Big Brother

On September 6, 2013 you became a big brother. I wish there was a ton of advice that I could offer, but even though I have both a younger brother and younger sister I am still learning what it means to be a big brother.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned so far:

  1. Be Patient
    • At times you will be frustrated with your sister, but that frustration will pass and she will always be your sister.
  2. Let Her Make Mistakes
    • Part of growing up will is learning and we learn the most from our mistakes.  If you try to keep your sister from making mistakes you will be taking away her opportunities to learn.
  3. Protect Her
    • Sometimes you will need to step in and keep her from making mistakes, which is contradictory to #2.  You will make mistakes in picking the right times to protect her and you will need to learn from your mistake
  4. Be a Student
    • Accept the fact that your sister will sometimes know more than you, she will be right and you will be wrong.  This doesn’t mean you have failed it hopefully means that we all have succeeded.
  5. Be a Teacher
    • Nothing like continuing the contradictions, but remember being a teacher does not mean being a preacher.

May You Find Your Nan

The time I have spent at Mayo Clinic has given me so much, but nothing will ever surpass the impact that the people have had on me.  By people I mean the people that I work with and the people that I have the opportunity to impact that come to Mayo Clinic looking for health and in some cases hope.

Out of all the people that have impacted me at Mayo Clinic, there was one person who I will always attribute for giving the work that I do the most meaning.  There is also one person that never missed an opportunity to remind me that it was the life outside of work that should and because of her always will have the most meaning to me.

I began working with Nan on a project in 2011, she was the lead for the project and I was one of the resources tapped from my division at Mayo Clinic to help her. She was probably the most intimidating person I have ever come across in my career.  She stood five foot something and weighed a hundred and something pounds and she had a southern accent and grit. Of course she would intimidate your father that stands 6’2″ and aspires to keep his weight under 300 pounds consistently and might be known for having a bit of untamed emotion.

Her intimidation came because she had such confidence about her and a way to influence discussions that those being influenced never knew that they were being influenced.  Not to mention that she was at a level at Mayo Clinic that very few will ever get to, but many aspire to do so.  Nan could you used her ability to influence and her position alone in many ways, but she chose what I saw as a singular focus.  Nan sought to make the lives of those around her better.

I will never forget my first one on one meeting with her.  It was middle to late 2012 and my primary efforts for her were to help her fill a position to support the efforts the project was intended to fulfill.  I had the lead working on the hiring effort with a partner in human resources. We had carefully screened a large pool of candidates and it came down to three people that I thought would have done a great job in the role.

The panel on the other hand which was led by Nan made the decision to not hire any of them. As a follow up to the meeting where that decision was made Nan asked me to schedule a meeting with her.  Normally I had always met with her with the person from human resources or a project manager, but she was very specific in wanting to meet with me by myself.

I had felt to some extent like I had failed her, that I had managed to waste her time and the time of the people on the panel and that the work that I was doing with her was about to come to an end.

The meeting with her was in the conference room next to her office and I was early to the meeting and sat in the conference room, nervous and sweating.  Nan came into the room and immediately mentioned how hot it was in the room which made me feel better and she even took off her jacket.  I would have done the same, but it would have been sure to reveal the pools of sweat that had accumulated on my shirt.

It was at that moment I noticed a port near her shoulder and as she sat down at the table she adjusted her wig.  I noticed for the first time that Nan might have cancer.  I had been in meetings with her at that point for over a year and prior to that remembered her giving one of the most inspirational speeches on the value of the physician and healthcare administrator partnership.  She had never shown any weakness or sign having cancer in any of those previous encounters, but at that moment I no longer saw her as intimidating or as an executive.  I saw her as a person.

When I think about her, I think about that moment a lot.  Did she remove her jacket and adjust her wig to help me relax?  Regardless, the first words out of her mouth after she did that were, “Looks like we have some more work to do, what do you think……”

Ultimately the discussion came to a point where I said that if she wasn’t looking for someone with a Masters that I would be interested, but we left with going back to the drawing board on the position “as is” until the next day.  She called me in my office and said that she was going to work directly with human resources on the job and that I was encouraged to apply as long as I was willing to get my Masters within three years.

It was the longest and hardest interview process that I ever went through which was unfortunately interrupted by a car accident that took me several months to recover from.  It came down to me and one other person for the position, who I knew through common acquaintances and she would have been great.  Ultimately though Nan hired me and back to school I went.

I am still in the job today and hope that the work that I am doing is fulfilling Nan’s vision, but I will never know for sure and there is a lot of pain that goes along with that.  The world lost Nan only four months after I started working for her in my new role in an official capacity.  She lost her battle with cancer.  CANCER SUCKS!!!

