History Note: Rise looks back at its early years, key people

One of the many Minnesota disability service organizations celebrating a 50-year anniversary in 2021 is Rise. Incorporated in 1971, Rise supports people who have disabilities and other barriers. The nonprofit offers clients the greatest possible level of community integration and a wide range of programming choices.

As 50 years are celebrated, two remarkable things stand out.

Rise had four clients when its doors opened in August 1971 – Ted Brown, Kathleen Schuldt, Bruce Johnson and Robert Lehn. Brown was 19 years old and fresh out of school. He was ready to work. Now at nearly 70 years old, Brown is Rise’s “senior” client and the only living member of the original four.

Over the years Brown has worked for dozens of Twin Cities businesses, including Federal Premium Ammunition, a meditation center, Shapco, Red Lobster, Liberty Carton and Faribault Foods. As an experienced Rise worker, Brown said he enjoys giving new employees advice.

“[I tell them to] stay out of trouble, keep working hard and earn a paycheck to save up money to get something very, very important!” he said. Brown worked part-time until the pandemic struck in 2020.

He is also an accomplished musician who has played keyboard and sang with the band, The Windjammers, for many years. His musical highlight and thrill of a lifetime was performing in 1989 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. with Very Special Arts.

What’s also remarkable is that Rise co-founder Chester Tollefson is still here to share memories of the nonprofit’s start.

“[It took] a little concern and a little cooperation. Here we are 50 years later and Rise is still operating,” he said. Tollefson is 98 years old.

Rise began as the family sought a better future for son and brother Loring, who  Loring was born with intellectual disabilities.

When Loring was 16 years old, Chester Tollefson and his wife Gladys started talking about Loring’s future. They wanted him to have positive experiences after high school and were concerned by the absence of options other than Minnesota’s institutional system, which at that time was where many disabled people lived isolated from family, friends and opportunities.

“Loring was a young person who loved to laugh and smile and he loved people. He was stubborn and determined, but he loved to have fun,” his sister Joyce Tollefson-Capp said. “As parents, my mom and dad just wanted a safe place for Loring to be. And Rise provided that. Not only for him, but for multiple generations.”

“There was the institution at Cambridge, but we thought Loring was better physically than to be involved in Cambridge, just sitting and doing nothing. I thought, ‘There’s things he can do,’” said Chester Tollefson.

Anoka County community leaders worked with the family to create an alternative. With their cooperation Rise opened in Spring Lake Park on August 2, 1971,

“He enjoyed having a place to go to work and meet his friends. He just loved the place. It was part of his home,” Chester Tollefson said of Rise.

Loring Tollefson died in 2002. His mother Gladys died in 2013. But the foundation they and other set helped Rise to a successful future.

Read about upcoming special events and find the anniversary videos at https://rise.org/special-events/

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at  www.mnddc.org