Boys State a ‘great experience’ for participants

MARSHALL – Despite the different colored shirts scattered across the campus Friday at Southwest Minnesota State University, the people in attendance were very united all week as one big American Legion Boys State family.

People were either helping out, being good role models or being inspired to be the best person they can be. So one doesn’t have to look very hard to realize that the positive behavior is rubbing off in a good way on the 2013 Boys Staters from across the state.

While more than 50 volunteer counselors and office staff were clad in bright red shirts all week, the 2012 Boys State Governor Zac McFarland wore the traditional navy blue polo. In recognition of the 65th anniversary of Minnesota Boys State, the Senate members were clad in yellow shirts, while the House of Representatives wore dark green on Friday. Regular Boys State citizens sported light blue polos.

“I think the counselors are good role models, and they’re fun to be around,” Dawson-Boyd senior-to-be Jordan Bothun said. “They taught us that when you walk in (to the large conference room), you should salute the flag. So whenever I walk in, it’s hand on the heart and give a salute. We learn a lot of stuff here.”

Bothun is from a long line of Boys State participants in his family. He is the seventh one to attend the Minnesota program.

“There are nine boys total in our family, but one went to the Army and didn’t go to Boys State,” Bothun said. “And I have one younger brother, Donny, who is 15. Hopefully he’ll go in two more years. It’s a good family tradition.”

Bothun pointed out that his mother really encouraged all of her “boys” to get the most they could out of Boys State.

“She encourages us to learn more about our government and especially the parliamentary procedure stuff,” he said. “She really likes that. It’s been great the last couple of days, getting into all these debates and electing people. It’s been fun.”

First-year counselor Sylesh Volla announced the long-awaited results for state offices on Friday. Federalist party candidate Simeon Toronto was elected as Boys State governor and will represent Minnesota at the 2013 Boys Nation. Nationalist Tommy Wolfe was elected as lieutenant governor.

“I ran against the finest young man (Brian Hastings), and I thank you for this honor,” Toronto said in his acceptance speech.

The Federalists continued to dominate in the state races, as David Pellegrini defeated Danny West of Marshall for the secretary of state position. Jedadiah Rothstein was chosen as chief justice, while Trey Tollefson and Derrick Shupe were named Boys State associate justices.

Cody Goodchild was victorious in being elected attorney general, while Brandon Fabel was voted in as state auditor.

The five Federalists and three Nationalists were then sworn into office by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer and Speaker of the House Paul Thissen.

“The biggest key in running for office is not being afraid to throw yourself out there,” said Jacob Bengtson, Tracy Area High School senior-to-be. “There are lots of people to talk in front of and public speaking can make you nervous, but you just have to say, ‘hey, I’m going to go do this’ and give it a shot. You can’t just shy away and be afraid. We all started off pretty shy, but we’re not like that anymore, especially in St. Peter that’s for sure.”

Bengtson said it was a fun, learning experience to run for different positions in the city and county offices at Boys State.

“I’m chief of police, and I’m an alternate for the county delegates,” he said. “There’s an opportunity for everybody, which is nice. It’s definitely been a great experience. I’ve gotten lot out of it. It might be one of the best experiences in my life.”

In addition to meeting a lot of neat people, Bengtson said he’s learned a lot and has been motivated to serve in the future.

“This experience will definitely help me be a better leader,” Bengtson said. “I know more about city and county government and all that stuff. So I don’t feel like it would be too hard to just go run for something like that now that I know about it.”

Many of the participants also expressed appreciation for the American Legion posts or other organizations who sponsored them at Boys State. Possibly as a way of giving back, the young men seemed to be on their best behavior, often being spotted holding doors for one another, cheering each other on during athletic events and rallying behind each other in political races.

Along with showing respect for their elders who have given of their own time to promote the program and help them build a strong foundation for their future, the young men are also courteous to SMSU staff.

“This seems to be the most polite group this year,” said Jim Tate, Boys State newspaper guru. “The food service people, especially, keep saying that.”

ARAMARK executive chef Dennis Nord agreed, noting that the good manners speak volumes about the program.

“They’re always a pleasure to work with,” Nord said. “They’re always very polite and nice. And every year, it continues to get better.”

Boys State has been at SMSU for the past seven years, so Nord and a staff of about 15 full-time employees have become pretty efficient.

“We get here about 4:30 in the morning and get breakfast started, and then we’re usually here until 8:30 at night getting stuff ready for the next day, so we’re busy,” Nord said. “We plan for 500 at each meal. It keeps us hopping, that’s for sure.”

Nord estimated that the group went through 8,100 paper plates in the six-day period, in addition to putting away 640 pounds of eggs, 300 pounds of ground beef, 120 pounds of shredded cheese, 90 gallons of chocolate milk, 3,600 hamburger buns and 867 waffles.