My last conversation with Nan was a week before we were both supposed to present to the leadership team.  It was a new approach for the effort that we had developed together and she was bound and determined to be there, but she had recently left on medical leave because she had started on a new treatment and things were not going great.

After Nan had hired me her health became a point of conversation, in part because I finally got the guts to ask her about it.  Even when I did she had said that there were many protocols that she had as options and that she intended to be around for a long time.  I never thought anything else to be true even that last time that I did talk to her and tell her not to worry about being there, in retrospect I wish I had not done that.  I wish she had come and I would have been able to see her one more time.

I shifted the conversation when she talked about wanting to be there to the fact that we had done our homework and I felt it was the right approach and based on everyones input that we would get the support we needed.   I told her that she should worry about getting back to be there when the real work would be starting.  She started to say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t know when that will be or if I will be back’; but I changed topics and asked her how her family was doing and the last thing we ever talked about was how my family was doing.

In my first meeting working for Nan, after she had hired me, she started by asking how I was doing.  I had just come back from my 2012 car accident and it seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do, however it was how she started every meeting we had and then we got down to business.

Then with ten minutes to go in every meeting she would shutdown her iPad or push aside any papers and ask, “So tell me how your family is doing.”  We talked about you a lot, your mom a little and your baby sister that was on the way.  Every meeting, ten minutes to go, like clockwork, “So tell me how your family is doing.”

We live a little over an hour away from Mayo Clinic and she used to tell me that I should work from home as much as I could and that I should invest the time I save by not driving to and from work in you.

I didn’t right it down so I don’t know what she said verbatim, but I do know that she wished she could have had more time with her family and used to tell me about the importance of living in the moment and putting your family first whenever possible.

While I hope I am making Nan proud in the work I am trying to accomplish at Mayo Clinic, I really hope I am making her proud in my relationship with you, your mom and your little sister the most.  I hope it’s a long ways off, but if there is a “other side” I can’t wait to sit with her in her office again and answer the question, “So tell me how your family is doing?”

I’ll start my answer by thanking her for making my life better as she did for so many others.

Nan Sawyer

Moments I’ll Always Remember

On Monday, April 15, 2013 two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I was sitting at my desk on Gonda 1 in the Mayo Clinic when I found out. I spent the next 15 minutes on Twitter, Facebook and Google trying to understand what happened.

On September 11, 2001 I was sitting on the couch in the living room of our townhouse with Caesar sitting on my lap watching the Today Show. They were talking about what appeared to be a fire at the World Trade Center in New York when a “small plane” appeared to hit the other World Trade Center tower. We later found out that it was not a small plane and they were two of four planes that were to be used as weapons by terrorists that day.

These to date are two of the most engrained memories that I have in my life. I can remember every detail around those moments, with almost every one of my senses engaged up to the near numb feeling that I experienced throughout my entire body. They are also the worst memories that I have.

Fortunately, I have two equally good memories where the same senses engaged.

The first is when your mother was walking toward me on our wedding day, right up until your Grandpa Marv let go of her at the altar and went in for the kiss. He kissed me and not your mom. She remembers that.

The rest of the ceremony and the day are a blur because of nerves and activity. Most Wisconsin weddings would be a blur because of the drinking, but I had one glass of champagne all day.

The second good memory was when you were born on Friday, July 13, 2007. I remember almost every moment of joy, anticipation and even fear. Right after you were born there was what I thought was a frantic call for help and you weren’t making a peep. It was probably seconds before we heard your voice for the first time, but even today when I think about it, it feels like hours.

There are other memories, some of which I mentioned in previous posts and others I hope to get to in the future, but these are the four most significant.

The four memories where I can recall the tastes, the sounds, exactly what I saw like someone hit record in my brains blue-ray player, the sensation of numbness and tingling all the way to my finger tips in all occasions and finally the smells right down to how stinky Caesar was on September 11, 2001.

I figured out almost immediately what the common link between these memories were. They are the most powerful memories I have that have shown me how precious life and love are.

Life and love are by far the most precious things we have, and we should never take them for granted.


If You Loose Perspective, Don’t Worry – It Will Find You

Humility has never been one of my stronger traits, but life has a way of making you more humble when you least expect it.

On September 17, 2012 I found myself in the back of an ambulance, my third in my lifetime. The first was when I was freshman in high school where I found myself on the wrong side of a wrestling move by our senior heavyweight. The second was when I had my first panic attack, and with my steady diet of red bull and tobacco at the time everyone had actually figured it was my first heart attack.

