This I Believe: Dick Grant (2022)

Good morning. My name is Dick Grant and I was a member here for 23 years until we moved to Oregon. In 1995 I presented my “This I Believe,” and was asked if I would be willing to do it again. I grew in many ways while here, and feel it was a most enlightening time in my life. Since then we’ve loved being out here in Oregon near lots of grandkids, and until Covid, things were going great. But during the Covid years I was diagnosed with ALS in December 2020 and I wanted to share my story with you. As you might know, ALS is a fatal disease – progressive.

I grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota with five siblings and loving parents. It was an idyllic childhood. Dad was a WWII veteran, band director of the Mitchell Municipal Band and the 147th Army band. He also sold insurance and was a stockbroker. Mom was a traditional stay-at-home mom and volunteer for many activities at the Catholic Church in town.

My upbringing was Catholic and I was a good boy – well, except in junior high where we pranked the nuns sometimes. I attended Catholic schools including St. Thomas in St. Paul and then grad school – Xavier University in Cincinnati. During the Vietnam era I got drafted halfway thru my master’s program and was sent to Germany for two years, where I got tapped to be a clerk-typist in an Artillery unit. We also had lots of adventures over there and I’m grateful for the time I got to serve.

When I came back to Cincinnati and finished my MS in chemistry, I met my wife Mary and we got married at the University chapel. We moved to Minnesota where I’d been offered a job at 3M, and we raised four daughters. Dad at work, mom raising the kids. I had always loved working with my hands, and at 3M I had all the chemicals, equipment, and experiments I could use. I saw my destiny as being a 3M chemist until retirement. We belonged to Catholic churches and I was OK with that, and in fact was part of the parish council and started a newsletter at one church we belonged to where the kids attended school. In my 40s I had been widening my perspective about God and religion, and went to Wounded Knee to open my heart a bit about Native American spirituality. I stayed with Basil Braveheart, a Native American holy man, for a couple of nights and heard stories of his life. He was a school superintendent on the reservation, and later attended an education convention in the Twin Cities. He visited us in Maplewood and we shared lunch on our picnic table in the back yard. I’ll never forget his saying a Lakota blessing before we ate. It was a very profound experience.

Soon after I saw an announcement that a Native American speaker would be at WBUUC and I attended that service. On one of the next Sundays a woman named Rose Anderson fainted in the middle of the service and Gail Seavey halted the service and asked if there was a doctor. Dr. Kent Berg responded to help Rose, and Bettie Jo Perlich played “The Rose” on the piano. At that moment Rose was more important than the church service. It was a most memorable event and response all the way around, and WBUUC felt like home.

I began to get connected and was struck by the whole-heartedness, generosity, and creativity of everyone. I served on committees, sang in the choir, taught RE, was part of the youth group, and as many of you know, cooked for Wednesday night dinners and the French dinners. Unlike my work at 3M where my work was expected to lead to profits, my work became to serve the community in many ways. At lunch in downtown St. Paul with my 3M buddies we were looking out the 2nd floor of the restaurant to the street, and I said “oh from up here you can see the homeless people” and one of the guys said “oh, are there homeless people in St. Paul?” I was amazed he didn’t know that. I had participated in a homeless count in St. Paul around that time.

One of the social justice activities supported by this congregation was the Family Shelter in the old Lowry hotel downtown St. Paul. John and Katie Baer were regularly making pizza there and did it for many years.

I volunteered there and learned a lot. Not only about cooking, but about homeless people who were staying there. It was a new experience and I relished it. The cook, Mike DeJong, not only did the cooking, but picked up donated groceries from stores, purchased food from restaurant suppliers, and recruited volunteers. It was complicated! And a new realization for me about a world I had been oblivious to.

At WBUUC I served on a few committees, and realized my interests lie more in service to the community than in the business of the church. So I never served on the board. At WBUUC there are so many people I worked with and admired. When I go through the 2011 church directory it brings up memories of all the people who inspired me to be my best, of course including Victoria. I don’t want to start name dropping because there wouldn’t be enough time. What became most important was using my gifts where most needed.

It was my good fortune that 3M offered me early retirement, and I had time to expand my service to the world. I cooked at the Y camp in Hudson, the Jesuit Novitiate in St. Paul, and continued as a paid cook at the Family Shelter, which moved to Maplewood in my neighborhood. I cooked for the farmers at Red Cardinal Farm in Stillwater.

I was also a teacher at the Franklin Learning Center in Minneapolis, where students would sit down one-on-one with teachers to learn English, math, and citizenship information. At the Open Door Learning Center in St. Paul I taught GED Science to students from around the world. Being a somewhat introverted lab chemist, this was a new challenge which went pretty well, having a skilled teacher partner and good leaders at the school.

We followed the grandchildren’s call to Oregon and I attended First Unitarian for a couple of years, again, cooking in the homeless shelter, singing in the choir, teaching RE, and participating in the men’s group. Again, very fulfilling, and larger than WBUUC. I also cooked at a couple of elementary schools in Portland.

We were renting houses, and in 2018 moved to Newberg, a small-town west of Portland. There’s a UU fellowship in McMinnville, a nearby town, and I enjoy the intimacy of the smaller community, which reminds me of WBUUC back in 1993 where pretty much everybody knew everybody. And the men’s group at UU in McMinnville has been great.

In 2018 I learned about CASA. I’d never heard of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). I was accepted for the program, went through the training, and was assigned a case where the mom had mental health and drug problems and her 4-year-old son was in foster care. He and I became buddies and played together at parks – I could still outrun him! I was pretty naive about drugs and mental illness. I did the best I could to advocate for the boy’s best interest at court hearings. I also conversed with family members and tried to just be present to their stories.

At age 74 I was still feeling healthy, riding motorcycle, and going to the gym. A UU friend who was also into Buddhist practice got me interested and I’ve been following ever since. Domyo Burk’s podcasts are very inspiring.

But through the first year of Covid (2020) I was not going to the gym and being careful as required to avoid the virus. Toward the end of 2020 it became clear to my doctors that I have ALS because of my body cramps, twitchy muscles, loss of strength, and other tests. Military veterans have shown statistically higher incidence of ALS, so I get full disability benefits including medical and supports like wheelchairs.

With ALS I’ve given up productive work or even simple work like emptying the dishwasher. Mary has become as she was when I worked full time, an extraordinary cook and housekeeper. She’s a fabulously creative cook. I could go on and on about her beautiful gifts to me as we go down this road together.


Having given up societally valued activities what is left? I’m thankful I learned about Buddhist practice, where I try to live mindfully and not regret the past which I can’t change, and don’t speculate about how bad the future might be. It’s been very helpful.

Showing up and telling my story has become it. A few weeks ago when I went to White Bear UU virtual coffee hour I had announced that one of my longings was to stand up in front of the congregation and tell my story about how it’s going. So Reverend Roger picked up on that and I got invited to present my story virtually. It has presented some dilemmas. Lots of people who love me and whom I love have asked to come visit. My stamina has worn down to the point where that’s harder. I have men’s groups in Oregon and other zoom meetings which have been very supportive and fun. No masks required, and it’s saved exhausting travel to meetings. It’s been wonderful during the pandemic. Usually the first question to me is “how are you?” So I’m learning to calibrate my responses as best I can. It’s a little tricky with grandchildren of whom I have 11 now. Nine in Oregon and two in Minnesota who were visiting recently. I’m hoping to leave them all with good memories of Grandpa Grant.

Bottom line:  I loved my 21 years of lab work at 3M but came to realize I sought to serve the world and not just the corporation. Much of that realization came from being around generous, creative UU’s for 23 years at WBUUC. Thank You!