Cokato exchange student from Ghana runs for president in his home country

February 11, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

An exchange student from Ghana, who stayed with the Wyman Nelson family in Cokato from 1970 to 1971, is now running for president of this west African country.

Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, also known as Joe Yorke when he graduated from Cokato High School, launched his campaign Thursday at St. Thomas University in the Opus College of Business, Minneapolis. The Nelson family was invited to the event, in which Nduom’s address kicks off Black History Month at the university.

Nduom, pronounced New-dwum, won 52 percent of the vote in Ghana’s six-way primary race Dec. 15. The news media in Ghana calls him a “one-woman man,” something rare and unusual for a wealthy, powerful and influential male in Ghana, said Mark Nelson, his Cokato “brother.”

Nelson, who was a senior in high school at the same time as Nduom, said Nduom credits his strong family values to what he learned when he was in Cokato.

Later, when Nduom got married in Milwaukee in the late ‘70s, Wyman and Ramona Nelson stood up at the wedding with him, said Nelson, who now works for social services in St. Louis County.

Nduom spent an entire year with the Nelsons, enough time to feel part of the family. Nowadays, exchange students usually only stay in the US for a few months or weeks, Nelson said.

After Ramona Nelson died, Wyman Nelson remarried, and now lives in St. Cloud. Mark Nelson’s brother, Mike, is an attorney in Iowa. His other brother, Wade Nelson, is an investor in Florida and their sister, Rhonda, is in Litchfield, Nelson said.

Nelson remembers Nduom as a “warm, sharp fellow,” he said. Nduom was given two names by his family in Ghana. His full English name is Joseph Hubster Yorke. Nelson calls him Kwesi, pronounced Kway-see.

Nduom was active in sports, such as football and soccer, while in Cokato. He also participated in debate. Nduom fit right into the Cokato community, Nelson said.

Nelson chuckled when he recalled how often Nduom would run outside without a jacket, as if Cokato had the same climate as equatorial Africa.

Nelson pointed out recent problems in Kenya and the country of Chad, that he attributed to government leaders in those countries who had no integrity. Nduom, on the other hand, believes government leaders should be in the business of public service, not exploitation, Nelson said.

If Nduom is elected, and leads his country down a different path than Kenya and Chad, it would be “way cool,” Nelson said, since Nduom’s integrity originated, in part, in Cokato

Nduom has been traveling to Ghanaian communities across the US to address his plans to eradicate poverty, restore faith in government and create a new sense of national unity in Ghana.

In August 1973, Nduom took classes at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and Marquette University. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1975, from the University of Wisconsin.

While he obtained his master’s degree in business management, and Ph.d. in service delivery systems from the university, Nduom worked in a meat factory, a parking lot, a cannery and was an intern with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance in Milwaukee.

Nduom returned to Ghana with his family in 1991. In Ghana, he served as minister of energy, minister of economic planning and regional cooperation, chairman of the national development planning commissioner, member of parliament and minister of public sector reform.

Do you know more about this subject, or have a comment? E-mail news@hjpub.com