• Nielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 66

Do you ever wonder what Joy looks like? I saw it. Not in the face of a child, but in the face of an 83 year-old guy in University of Minnesota apparel playing harmonica for my family’s goats at the Minnesota State Fair. I recognized him for some reason, like we had crossed paths somewhere before. In fact we had, at a concert in Maple Grove, Minnesota, in August of 2020 where he was dancing and clapping to Shania Twain’s song, “Man! I feel like a woman!” He seemed a bit off his rocker to me. But that’s what joy looked like, Andy Whitman style.

Through these two encounters with Andy, American Faces No. 66, I quickly came to see this man genuinely loves life. He said it’s something his mom instilled in him, along with a love for music and a passion for learning… and sharing joy.

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Andy shares his joy for music at senior living facilities where his guitar, harmonica and voice – in harmony with his lovely wife, Carol – lift the spirits of residents as they sing along to songs from decades past, all while Andy dances with an energy and grace that defies his 83 years.

Andy has shared his joy for life traveling on mission trips around the world, where he’s been known to give harmonicas away. He actively volunteers for Meals on Wheels, and freely gives smiles away to all who cross his path.

And has expressed joy throughout his life’s journey. He’s raced sailboats competitively, worked in the insurance industry, earned a law degree and a PhD, works as a Professor of Insurance at the UM Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis, and has even served as firefighter.

What does joy look like? Joy looks like a man who smiles and sings to residents at a senior home. It looks like a man playing harmonica to goats at the State Fair. It looks like a man dancing with his wife at some big band concert. Joy looks like Andy Whitman – a man who invites everyone he meets to live, laugh, love and learn. He calls it the “4-L’s Club.”

May we all look a whole lot more like Andy. I think his 4-L’s Club has plenty of room.

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  • Nielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Oct 7

American Faces No. 65

I thought this American Faces 65 featuring Daniel Wohlfert was going to be a simple story about a guy who owns a mini-donut business in my hometown of Rogers, MN. I was wrong.

My interest was piqued when I met Daniel at our NorthRidge Fellowship church block party and I saw the Combat War Veteran (Iraq) sticker on the truck towing his snazzy The MinneDonut Company trailer.

But I discovered that was really just the sugar on the mini-donut story.

I learned Daniel’s early life was impossibly difficult. His mom died of Leukemia when he was seven and left him in the care of an alcoholic, abusive father. At 18 he left and found a new home in the Air Force as a C-5 Loadmaster. Then Daniel experienced war. On his first mission to the Middle East he saw battle for the first time. Peering through the cargo compartment window as a lookout for the rocket-propelled grenades that would kill him and his crew left Daniel with the effects of PTSD.

And then Daniel and his crew were tasked with escorting home the remains of eight Special Operations soldiers. Staring at those caskets in his cargo hold, Daniel realized those young men were soldiers just like him, and alive just a few hours prior, until experiencing the battle that took their lives. That’s hard stuff to get your head around, and can change you.

But all that wasn’t Daniel’s only story.

After leaving the Air Force, Daniel’s path took a number of turns. He worked in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry where he did well until a corporate restructuring left him jobless for 10 months. He found a job with a company providing precise measurement for product safety and quality, but realized it wasn’t the place for him. It was at that job, however, where he discovered Lil’ Orbits, a Minnesota company making high-quality mini-donut machines.

Which brings us back to the mini-donut trailer, where I met him.

I learned that Daniel started The MinneDonut Company in 2017 as a side hustle and a means to create more financial stability for his family. His mini-donut business has grown steadily since then. I think it’s a winner – because dough, sugar and grease, formed into a little magical ring, is sure to attract 99% of humanity, just by its smell.

But that is still not the whole story, really.

What amazes me about Daniel’s story is that it’s not about a boy who almost gave up on life at seven. And it’s not about a young man who stared the horrors of war in the face. It’s not even about a man who discovered the magical money-making powers of mini-donuts, when he could have just given up.

This is a story of a man who refuses to be defined by his past, or any particular part of his story. He keeps moving, he looks for open doors and he steps through them.

So, in closing, here’s my bit of wisdom: I first judged Daniel as simply the “MinneDonut Company guy” who also served in the military. But Daniel Wohlfert’s story, like the previous 64 American Faces stories I’ve done, has taught me that human beings are fascinating and walk very interesting paths, with all kinds of twists and turns. Some of those paths are similar to our own, but most we can hardly imagine. Take time to listen to someone’s story. It’s worth the time. It might just change your life!

Check out his MinneDonut Company:

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  • Nielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Oct 7

American Faces No. 64

Danny Warnock is a 37 year old entrepreneur who founded Superior Gear, a Minnesota based company that designs and produces ultra light camping hammocks, tarps and down quilts. These hand-crafted products are custom made to order, right in Minnesota, through their E-Commerce website.

Danny has had an unusual life. He grew up as a missionary kid in East Africa, and first began making a living as a musician (drums/keyboards). He worked as a private music instructor for most of his 20s. He then transitioned to software engineering and several years ago moved into entrepreneurship. Superior Gear was born out of Danny’s dissatisfaction with getting poor sleep on the ground in tents, and his frustration with other complicated hammock systems. He set out to design something more simple and effective by sewing insulation directly into the hammock to solve the dreaded ‘Cold Butt Syndrome’. He was making for himself the gear he wished he could buy, but didn’t yet exist. Danny’s endless tinkering and a child-like excitement to show others his creations eventually led to “accidentally starting a business” In 2017. Danny knew his young company needed a big boost to get on the map. So he created a Kickstarter campaign that raised $43,000 which allowed him to purchase the industrial sewing equipment and materials.

Danny is driven to create camping gear that is true to the Superior Gear tagline, ‘Simple, Cozy and Light.’ He has relentlessly pushed himself in product research, development and testing through millions of stitches and countless late nights. Superior Gear now employs several workers right here in Minnesota, providing superior care and attention to each piece of gear they ship.

While there are certainly cheaper hammock options out there, you simply won’t get the innovation, simplicity, quality and customer care that Danny and the team at Superior Gear strive to provide every day. Sourcing your new hammock from Superior Gear means supporting a home-grown Minnesota company, owned and managed by an awesome guy.

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