Members in Focus: Torpet Family, Polk County
Farmers Union has advocated for health care improvements more than any other agricultural organization. In Minnesota, Elaine Torpet is a big part of that movement.
“She’s the lady who put (health care) into our policy platform,” said Allen Torpet, her husband of 56 years and retired farmer, referring to Elaine’s effort at a previous MFU convention.
Elaine has been advocating on health care issues with MFU for more than 30 years. Allen has been a driving force of support for the Lake Sarah campground. Their investment in MFU is hard not to admire.
Cattle, lobbying and much more
The couple lives in Fertile, a town in northwest Minnesota, about four miles south of where Allen and his family farmed. His paternal grandfather emigrated from Norway and homesteaded that land. The Torpets milked cows up until their daughter Terry, the younger of their two children, was three. Then they converted to a beef operation.
While Allen farmed and worked as a rural mail carrier, Elaine managed the home, by sewing, cooking and caring for their children, Todd and Terry. She comes from a rural background herself, in Winter, Saskatchewan.
“My dad was a foreman at a coal dock,” Elaine said. “I went to business college in Saskatoon and worked there, and that’s where Allen came in.”
Allen had family in southern Saskatchewan, which allowed him to make the connection with Elaine. It didn’t take long for them to get involved in Farmers Union. Allen’s father had been a member also.
“We went on a Young Farmer Fly-in to Washington, D.C., in 1973,” Allen said. “That was where we learned how to lobby.”
Elaine became secretary of the local and county chapters and still is for Polk County. Allen is a past county president. They have been delegates at many state conventions and a few National Farmers Union Conventions. Their children attended Farmers Union Camps and eventually became Torchbearers. Elaine served as a chaperone to the All-States Camp in Bailey, Colo., in 1981.
Adding in Elaine’s service as a 4-H volunteer and Allen’s service on the township board, the couple kept busy. They were rewarded for their work with the MFU Outstanding Leadership Award in 2010. And Elaine will attend the NFU Women’s Conference this month in San Diego.
One of the most significant contributions Allen has made to MFU is his work to keep Farmers Union Park at Lake Sarah in good shape.
The park, which once belonged to Polk County Farmers Union, was built by “some forward-looking guys from along the Red River,” Allen said. Polk County later gifted the park to the MFU Foundation for $1. The Torpets put great effort into raising money to keep the park going, from Las Vegas trips to winter shows in the Red River Valley.
However, as the park aged, it needed improvements to its sewers and bathrooms. Allen said at one point, he heard from a few people that the park should be sold.
“I didn’t like that plan,” he said. So he invited the MFU Full Board to a meeting at the park. “After they saw what was there, they said it would be like selling the family farm.”
He got down to business and started a new fundraising effort to build a shower house and update the kitchen. He raised money by selling baseball caps for $100 apiece that proclaimed support for Lake Sarah.
“Somebody came up to me (at the state convention) and said, ‘I’m not paying $100 for a cap!’” Allen said. “I responded, ‘I’m not selling you a cap. You give me $100 for the park, and I’ll give you a cap, how’s that?’”
Farmers Union Park at Lake Sarah still keeps busy today, hosting Farmers Union Camps in summer and available for members to rent for special occasions.
Health care: ‘It has to be said’
Long before the national debate on health care became mainstream, Elaine made sure MFU took a stand on it in the official policy. At a state convention during Cy Carpenter’s presidency of MFU, she spoke up to get it included. When someone tried to have it removed, she fought back and kept it in.
“Carpenter, (former MFU Vice President) Vere Vollmers and (Legal Counsel) Dave Velde came up to me and said thank you,” Elaine said. “People are sick of listening to me harp on health care, but it has to be said.”
As a Canadian native, Elaine is well-versed in a system that she found to be more helpful than what she has gotten in the United States. She cited the dynamic nature of health – a healthy person can have their world turned upside down by a farm accident or kidney failure.
“We all should get in (to the health care system),” she said. “If you don’t need it, thank God, let somebody else use it. And when your time comes that you need it, somebody who’s working and able will be able to carry you.”
The Torpets are grateful for the impact of Farmers Union policy to make a difference and for the connections they’ve made over the years.
“I think that Farmers Union has made a lot more people aware of legislative issues,” Elaine said. “Our policy says, ‘This is what we’re going to do’… I’m very proud to be a Farmers Union member.”