MARSHALL - Hundreds of young men participate in the American Legion Boys State program in Minnesota every year. While some are first generation attendees, there are others - like many involved in Minnesota Boys State this year at Southwest Minnesota State University - consider it a family tradition.
In fact, 2012 marks the first time in history that four generations of the same family - the Zwieners - have been part of the program.
"It's definitely in my blood," Boys State Athletic Director Bill Zwiener said.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
For 19 years, Lee Tallakson, left, has been part of the Minnesota Boys State volunteer staff, including 2012, which was highlighted by the presence of his grandson Adam Anderson, right, who was recently elected mayor of Rochester.
Zwiener has given 62 years of service to the Minnesota Boys State program, which his father, Chester "Chic" Zwiener helped start in 1949.
"I enjoy it," Bill Zwiener said. "My dad was one of the originators of Boys State. He was a great father and also very instrumental in getting Legion baseball and Legionville (School) Patrol Camp started."
Bill Zwiener had three sons, one of which attended Minnesota Boys State when it was held at St. John's. The first of his grandsons - Luke and Sam Zwiener - are attending the program at SMSU this year.
"I'm real happy that they're here," Bill Zwiener said. "They're having a ball."
Having been part of program for all but one year, when he was recovering from back surgery, Zwiener made the ideal advocate.
"I told them to have a good time to be themselves," he said. "They're not going to be governors or mayors or anything, but they're both nice kids and enjoy people. I said to learn what you can about government and being a good citizen because it all helps."
Zwiener is hopeful that his one remaining grandson - Spencer Zwiener - will attend Boys State two years from now.
Lee Tallakson of Minneapolis has been on the Boys State staff for 19 years now. This year also marks the first time he's had a grandson - Adam Anderson, mayor of the city of Rochester - attend the program.
"It's really an honor," Tallakson said. "Absolutely an honor."
Along with Anderson's older sister, who attended Girls State two years ago, Tallakson, who attended Boys State in South Dakota in 1954, encouraged Anderson to be part of the program.
"I personally think it's a life-changing experience," he said. "It's one that you're never going to forget. You'll make friends with people that you may have contact with for the rest of your life."
Tallakson said he still runs into his Boys State roommate in Minneapolis every once in awhile.
"Adam is having a good time," he said. "He became mayor and now he just stopped by and told me he was thinking about running for Supreme Court justice. That's exciting."
Tallakson has several granddaughters and one grandson left to come through the program if they choose. He will, of course, encourage them to attend.
All four of Boys State Director Mike Bredeck's daughters attended Girls State. For a number of years, Kate Bredeck has worked as part of the headquarters crew on campus.
Boys State is also a family tradition for Canby senior-to-be Bill Longhenry, who is currently serving as Boys State mayor of Duluth. He's the fifth of Roger Longhenry's sons to contemplate attending Boys State.
"My brother Travis was in Boys State and he loved it," Longhenry said. "He said he was sad when it ended."
Longhenry also had three older half-brothers who believed in the value of the program, though only two received the opportunity to attend.
"My two oldest half-brothers went to Boys State and they both loved it and still talk about it today," he said. "If you ask them about it, their eyes light up and they get really excited. It's a big deal for my family."
Longhenry said his third half-brother wanted to attend Boys State, but it was the year that Bellingham dissolved as a school district, so no one was allowed to attend that year. Regardless, Longhenry said, his brothers have gone on to do respectable things, which he credits to his dad's beliefs, ones that mirror the Boys State model of citizenship.
"My dad is big into leadership and respect," Longhenry said. "He brought it out in all of his kids. We all believe in the same things that my dad instilled in us."
Ironically, Roger Longhenry never got the chance to experience Boys State for himself. A city kid was chosen over him years back. Now, participating in the program himself, Bill Longhenry takes offense to fellow Boys Staters who half-heartedly talk about their parents instilling values in them.
"It bothers me when people say that just to get votes," he said. "I'm not even running for anything or trying to get votes when I say that I'm really proud of my father and what he did. He taught us that we all need to be good civic individuals."
Neil Kruse, a sixth-grade teacher at Centennial School, has been with the program for 30 years, while his brother Al Kruse, who is currently running for the Minnesota House of Representatives, has been a counselor at Boys State for six.
"I really like seeing the growth in the boys from the time they come to the time they go," Al Kruse said. "It's amazing. They learn a lot."
That sentiment was echoed by twins Kole and Shane Vogt, seniors-to-be at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School.
"I'm learning a lot about how the government runs," Shane Vogt said. "I know a lot more now than I did when I came in."
Kole Vogt said he's learned a lot about the process of elections and has enjoyed the speakers so far.
"(Minnesota Supreme Court) Justice Barry Anderson was pretty good," he said. "He taught us a lot about what he does and how he manages to stay, even if he has an opinion, clear on what the Constitution says."
The Vogt brothers are the first in their family to attend Boys State. Both said they were glad they chose to attend.
"I'd heard from a lot of people that it was a really good thing," Shane Vogt said. "I do other leadership organization and I felt this would also help me with all the skills in my life. And, it's been a lot of fun."
Early on, Shane Vogt thought it was impossible to get to know more than 30 other people in his mock city. But as the week went on, his view changed.
"In just a couple of days, I know pretty much everybody and it's more friendship than just acquaintance, too," he said.
Kole and Shane Vogt are both currently running for the House of Representatives.
Lakeview senior-to-be Derek Larsen followed in his father's (David Larsen) footsteps, attending Boys State.
"He encouraged me to come here and meet some different people," Derek Larsen said. "It's pretty fun. I've learned a lot and I've met a lot of new friends, a lot of people from all over the state. I don't really want to go into politics but just to have the experience of what goes on is pretty cool."