in my hand, is it alive or is it dead?"  After pondering the question a moment, the Wise Old Man replied, "What you hold in your hand is what you make it."

What you hold in your hands is your future.  It will be what you make it.  I wish you success.


I have not told you all this to impress you with my credentials. I have shared this with you to show you that I am on the same path of discovery as you are. I learn, I falter, I get up, grow more, and move forward.

As I said earlier, I am not perfect, nor has my life been “perfect” in terms of being without difficulties. But it HAS been perfect in uniquely preparing me to serve you as your Congressman in Washington, D.C.

Thanks so much for reading this far.


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