Mr. Congeniality

Sarah Jackson and Steve Sviggum
Sarah Jackson and Steve Sviggum

Greetings, Good Age fans.

Is that a farmer on our cover? Why, yes it is.

Seems fitting for a Minnesota magazine, don’t you think? And perhaps no farmer could be more aptly chosen than Steve Sviggum, a former Minnesota legislator, standing in a field of soybeans he grew with his bothers, Jim and Dick.

I wasn’t so sure at first, actually. I must admit when our Memories writer, Minnesota native Carol Hall, pitched the idea of choosing Sviggum as a cover star — “Lifelong Minnesotan, Scandinavian, farmer, legislator, all-around well-respected citizen” — I thought he sounded, well, maybe a bit too predictable.

A “100 percent Norwegian” guy in a state well-stocked with Norwegians?

But boy was I wrong.

Sviggum isn’t just one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, he’s also funny, congenial, professional, sensible and wise. What a well-balanced human! That was my first impression anyway — and the profile of him in this issue backs that up.

The guy truly personifies Minnesota Nice — in the best way.

As he showed me and our photographer, Tracy Walsh, around his home, he talked so affectionately about his wife, Deb, sons, daughter and 13 grandkids. He was impossible not to like instantly.

As he took us around to his farming interests in western Goodhue County, we immediately felt like we were a welcome part of his community.

And when it came time for photos, he showed no vanity — and gamely sat inside the wheel of his John Deere 9330 tractor, even though it was an unrealistic pose.

“This would never happen,” he laughed, beaming, “just so you know.”

Our final stop was a trip to his longtime church, Vang Lutheran in nearby Dennison, where he’ll be serving lutefisk, meatballs and more at the congregation’s annual event on Oct. 9. (Yes, it’s open to the public.)

Sviggum was baptized and confirmed in the church, as were his three kids. In our 30 minutes shooting photos outside the church, he ran into a friend and a cousin and also took time to graciously give directions to a stranger. And it was easy to see the longtime politician and regent board member in Sviggum — charming, disarming, smart, utterly down to earth — definitely cover star material.