Wellstone touched lives in Iowa as well as Minnesota

Our hearts go out to Molly Wilson of Storm Lake, Iowa, who lost a dear friend and surrogate mother last week when Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and his wife, Sheila, were killed in a plane crash.

Molly recently quit her job on Wellstone's senior staff in St. Paul. She was an adviser on women's issues, and Sheila Wellstone's priority was fighting the abuse of women.

Molly spoke with Sheila on the phone at 8:30 a.m., the morning of the crash, Friday, Oct. 25.

Also aboard the small chartered plane was Mary McEvoy, who replaced Molly on the staff. Molly figures that had she stayed on she well could have been aboard on that fateful trip.

Paul Wellstone was deathly afraid of flying. He insisted that two pilots be aboard any flight. Those pilots, too, were like family.

He also hated travel because of a terribly bad back. On the road, he would lay in the back of a van because it was too painful to ride upright.

Wellstone didn't have to run for re-election. He overcame his fears and pain because he believed it was vital that at least one house of Congress stay in control of the Democrats, and that there would be at least one voice from the wilderness speaking against the start of World War III.

Molly and her husband, Mike Kohler, assumed ownership of the Sugar Bowl gift shop in Storm Lake in October. They had just held their ribbon cutting Thursday, Oct. 24. All was joy and celebration one day, and immense tragedy the next.

I RECALL first seeing Paul Wellstone many years ago in the woods outside of St. Cloud, Minn. I was attending a strange fundraiser for Collin Peterson, a Democratic candidate for Congress from northwest Minnesota, with my old high school buddy Marty Case. Marty was Peterson's scheduling coordinator.

There was a keg of beer along the Mississippi River. There was a flatbed trailer set up with a country western band. Peterson was lead guitarist. There was a Japanese film crew that came out of the woods with lights blazing, doing a documentary about the nuclear freeze movement.

And then this little guy jumps on the flatbed. He has a coffee can and a sack full of BBs. He takes the microphone from Peterson, slams it up to the coffee can and starts slowly dripping the BBs into the can. It was annoying to the point of maddening.

Wellstone did it to illustrate how many nuclear warheads plagued the world.

I asked, "Who is that guy? Is he crazy?"

Nobody was quite sure. They thought maybe he was a professor from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Years later, Wellstone was elected to the Senate with that sort of campaigning. He used former Iowa Sen. Dick Clarke's approach -- unconventional campaigning on a low budget built around issues -- and won.

WE OWE a personal debt of gratitude to Wellstone. He was a great friend and promoter of The Progressive Populist.

When Wellstone campaigned for Bill Bradley in Storm Lake, I introduced myself as Jim's brother. It was as if we were immediate best friends. The Progressive Populist -- small in stature but big in resolve, just like the senator -- was Wellstone's chief promoter in his short-lived presidential campaign. He knew it, appreciated it, and would not forget it.

We won't forget him. -- Art Cullen

(Originally published in the Storm Lake, Iowa, Times.)

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