Guest Post by Matthew Wolf
Early this year, I asked my Dad Mier if there may be an opportunity for us to travel back to our roots in Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa. He had an immediate answer, yes. His 65th(!) high-school reunion would be in September.
Dad, my son Charlie (12 years old), and I made that pilgrimage last month. It exceeded my already-high expectations in many ways.
Austin, Minnesota, is not a well-known town. It's vaguely known even by people I've met from the Minneapolis area. But the town often "punches above its weight," mostly resulting from the ubiquitous presence of the Hormel company, whose headquarters is in Austin (and, fortunately, the company charter requires that its headquarters stays in Austin).
Austin retains a relatively middle-class feel for today’s rural, small-town America. Hormel provides jobs for a significant portion of the town as well as an impressive Nature Center, the original "Hormel Home" event center, and, most famously, the delicacy(?) Spam and the Spam Museum.
The people of Austin are "Minnesota Nice." Austin and the reception my Dad received reminded me of Bedford Falls from It's A Wonderful Life, one of his and my favorite movies.
Here are some of my top observations from our trip:
My Dad and his family are "gifts" to the town of Austin (by the way, it's the same way I feel about my Dad and Mom's relationship to the Town of Chevy Chase, MD).
Austin's gratitude for and tributes to my Dad were remarkable and heartwarming – from his Austin High School Classmates, current school administrators, the Chairman of the Synagogue, workers at his former family furniture store, and the Austin Library staff members. Several people told me the interaction with Dad "made their day."
From his high-school peers’ reactions, it’s clear my Dad was "one of the nice guys." Also one of the smartest and most respected members of the class. I also got the feeling my Dad was probably more fun in high school than he lets on.
Austin High School honored my Dad as one of their "Distinguished Alumni," and the administrators were thrilled to host us for a tour.
My Grandfather’s furniture business, Mier Wolf & Sons was an important part of the town from 1928 through the 1970s. It’s so great that the store remains open in the same location (under different ownership, but in very good hands).
The Synagogue in Mason City, Iowa, founded by Dad’s grandfather and namesake Mier Wolf has been maintained in outstanding condition. This is thanks to a grant from our distant relative Charles Wolf, and thanks to the Board Chairman Allan Steckman, who gave us a VIP tour. Allan is a real mensch, a very admirable person, and has ties to the DC area and our beloved sports teams.
We also made important and fun visits to the Austin Library, where Dad and his family have donated impressive bookshelves, to the Hormel Nature Center, and, of course, the Spam Museum. It was quite well done!
Woven into much of this trip's activities was Dad’s best friend growing up, Tom Hartman. Tom is a loyal friend, an amusing storyteller, and the most important person keeping the Austin High School Class of 1958 together (Tom organizes the impressive reunions). Dad is grateful to have Tom.
I’m thankful that Charlie joined us on our trip. He enjoyed various parts of it, especially the school tour, the Spam Museum, the many derelict high school stories shared (thanks, Tom Hartman), and the plentiful hamburger and waffle meals. I know my son will cherish the trip more and more as he grows older. Most of all, I’m thankful that my Dad got to experience love and gratitude from so many good people...and that I got to witness it.
It was a very special trip for all of us.
Matthew Wolf is a dad to Charlie (12) and Georgia (7) and husband to Anna. He grew up in Chevy Chase, MD, and lived in San Francisco for more than 20 years before returning to Maryland in 2017. Matthew has worked for most of his career with technology companies, including Sun Microsystems, Salesforce, and, for the past 10 years, in Business Development at smaller start-up companies in the Salesforce ecosystem. Matthew has great pride in both his parents. He was thrilled with the opportunity to write about the recent journey to trace his father Mier's roots in Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa.