Vanilla Bean boss taught value of compassion and tenacity
When I was 17 years old with a brand new driver's license, I applied for my first job at the Vanilla Bean in Two Harbors. I needed some income to pay for all those movies I went to and all the sickeningly sweet lattes I consumed. I got the job and promptly began my career of serving food. I remember the first time owner Paul Bergman came into the restaurant when I was working. He had an easy smile, but it was always a little terrifying waiting on him and the important-looking people he usually dined with.
Five years later, when I traded in my waitressing apron for a reporter's notebook at the Lake County News-Chronicle, I finally understood what all those meetings with important people were about. Instead of chatting with Paul about the soup of the day, I was asking him about the Lake County broadband project or the Northern Lights Express. I was always astounded by the amount of information he knew off the top of his head and the simple way he explained things.
It was always easy talking to Paul. As a reporter, it isn't uncommon to get no comment from public officials about thorny issues. That was never the case with Paul. He always returned calls quickly and spoke candidly, never mincing words. He was always informed about the issues and aggressively pursued those that mattered to him.
I wrote an article in May about Paul's successful lung transplant and his triumphant return to the county board. It's the only story I wanted to write, and it's much more difficult to come up with words now that he's gone.
Paul's mixture of honesty, intelligence and persistence is something we can all learn from. But above all, we should emulate Paul's kindness. From my waitressing days to my media requests, Paul treated me with the same respect. He always asked how I was and listened to the answer. He laughed easily, even in the face of declining health. I'm convinced that's why he was such an effective leader: he found a way to perfectly pair compassion and tenacity.
LaReesa Sandretsky is a reporter for the News-Chronicle and the interim arts reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.