Monthly Archives: May 2011

To Be a Volunteer in a Small Town

I spent my childhood in Alexandria but “grew up” in Upsala, having moved to the area in 1971, at age 22. I was a young husband, a fresh teacher and a new father. When my wife, Marlene, and I first moved to Upsala, we had no intention of staying there for long. However, we made some good friends and decided it would be a good place to raise children. We had five of them and they all spent their childhoods in small town Upsala.

It wasn’t long after we moved to Upsala that I felt a desire to get involved with a local organization. The Lions Club and the fire department were two good possibilities; I chose the latter. I preferred the excitement of going on fire calls to that of participating in a service organization, albeit a good one.

With the creation of the Upsala Area Historical Society (UAHS) in 1979, I discovered a passion for preserving local history and became a board member in 1983.

My first opportunity to try a role in top-level leadership came while serving on the fire department, as I became president of the relief association. I took the role seriously and learned to run meetings using a simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Anyone who shows an interest in leadership in a small town usually has no shortage of opportunities to lead. It wasn’t long and I was the president of UAHS. I gave up that position when I became a school board member. I gave up the fire department when I was chosen as chair of the school board.

Over-commitment, however, became a problem. For a couple of years I was serving on four boards at once: UAHS, the Upsala School Board, North Central Service Cooperative, and Morrison County Historical Society. It simply is not healthy to be spread out so thin. It takes a toll on family, body and soul.

I cut back to what I enjoyed most, the local historical society, but also got involved in city government, taking the role of secretary/treasurer on the newly created Upsala Community Development Commission. I later accepted a one-year appointment on the city council and joined the Upsala Planning Commission.

I was torn between a sense of obligation to my community and a desire to live life differently. I felt myself seeking a graceful way to step away from the small town leadership roles that kept calling me. The solution: my wife and I accepted another calling… we joined the Peace Corps. Since October of 2009 we have been in the mid-east, serving the people of Jordan.

What the future holds for us once our two-year commitment is over is yet to be seen.

-Dan Hovland