The third though is one that I was happiest to be on, especially in retrospect, because things could have gone much worse.

It was a usual drive home from Mayo Clinic, the 66.6 miles door to door that I get to experience every morning and night. I looked down at the clock just before the highway 46 exit and figured I had enough time to pick up my dry cleaning before meeting you at the rink to get you ready for skating practice.

The next thing I recall is being woke up several times, by a guy named Pat. I remember being covered up as they told me they had to cut me out. I remember my hand hurting, my knee hurting, the taste of blood in my mouth and trying to call your mom to tell her I would be late for practice. Then another pause in my memory until I was loaded on to the ambulance.

I remember being cold and warm at the same time and then hearing someone say, “BP 220/100, push another, blah blah blah……” I remember thinking, “What the hell, I thought I had my blood pressure under control.”

Things started getting a bit clearer then, but everything was slowed down. My head started to hurt like hell and my right knee was not far behind on the pain scale for a bit. I remember being rolled off the ambulance into the emergency room at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN. I remember a flurry of doctors, nurses and then you and your mom got there and everything seemed alright from that point on. Memories are pretty fluid from there on out.

I would spend a two nights and three days in the hospital as they helped me manage the pain stemming from my head primarily and somewhat from my knee. I was moved from the ER to the trauma ward so I would not get to see you again until I came home, with the exception of FaceTime. Your mom and your Uncle Sonny were essentially taking shifts so I was rarely alone.

Your Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa also came to spend some time, and whether it was the pain medication or the fact that I had just received a mega dose of perspective, we had some good talks that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The perspective I got on that day, was on how fragile life could be and how quickly things could change. I like to think that is what prompted me to say some things that needed to be said, and in reality reminded me that I should not wait to say things like that in the future, because you may not get the chance to say them.

Unfortunately, reminders of that come far too often. I have lost my grandparents, the best father-in-law a guy could ever dream of having, seen friends and family struggle with illnesses and seen others close to me loose loved ones as life took its normal course and inexplicable detours.


I wish that I would always be able to keep things in perspective versus having it delivered in such strong messages, but it seemingly happens when you need it most.

My most consistent complaint in life is that there is not enough time to get the things done that I “need” to get done. In reality I should be happy that I have that issue, because it means taken into perspective that I still have time left to do things.


Thanksgiving is by far my favorite day of the year, because it isn’t about presents and over-commercialization seems to have not found a way to ruin it yet.

This year more than ever I have a lot to be thankful for, which I will get to more in upcoming posts.

However, my list everyday and magnified on my favorite day is my thanks for my family, friends and my health. My life is full just with these three.


My Silent Teacher

When I wanted to start playing football there was one big issue. My home town of Eden, WI; did not have a team and even know a coach had invited me to play on a team in Fond du Lac, WI. I still had the issue of, how to I get there every day for practice.

By this time my mom and dad were divorced, Dad was running his business and mom was working full time too.

However, Grandma Feyen was coming to clean our house once a week and after listening to me complain about not being able to play because I couldn’t get to practice she said, “Ray will take care of it.”

Ray Feyen, was my Grandpa Feyen and for my whole first year of football he drove the 10 miles from Fond du Lac to pick me up and drive me the 10 miles back to Fond du Lac and some days when dad could not make it from work to pick me up he would make the round trip again.

We spent about 3 months doing that trip together and honestly, I don’t remember a single conversation. I just remember how he listened to talk radio every day and how annoying I thought it was. I’m guessing that is what you will think some day about my talk radio habit.

And even though I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Feyen for a few years later in life, I can honestly only remember two things that came out of Grandpa Feyen’s mouth. One, the fact that he used to call us grandkids, snicklefritzes and the infamous, “Can I get my drink yet?,” when he knew family was coming to visit. Grandma only let him drink when people were visiting in the later years.

I think that it is kind of strange that I remember how much Grandpa B told me, possibly because of the number of times he repeated the same story, but almost nothing about what Grandpa Feyen said.

Even though I don’t remember what he said, I remember several things that he taught me.

I remember being at the farm in the morning and watching him walk to to the barn to start the day.  I remember his striped overalls and hankerchief.  I remember not remembering him ever complaining or looking like he didn’t want to do it.  My memory may be different from others on that last statement but I really think it had an effect on my work ethic.

Although I may complain more than I remember Grandpa complaining, I know that I am responsible to get my work done.

I also remember how Grandpa realized that our regular trips to the Golden Goat to recylce cans were loosing us money and that we should be taking our cans to the recycling center where they paid more per pound of cans.  The only difference is that the cans taken to the recycling center had to be crushed.

