• How Perley, MN Provides a Lesson on Firm Foundations

    by Lance Gunkel CFP® CFA Managing Director | December 28, 2021


    The family farm on my mom’s side of the family sits in Perley, Minnesota, which is located on the western edge of the state, a short 24 miles north of Fargo. My great grandparents immigrated from Norway in search of a better life through farming and raising a family in the rural United States.

    My mom’s family had a strong connection to the local church, Bethania Lutheran. The church was built in 1891 by fellow Norwegian immigrants and would eventually be the site of numerous family occasions: my mom, brother, and I were baptized there (with all three of us wearing a baptism gown from Norway that has now been used in over 60 baptisms over the course of more than 80 years); and my parents were married there. 

    My grandparents were actively involved in the church, whether it was through maintaining the grounds around the church and cemetery, bringing a hotdish to a funeral, or sitting in the pew during Sunday service.

    Perley has never been a big town; in 1940 it grew to a population of 246 but has since fallen to 83. Bethania Lutheran likewise saw a reduction in the number of congregants, with the church first merging with another small town and eventually closing its doors. In the past few years, the church was deemed a safety hazard; it was aging and as a vacant structure, served as a place for mischief.

    The church congregants decided to conduct a controlled burn of Bethania, and my Uncle Mardy sat and watched from start to finish. He still maintains the cemetery grounds near the old church site, and I can imagine it was difficult to watch the church burn.

    I later visited the site with my mom and brother and realized that, though the church is no longer there, its foundation survives, as do the memories the church created. I was young when I attended the church on visits to my grandparents, but I can still remember the feeling I had being there. I remember hearing sermons from a pastor different than my own but with the same message, happy events such as serving as the ring bearer at an aunt’s wedding, and sad moments at the funerals of family members.

    On my drive home from the church site, I made the connection between the church’s foundation—in a physical sense—and the foundations I attempt to create in my professional and personal life.

    As financial planners, we work to enrich and empower the lives of our clients. Our goal is to provide a firm financial foundation so clients can live a life of meaning and give them the opportunity to positively impact their families and communities.

    As a parent, I’m also looking to shape my two boys. I want to leave them with something permanent: admirable traits that can provide them with happiness and the tools to face life’s challenges.

    I wish for my boys to show others kindness and empathy. Caring for others helps build stronger connections and more meaningful relationships. I do my best to model a life lived with kindness and empathy, and I hope that passes along to my boys.

    My sons will also face obstacles in life, and I can help them build a foundation of resiliency and courage to encounter them head on and keep pushing through. My friend Colin reminded me often that life sometimes requires wishful thinking—the idea that a smile and positive attitude can help us work through life’s challenges and see us through to the other side.

    When we are in the midst of something difficult, it can often feel as though it will never end, but eventually, it does. This too shall pass.

    Thinking back to Bethania Lutheran, when I visited the burn site, I picked up an old block of glass window that I found in the foundation. I keep it in my office to remind me that I’m here to help others build strong foundations, whether that be in their financial or personal lives. In doing so I can continue to have an impact after I’m gone.

    Church photos: Courtesy of Mardy Dosland


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