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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

I am regularly amazed by the people I meet as my American Faces series continues. Paige May #76 is another example of the kind of people I have had the privilege of meeting. Paige, the owner of Wilderness Effects, is an artisan and an avid outdoorsman who makes his home in Babbitt, a small town nestled deep in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region. When I visited Paige in his little home in Babbitt I stepped across the threshold and into his story. Paige’s story is about a Nebraska born, young man who came to Minnesota following what you might refer to as, “The call of the wild.” He attended school in Ely, MN at Vermillion Community College, where he earned a degree in Outdoor Leadership. That degree was only the beginning for Paige. He is also an accomplished sea kayaker and guide, dog sled guide, as well as a renowned knife maker. Being a knife maker is the artisan side of Paige’s story that caught my attention.

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Paige buys blades made by a good friend and fellow craftsman; Jamiah Mahoney at Subtle Forge and then crafts handles turning them into works of art. While he explores the Superior National Forest that is his home, Paige finds natural materials he can transform into knife handles. Even his dog sled ventures are opportunities to find moose antler sheds and then incorporate that material into his knife handles. It’s like magic to see what he can do with tools and sandpaper to create the handle for a knife from compressed birch bark and burled maple. His hands are so wonderfully gifted in coaxing beauty from what might seem like common materials, even in some cases, throw-away items from wilderness creatures.

When I look at what Paige does to create amazing knives I think about the stories of each of us. Our stories are not done yet. There’s more forming and changing in each of your lives yet to come. Each of you who read this are an amazing addition to humanity. Be open to change. Be open to adventure.

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

I firmly believe if you were to look up the word adventure, there would be a picture of Grand Marais, MN. This town is hemmed in by Lake Superior and the vast forested lands of the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota. You might say it is a perfect spot to test what your outdoorsy self is made of. That is what drew Jack Stone of Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply to open an outdoor gear store stocked with high quality products, offering guided tours, as well as sound outdoor advice. As my wife and I sat with Jack during the interview for American Faces #75, I heard a man fondly recall the adventures with family that went all the way back to his childhood. In Jack’s seven decades, adventure has always been a part of his life in one way or another. I saw his eyes light up as he spoke of walks in the vast wilderness of Minnesota as well as heard him chuckle when he spoke of flipping a kayak or two over the years. I heard him speak with passion about the employees and their work as they help provide outdoor gear and opportunities to people who come into the beautifully built and spacious store.

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The focus Jack has for customer service shows in the products he picks, and really surfaces in how knowledgeable he and his staff are. Jack often takes time to help customers with questions on where to find adventure or maybe an item they left behind that could provide a much appreciated creature comfort.

As I close this American Faces installment I guess what most impressed me about Jack is the resolve of this man, the passion for adventure in a man who has lived 70+ years, and a heart for the community of Grand Marais, MN in which his store is perfectly nestled. May we look less forward to retirement and more forward to the adventures that lie ahead.

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Sometimes the story you think you’re going for is not the one you get. In fact, if you’re truly open to listening, the real story is almost always something unexpected. Michael’s story, American Faces No. 74, once again reinforced that important lesson. Michael’s story also reminds us that the world is small, and people are brought across our path for a reason.

Michael operates a shoe repair shop in Osseo, Minnesota, called Michal’s Shoe Repair (yes, the name is spelled wrong – more on that in a minute). It started as a literal “mom and pop” operation in 1962, down in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota at the Brookdale Mall, and moved to Osseo in 2000. Michael began working in the shop when he was around 14 years old, learning the craft of shoe, boot and leather repair – and how to serve customers – from his own mom and pop. Michael served a few years in the Army National Guard after highschool, testing the limits of his youthful resistance to authority, then returned to work with his parents in the shop and to eventually be his own boss. He still serves customers one at a time, writes up work orders on paper slips, manages projects and inventory in his head, and remembers every customer by the type of shoe they wear. Michael’s old school in the best ways, in about every definition of the term.

In one respect, this is a story about craftsmanship, about a dying art form, and perhaps even about how even though we live in a throw-away culture where things are seemingly not made to last, people still find some satisfaction in repairing their favorite boots… just one more time.

Now, back to that misspelled sign…

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Where this story takes an interesting turn, and lands in the category of “things that make you go, ‘hmmm,” is the story behind the sign. You see, “Michal” is how his name is spelled in the Old Country. And the guys making the sign just (mistakenly) assumed he’d want it that way, because that’s how they spelled it where he and his family came from. It’s at this point Michael shared that his parents immigrated to the United States when he was a toddler. They brought their craft over from the home country, building a full life for their son.. and his kids and theirs, now third-generation Americans.

Michael still dreams of going back to the old country, visiting the town where he was born, riding a motorcycle through the countryside where his parents grew up, seeing the places and tasting the food they told him of. He still hopes to someday see the rest of the family he’s never met.

Those dreams now come with prayers, for the safety and survival of his family and homeland. You see, Michael was born in Ukraine.

Providence is an interesting thing. Sometimes people are placed in our path for a reason. And sometimes the story behind the story is really what we're supposed to hear.

Thank you Scott Whitman for your amazing writing.

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