Friends, colleagues and constituents toast Piper

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2001

AUSTIN – It remains to be seen if the &uot;mother of all of Minnesota’s children&uot; will grow silent.

Thursday, March 01, 2001

AUSTIN – It remains to be seen if the &uot;mother of all of Minnesota’s children&uot; will grow silent.

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That’s how state Sen. Roger Moe described Pat Piper Tuesday night. The Senate Majority Leader called Piper &uot;one of the most decent people I will ever know.&uot;

Now the grandfather of a toddler, Moe said Piper was the &uot;voice of children and others who don’t have a voice or a lobbyist or an advocate.&uot;

Piper was elected to the Minnesota House in 1982 and reelected in 1984. She was then elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1986 and served until losing last November’s election to Grace Schwab, an Albert Lea Republican.

Throughout her legislative career, Piper carved a niche as an outspoken advocate for children, the homeless, women and others.

The former Roman Catholic nun, who was born in Delavan and grew up in Blue Earth, found herself a guest at the White House after a renowned career in politics.

Tuesday night’s appreciation dinner at Holiday Inn of Austin was organized by Mark and Joan Anderson, Donna Olson, Ruth Rasmussen and Marv Wangen. The Rev. Paul Nelson, pastor of St. Augustine Catholic Church and a close friend of Piper’s, gave the invocation and a ballroom full of people enjoyed dinner, jokes at Piper’s expense and unabashed affection for the guest of honor.

However, it was hard for the dais of guest speakers to truly &uot;roast&uot; Piper, so popular is she with DFL faithful.

State Sen. Jane Ranum recalled how Piper convinced a Senate committee to join her in singing the &uot;Itsy Bitsy Spider&uot; song when children visited the Capitol to testify about welfare issues. Tuesday night, Ranum stopped short of having the Holiday Inn ballroom audience sing &uot;I’m A Little Teapot&uot; for Piper.

State Sen. Jim Vickerman read a letter from state Sen. John Marty and master of ceremonies read other letters of congratulations from absent guest speakers, including Tom Nelson, the former legislator and now a school superintendent.

&uot;There is no one in the state of Minnesota who fought harder to ensure that more people are insured than Pat Piper,&uot; said Tim Penny, the former state legislator and First District congressman.

Recalling how Piper and six other legislators helped created the MinnesotaCare legislation for the poor and uninsured, Penny said Piper thrived on &uot;bread-and-butter issues&uot; that were the &uot;passion of her public life.&uot;

Then, Penny offered an informal prayer for Piper. State Rep. Rob Leighton of Austin called Piper a &uot;tremendous state senator and friend&uot; and noted &uot;a few more character flaws would help roast Pat Piper but she has none.&uot;

Wangen, former Albert Lea mayor, read more letters of congratulations from retired state legislator Leo Reding and his wife Marion and one that drew gasps from audience members. That came from none other than Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Ruth Rasmussen and a granddaughter, Julie Sucha, presented Piper with a gift for her advocacy work.

Wangen presented Piper with a &uot;media jackals&uot; gag gift of news clippings from the 2000 senatorial campaign.

When it was the guest of honor’s turn to speak, Piper began by singling out her former office aide, Tim Michels, now working for Vickerman.

She told how the she received calls from the mothers of successful Senate candidates who called her and asked Piper to &uot;watch over&uot; their sons in the Minnesota Legislature.

She praised state Sen. Linda Bergland, one of many political dignitaries in the audience, for her leadership in creating the MinnesotaCare legislation.

Piper also told Senate Majority Leader Moe she would like to apply for the position of chaplain of the Senate, where she could give her numerous original prayers an appropriate audience. Piper also suggested she would be the appropriate candidate to become the director of a child-care center in the state Capitol.

She introduced her family members, friends in the audience such as state Sen. Leo Foley and told stories, including how Ruth Rasmussen and Marian Robinson recruited her to run for the Minnesota House, when she was the director of the Christian Education Center years ago.

She also marveled at how one of nine children in her family was able to embrace a career in public life that would take her from tiny Delavan in southeastern Minnesota to the state Capitol and to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. All by doing what Piper said she loved doing: serving the people.