Mary Pawlenty visits LuverneLUVERNE — Former First Lady of Minnesota Mary Pawlenty was all smiles when she walked into the deli at Glen’s Food Center in Luverne on Tuesday afternoon. Waiting for her was a group of men who have become near and dear to her heart. From all indications, they feel the same way about her.
LUVERNE — Former First Lady of Minnesota Mary Pawlenty was all smiles when she walked into the deli at Glen’s Food Center in Luverne on Tuesday afternoon. Waiting for her was a group of men who have become near and dear to her heart. From all indications, they feel the same way about her.
Glen’s Coffee Clique is a daily occurrence in Luverne. Many of the members are also part of a Last Man Club, founded by a group of World War II vets from Luverne. Back in 2005, while her husband Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota, Mary read a story about the coffee clique and invited them to the capitol for a cup of java and a chat.
“Who would have thought an invitation to coffee would ever turn into something like this,” she told the Daily Globe Tuesday, gazing around the deli at the elderly gentlemen who were chatting. “These men have been one of the biggest joys out of all my time (as First Lady) and all of the things I’ve done.”
Recently, Tim Pawlenty announced he would be throwing his hat in the ring for the 2012 presidential election.
Mary and her husband have met with the Luverne men several times since that original coffee date, and she readily admitted the group means a great deal to her.
“I want to make sure each one of them understands how much they and their service to our country is loved and valued,” she said.
Mary had made the trip to Luverne to give each and every member of the clique an autographed copy of Tim Pawlenty’s book “Courage to Stand.”
“I’ve wanted to come back ever since my husband wrote the book,” Mary told the men. “You’re in it.”
On pages 293 and 294 of the book, the former governor mentions the veterans of Luverne and describes them as “one of the most inspiring groups of people he has ever met.” Mary read the passages aloud to the group, quoting her husband’s words.
“Mary became acquainted with the group some years ago…,” she read. “She thought she’d invite them for coffee at the Governors Residence, and they took her up on it, chartering a bus to St. Paul and simultaneously planting the seeds of a beautiful friendship.”
The book goes on to describe Rock County’s veteran memorial, the veteran museum and the part the men played in the making of the Ken Burns documentary “The War.” Tim Pawlenty also wrote about the Last Man Club, and how a bottle of liquor was waiting for the last man alive to toast his comrades, but admitted he didn’t know what kind of liquor the men had chosen.
“I hope you drink bourbon,” one the vets yelled out to Mary.
As she and food center owner Glen Gust sorted through a box of the autographed books, Mary joked with the men about the sad state of her husband’s handwriting.
“It’s not his gift,” she admitted as she peered at the inside page of one of the books.
“Leroy,” the inscription read. “Thanks for your great service to America, Tim Pawlenty.”
Mary glanced up and saw Leroy Luitjens sitting nearby.
“Here you go, my friend,” she said, handing him the book and giving him another hug for good measure.
Earlier, she had arrived to a round of hugs and pats on the back.
“I hope you don’t mind if I hug you all,” she said with a laugh, going from one man to the next.
“She’s a good hugger,” Helmer Haakenson commented to the man standing next to him.
Also greeted with a round of hugs was Mary and Tim’s daughter, Anna, who had made the trip with her mother. Nearby, Gust watched with a smile.
“These guys been coming here for coffee almost every day for five or six years,” he mentioned. “I never expected it to turn into this.”
After Mary read passages from the book, veteran Warren Herreid Sr. presented her with a certificate of appreciation and an official member’s booklet for the Last Man Club. The first page of the booklet named her as honorary member of the club and was signed by the club members.
“You’ll always be our ‘First Lady,’” Herreid stated.
“See, I am going to cry,” Mary admitted, tearing up a bit.
“We’re all in this together,” Herreid said. “We think about you every day.”
“Well, then somebody get me a cup of coffee,” she replied, causing the room to break out in laughter.
Later, as she handed the books out to the men, she caused another round of laughter when she told the men they didn’t necessarily have to read it unless they were looking for something to help them sleep.
Not ready to let her go without talking a little bit about her husband’s bid for the presidency, several of the men teased Mary about hoping for an invitation to the White House for a cup of coffee.
“If the last guy shows up dragging that bottle, do they need to call ahead?” Lowell Harrison quipped.
“Heck no,” she replied. “Just tell them you’re there to see me!”