He would take our full bags of uncrushed cans from our house in Eden to the farm house and he would crush the cans one by one with a sledge hammer on his work bench.  I swear that each can was crushed to the exact same measurement.

I learned two things from this.  The first is the value of money, your mother may argue that that value alludes me at times, but the fact that Grandpa was willing to invest the time to help us make a few extra dollars meant a lot.  The second is no matter what you are doing that you should take pride in it, even if it means a perfect crush on a can that is bound for a recycling center.

That wasn’t the last lesson I learned from Grandpa around the cans. When we got to the recycling center I realized the bags were put on a scale, weighed and then we threw them into a bin.  The more the bag weighed the more money we made and no one really inspected the bags so why not add some weight to the bags and bingo, more money.

I decided that I was going to add sand to the bags, and then the first bag I added the sand to was gone from Grandpa’s garage with all the other bags the next morning because Grandpa decided to take the cans in for us.

When he got back all I remember is him carrying one bag out of the back of the car, dropping it in the garage, telling us to clean out the sand and that was it. He didn’t get mad at us and never asked why or how it got there.

Then at lunch that day he pointed out the milkhose hanging in the mudroom like the one that he used to smack the cows with to get them to do what he wanted them to do. I don’t remember what he said as much as I knew that from that point forward I would never put sand in our aluminum cans ever again and that I never wanted to find out how a cow felt when it gets hit by that hose.

The lesson; if you make a mistake you are going to fix it yourself and there are consequences for big mistakes.  Not always a milkhose to the backside, but consequences just the same.

The final lesson I learned from Grandpa was the hardest lesson.  Grandma and Grandpa left their farm to move into the city when they were in relatively good health, but what I percieved once they moved was that Grandpa had lost a big part of who he was.  I saw him try to find things to keep himself busy, but he never was quite the same or quite as happy as I remembered him being on the farm.

Grandpa seemed to loose a little bit more of himself every day and I remember watching him struggle to get the bread he always dunked into his coffee into his mouth before it fell apart.  I saw him fail more times than I would like to remember.

I don’t know if Grandpa would have lived longer or had more quality of life if they never left the farm, but I do think he would have been happier.  He never said that to me, at least that I can remember, but that is what I think.

What I do know is that I will always seek to ensure my life is full and I will hold on tight to those things that keep me happy.

I will also endeavor to lead as much by example as well as my Grandpa Feyen did.


The Garden of Eden: More Hometown Memories

I remember two welcome signs from the town where I grew up.

The first said, “Welcome to the home town of baseball star Jim Gantner.” Most people say, “Jim who?”

The second said, “Welcome to the Garden of Eden.” A biblical reference to some, but for me the bible is not exactly where my first thought goes when I think of good ole, Eden, WI.

I have already chronicled some of the outstanding moments and my most trafficked post to date, A Kick to the Nuts.

But when I think of Eden as I do every once in a while, the first memory that comes to mind is the canning company on the other side of the tracks from where I lived.

(As a side bar, I still don’t know if I grew up on the right or wrong side of the tracks.)

I think of how during the canning season I would race my friends on our bikes through the canning factory as the machines were running and the workers were working. Some of the workers got a kick out of it and others would be yelling four letter words which I was very familiar with by the age of…….well, since I can remember.

I think of how sometimes I would use those race routes to ride away from bullies and my absolute favorite time when I took to the railroad tracks coming out of the canning company and got going as fast as I could, hopped the rail with my bike and came to a complete stop with a bully in tow.

He tried to stop and hit the rail and went skidding on the tracks between the two rails. The chase ended at that moment and he never bothered me again, I also never told the story to anyone until now.

The other things I think of are:

  • Collecting cans and literally hanging out after the evening softball games so that when the players finished their beers they would throw them to all of us kids that were collecting cans and watch us scramble to get them. It probably was fun for them, but for us it was our weekly allowance they were toying with as almost every Friday Dad took us to the Golden Goat, automated recycling machine, to turn the aluminum cans into quarters.
  • Being an altar boy at the local church and having the responsibility after the last mass on Sunday to get the priest his whiskey and water after he polished off the jug of wine for the day. The priest was a great guy, but boy did he like his alcohol.
  • Having the local Sheriff come to our house after someone reported that I was running around town with a gun pretending to shoot it. I was actually doing it and it was a toy gun.
  • Not having a football team so having to have at first, my Grandpa Feyen pick me up and drive me 10 miles to practice everyday the first year I played.
  • Playing baseball, kickball, tetherball and basketball all in our own driveway and yard.  I especially remember playing basketball and how no one would want to play against me in our driveway because I had the slope and the height of that driveway mastered.
  • Sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling down at Fireman’s park. Where I also started the trash in the bathroom on fire and proceeded to get busted by the fire chief who was one of your Pappa Jim’s friends and a fellow firefighter. .
  • Driving the snowmobile during the winter and getting it stuck once when I wasn’t supposed to have it out. Someone helped me get it unstuck so I thought I had gotten away with it. Unfortunately that person knew Pappa Jim too and I was grounded from the snowmobile for a couple of weeks.

