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'50 Over 50' recognizes two in west central Minnesota who inspire

Two nonprofits join each year to recognize 50 Minnesotans over age 50 who make our lives better. Two women serving their communities in west central Minnesota are among those who inspire in the 2020 class. A virtual recognition event was held in December.

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Deb Shriver Submitted photo

For four years now, two nonprofits in the state have joined annually to honor 50 Minnesotans over age 50 for their contributions to society as artists, business owners, leaders of nonprofits, community builders, and “disrupters” who promote a more equitable society.

More than ever in 2020, it was important to honor those who use the experience of their years to benefit their communities, according to the sponsors of “ 50 Over 50 ,” AARP Minnesota and the Pollen media arts organization.

Two of the 50 Minnesotans honored with the 50 Over 50 designation for 2020 do their work to the benefit of communities in west central Minnesota.

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Edie Barrett Submitted photo

Deb Shriver, a founder of Divine House in the Willmar area, is recognized in the category of business. Edie Barrett , of Ortonville, is honored in the category of the arts and culture.

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Both were nominated by friends and colleagues and were among hundreds considered for recognition. They join a list of honorees both termed "amazing."

Here’s a look at the two area honorees. They were recognized last month during a virtual gala hosted by “50 Over 50."

Pride Producer: Deb Shriver

WILLMAR — “I know how lucky I am,” Deb Shriver told the West Central Tribune.

“I have so many friends who changed careers X number of times. I’m still doing the same thing I was doing when I was 17.”

Shriver volunteered at that young age to help at the Developmental Achievement Center in Atwater. One year later she started her own business, and in the first 10 years grew the business from 10 homes to nearly 150, according to the award recognizing her.

“And after 40 years in this work, Divine House and her many other companies now provide homes and essential services to nearly 1,000 people across Minnesota,” it states.

Divine House is based in Willmar and offers personal care, respite care, care for individuals with traumatic brain injuries, and supportive employment to people at locations throughout much of Minnesota.

Shriver said she is amazed at how her businesses have grown. The staff with Divine House includes more than 800, and with all of her companies, she is responsible for more than 2,000 employees. She is quick to say she had never planned for anything like this. It all grew out of the fact that she loved what she was doing, she said.

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“I really like it. I was one of those really fortunate people who fell into what they were born to do,” she said. “I was really, really young. I love helping people. I love taking care of people.”

None of this would be possible were it not for the people who share her passion for helping others. According to Shriver: “I’m only able to do what I do because I have amazing people.” Her staff includes people who have worked for more than 20 and in some cases 30-plus years with her companies.

She said 2020 was definitely the most challenging of all. Shriver, 56, said she doubts whether she would have been able to manage the pandemic without the experience that her years in business and age provided her. Important too, she said, is the fact that her companies had the financial resources that have been necessary to see them through the pandemic.

In one two-day period, she oversaw the purchase of $50,000 worth of personal protective equipment for staff members in anticipation of what would be needed to continue serving people as the pandemic took hold.

She said credit belongs to all of the frontline workers with her companies: “They were amazing, worked in the face of a terrible disease. They took care of the people. They were brave and smart and I’m humbled to work with them,” she said.

Shriver is among those who have and continue to work on the front lines. She started one day testing three people positive for COVID-19 by 9:30 a.m.

She is confident going forward. Some “herd immunity” has now been developed, vaccines are beginning to arrive, and staff have been very flexible about working at different locations as needs arise, she said.

"Humbled, honored and grateful," she said of being named an honoree.

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Mind Expander: Edie Barrett

ORTONVILLE — Edie Barrett likes to make her neighbors in Ortonville and Big Stone County uncomfortable.

Barrett, 59, has been hosting conversations on racism and white privilege in rural Minnesota. She has spoken to church and other groups, hosted a book club, and took to the airwaves to promote a rural conversation on these difficult topics. Along with fellow poet Lauren Carlson, formerly of Dawson, Barrett recorded a series of radio programs focused on their poetry and conversations on these topics.

Her rural neighbors are willing to take on these topics, she said, but she knows it is not easy. “People are intimidated because they don’t know how to do it right,” she said.

It’s not easy for her either, but years of trying have at least provided her with “a certain comfort in the discomfort of the conversation,” she said. “It’s more about realizing we can do better."

Barrett won her recognition as a 50 Over 50 honoree for her use of art as a vehicle for social change. She is a master’s candidate at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She made it her project to foster the conversation on race in a rural area in every way she can. It included a pre-COVID backyard get-together with music and poetry reading. Putting it all together was more complicated than planning a wedding, she laughed.

As a poet, author and artist, Barrett said she is driven by a desire to “live a meaningful life.”

She comes with a “well of empathy” for those less fortunate. She said she grew up in poverty with a mother who suffered from mental illness. In her childhood, she said, “I knew what it meant to be different. I became accustomed to that.”

The Minnesota native started her college studies in sociology at North Dakota State University in Fargo and transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she graduated.

She lived for 26 years in California, working in the psychological treatment of adolescents who were wards of the state, as well as one of the first specialized programs for sex offenders in the state. In her 20s, she also helped launch an internship program in which students from the University of California donated more than 3,000 hours to tutoring.

She returned to Minnesota, where she said her heart is found.

She said she never expected to be pursuing an education at this stage in her life, but is enjoying it immensely. She expects another year of study. Barrett said she hopes to remain in Ortonville and promote rural living.

Humbled and thankful to be recognized as a 50 Over 50 honoree, Barrett said the award helps provide her with enthusiasm to continue her works.

“I don’t want to ever stop learning and I don’t want to ever stop evolving and contributing to the goodness of the world. Ethics and kindness and generosity. That is really important to me," she said.

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Edie Barrett Submitted photo

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