By Nancy Dashwood
HOWARD LAKE While Vi Luhman is genuinely honored to be the recipient of this year’s Good Neighbor Award, she wasn’t present to receive it.
When Luhman’s name was called during Howard Lake’s recent celebration, Good Neighbor Days committee member Mary Schlief accepted the award on her behalf.
Vi made the choice to spend that day celebrating her son’s birthday with him; her husband of 58 years, Arvid; and other family in Sheridan, WY.
Once back to the family farmhouse outside Howard Lake, Vi accepted the award, and Schlief was delighted to deliver it.
“I presented this honor to her and let her know this is the Emmy of Howard Lake,” Schlief stated, “and it was a great honor to present her with this award.”
Vi said she was grateful for the award, but not the recognition.
“A lot of people do more than I do,” she insisted. “I am in the background, not out there.”
Vi was hesitant to discuss all the kindnesses she has done for Howard Lake residents through the years.
She would rather get busy and bake and deliver warm cookies, or a hot meal. “I just drop it off and walk away,” Vi said with a shrug. “I see a need, and I just go ahead and do it.”
Inherited empathy . . . and tenacity
Vi grew up in Motley, and thinks her empathetic nature may have come from her mother. Vi was the oldest of six children, and her mother battled epilepsy. Her mother also made a point to read a chapter of the Bible each evening.
Vi remembers a neighbor came to visit when Vi was 3 years old, and discovered Vi sweeping the kitchen floor.
Vi also baby-sat and cleaned for others, and had a steady job by the age of 10. Her paychecks went toward supplying groceries for her family.
Vi dreamed of becoming a nurse; however, she was 1 inch too short to meet the height restriction that was in place at the time. She became a nanny, and then took a job as a billing clerk at a company in Minneapolis at the age of 18.
Ahead of her time
Vi worked her way up through the ranks at several companies throughout her working career.
In the earlier years, she had to earn the respect of her male colleagues. Women just did not work in the top management positions she achieved.
Vi said she was firm, but she was fair. On one occasion, a group of male employees refused to put a machine guard in place, because they said it slowed production.
Vi wouldn’t have it. The machine guard was going to be put on, and be put on within one-half an hour, or she’d shut the machine down.
When the machine was not fixed in 30 minutes, Vi pulled the plug, and waited until her employees installed the guard before allowing the machine to start again. She was the boss, and they needed to know it.
She was also, she believes, one of the first female traffic managers in the country.
Vi set up fleets, hired and fired drivers, and flew all over the country to oversee other production plants.
While Vi was steely when necessary, she was also compassionate. She took care of her employees by establishing paid vacation time for them, and even invited interns to bunk at her own home.
She retired from a position as director of operations when she was three months shy of her 70th birthday. The company hired six people to replace her.
Vi said she wasn’t really ready to retire, but Arvid announced one cold February day that he was going to spend the following winter at their home in Sheridan, WY. Vi said she wasn’t about to let a catch like Arvid go alone.
When initially launching her career, Vi was adamant about one thing.
“I don’t need a man,” she recalled saying, “and I certainly don’t want a farmer.”
Arvid, a farmer from Howard Lake, came along and put in the time and effort to change her mind. Or, at least, wear her down.
Vi said they had been dating awhile when Arvid showed up at her Minneapolis apartment one evening, and firmly asked which Saturday in June she would be available to get married. And that was that.
The couple set up house on a building on Arvid’s family farm, and soon welcomed children Susan and Greg.
Vi said she and Arvid successfully raised two children because they kept God at the center of their lives. She also credits Arvid for being a supportive and involved husband and father.
Vi said her children were parented in an environment in which breaking the rules had consequences, and the rules were also consistent. She indicated she and Arvid were unfailing in showing love to their children, and for each other.
Both Susan and Greg graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, and worked themselves into their own high-ranking careers.
Staying out of sight
Most of Vi’s volunteerism and helpful work for her community is done on the sly, by her own choosing.
She once offered to sort several huge boxes of books in the basement of Howard Lake’s Love, INC (Love In the Name of Christ) thrift store. (The Love, INC organization funds an extensive number of projects and missions which help neighbors in need.) Vi soon found herself volunteering at the store nearly full-time.
The Luhman’s home doesn’t have a revolving door, but it could use one. Through the years, Vi and Arvid have hosted foreign exchange students, interns, stranded business people, colleagues, people who just showed up from South Africa, many friends and family members, and pretty much anyone else needing or wanting a place to stay.
Vi is also involved with the Howard Lake Friends of the Library, and is a member of St. James Lutheran Church.
She once took the pastor’s vestments home to clean them because a spot on them was bothering her. Vi didn’t see the need to buy new if she could fix the old. She got two stains completely out, and returned the spotless and crisply ironed vestments prior to the next week’s services.
Vi still lists reading and cleaning house as her favorite forms of entertainment. She even irons her cleaning rags. “I like to go from disorder to order,” she said.
But how does she know?
Vi said she just knows when someone is in need. She feels she has always had this ability, because she remembers being able to anticipate when her mother was going to have a seizure. She said she can feel when something is not right.
“Growing up (with many responsibilities) made me aware of people’s needs,” Vi said.
Getting Vi to talk about her volunteerism is a challenge. She’d rather keep it on the down-low. She truly does not like the attention.
For example, to avoid having a “big whoop-dee-doo” for their 50th wedding anniversary, she and Arvid took their immediate family on a cruise to Alaska.
Her 80th birthday is not far away. “There will be no open house,” she said, firmly. She concedes she might spend some time with friends.
She feels blessed
Vi remembers during a tough career moment, when a colleague said, “You are who you are now because of who you were then.”
Vi believes her working childhood and gender-biased career life were blessings of a sort.
“It’s strange how God opens doors for you if you’re willing to walk through the door,” she said.