There’s more and I’ll probably come back to them again, but the last couple lead me to a lesson I kind of learned living in Eden.

Everyone knew everyone and there really was not any getting away with anything. You might actually think you got away with something, but it would come back around eventually.

I think that has stuck with me a bit. A little over two years ago I took you to your first football game to watch one of my friend’s sons play. I snapped a picture of you watching, a picture that is mostly of your head, but you can still see him on the field.

I gave him that picture as a graduation present with a note that said something like:

Whether you know it or not someone is always watching you, so you should always act like you care that they do.

In My Humble Opinion

So another thing that my Grandpa B once told me, but not nearly as often as his lesson on learning, is, “Anyone who gives you a humble opinion is full of shit.”

I didn’t quite understand that until one day I got a three page message from an engineer stating that he disagreed with a direction that we were taking a product and ended the message IMHO followed by his name.

IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

At that point I got it.

My opinion is that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I also have the opinion that everyone should be required to hear everyone else’s opinion out.

Finally, I hold the opinion that every heard opinion does not necessarily get qualified as having value.

In conclusion, I firmly believe (an internally held opinion) anyone who has an opinion by definition is not humble.

At least that was Grandpa’s opinion and I share it with him. No humility involved.

You Win When You Begin

As you walked with me into the transition area to pack up my stuff after my first triathlon of the year, the smile across your face filled my heart.

As I was packing up the last of my stuff you asked me, “Dad, did you win?”

My answer was, “I finished, so for me, that is just like winning.”

Before you could say anything someone passed by with their bag and bike and I only caught their back as they walked away, but as they walked away they said, “You won when you started.”

I said, “You’re right.”

At that point you had already moved on to other topics, but it immediately became the next thing I wanted to write to you about.

As I was training for the half marathon, I use a training program from Hal Higdon that played a bunch of motivational snippets from him.  One was, “You became a winner when you started this program.”

It’s a simple but poinant truth, you can’t win or finish anything that you don’t start.

I would also add that anything worth starting is worth starting with a purpose and if there is not a purpose you will rarely finish, so get a purpose first and then start.


Never Stop Setting Goals

Grandpa B’s lesson to me around never stop learning or you might as well be dead, is a lesson I will continue to teach and I will continue to live by until the day I die.

Over the past couple of years I have now come to develop my own until death rule:

“If you don’t have goals you might as well be dead.”

For a few years I stood on the sidelines as my family ran the Rockford River Days 5k, but then something got into my head that made me want to be part of that. I set the goal and I ran my first 5k in July of 2010.

I then set my next goal to finish a 5k in under 30 minutes. October of 2010 I reached that goal with seconds to spare, wearing a Spiderman costume with your Uncle Mike running next to me pushing a stroller and wearing and poncho and sombrero.

Then came my work Christmas party of 2010 where I accepted the challenge to do a triathlon. I eventually did that triathlon and another in 2011.

I now sit less than a few days away from running my first half marathon to be followed by a triathlon a week later and before the year is out I will have finished four triathlons and two half marathons in 2012.

I’m much healthier today, but I would not be if I had not set goals to get me where I am today.

Health and wellness is only one area where goals have meant a lot to me.

Over 7 years ago, I made the goal that I wanted to have a job that had more personal meaning and fulfillment than the one I had at the time. I started by going to culinary school to become a chef and own a restaurant and eventually made my way to Mayo Clinic where I have no responsibility at all for the cafeteria or food service.

I made it to Mayo Clinic because I stayed true to my goal of having a job that had more meaning and I couldn’t imagine more meaning than being a part of what Mayo Clinic does for people. Culinary school fit in there, because I thought and still think that good food makes people happy and making people happy is pretty darn fulfilling.

Then there is you.

I set the goal when you were born that I was going to make sure you had every opportunity to be who you want to be. I also committed to making sure you understand that you don’t get anything without hard work and that you need to be polite.

You don’t have to do much these days besides behave and smile to get what you want because I am a big sucker, so my hard work lesson is still a work in progress. However, because it is a goal that I still have and am committed to I know I will not give up on it.

Goals are a way of life, as you read this I hope you know what yours are. Keep on living.


Blog at

Up ↑