'He was our hero,' says mourner
MINNEAPOLIS -- Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert remembers Sen. Paul Wellstone as a political ally to greater Minnesota. But that's not why Evert and daughter Laura Meyer traveled to Minneapolis for Tuesday night's Wellstone memorial. Li...
MINNEAPOLIS -- Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert remembers Sen. Paul Wellstone as a political ally to greater Minnesota.
But that's not why Evert and daughter Laura Meyer traveled to Minneapolis for Tuesday night's Wellstone memorial.
Like so may others standing in line outside the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena, they felt a personal attachment to the Democratic senator.
"It's just such a major tragedy for the state of Minnesota, we needed to be near others in sharing in that loss," Evert said. "Wellstone was an inspiration to all of us. He was our hero."
Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia Wellstone Markuson, campaign staff members Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and McLaughlin, pilot Richard Conry and co-pilot Michael Guess died Friday when their plane crashed and burned about 2½ miles from the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport.
People packed the sidewalks surrounding the arena for blocks Tuesday, waiting in the cold for a seat in the arena and a chance to pay their respects. When officials finally closed the doors, people lined up outside the arena and watched the service on television monitors.
Barbara Smith's minister told church-goers Sunday that they had waited 2,000 years for a leader, and until he arrives, they should lead themselves.
That is just what the former Fargo woman, who now lives in Farmington, Minn., did on Tuesday. She led thousands of mourners into Williams Arena as the first in line for the Wellstone memorial service.
"I wanted to be part of this with everyone," said Smith, a University of Minnesota blanket wrapped around her to ward off the cold air.
In the early 1990s, Smith was part of Wellstone's anti-war movement. Now, she said, it is up to people like her to carry forward his legacy.
Dick Nelson drove from Warren, Minn., to attend the service.
The city's mayor recalled first meeting with Wellstone in Washington, D.C., after the flood of 1997.
Nelson and some other Minnesota mayors were fighting for more federal funding for flood damage.
"He was not very receptive at first," he said of Wellstone.
A yelling match between Wellstone and Nelson ensued and had to be broken up by then-Moorhead Mayor Morrie Lanning, Nelson said.
"Five minutes later Wellstone cooled down and said he was for it," Nelson said. "We've been best friends ever since."
Many state and U.S. representatives were ushered into the arena through a private entrance.
But some took time to remember Wellstone.
Sen. Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said Wellstone's death will make a difference in his campaign for governor.
"I maybe will be a little better spokesman" of issues he and Wellstone held dear, Moe said.
One of his opponents, Rep. Tim Pawlenty, agreed Wellstone's death will change the course of the governor's race.
"People are going to take a more serious tone," the Republican candidate said.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. called Wellstone a "Pied Piper."
"His legacy will be defined by us as we go back," Kerry said. "His legacy is going to be telling the truth."
Minnesota's Independence gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny said the "world will never be the same without Wellstone."
Mike Erlandson, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, has said Wellstone's family wants Walter Mondale, the former vice president, U.S. senator and ambassador to Japan, to be the party's choice to replace Wellstone.
Erlandson has scheduled a 7 p.m. DFL State Central Committee meeting at the Historic State Theater in Minneapolis to pick Wellstone's successor.
Greg Boone, a 15-year-old from Burnsville, Minn., said he met Wellstone at a rally in Richfield, Minn.
He said the senator took a group of teenagers aside and said that win or lose, he was coming back to talk with the volunteers.
"There was no doubt in my mind that promise would have been fulfilled," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707