A voice for action; Commissioner Thier is strong supporter of agriculture
ADRIAN -- Diane Thier was just 7 years old when her mother died, leaving her dad to raise three daughters on a grocer's salary in Sisseton, S.D.
By the time she became a teenager, her dad had been transferred from his post at a store in Huron, S.D., to the National Foods store in Adrian. Culture shock set in for the girls, who were accustomed to living in, what seemed to them, a much larger community in Huron. Yet, like the many moves they had made before, the girls learned to adapt.
For Diane, it meant settling into the eighth grade at St. Adrian School. During her last year of high school, she took a job in the office of the Safeway Egg plant in Adrian. She continued working there on either a full- or part-time basis for several more years, until she and husband Bernard had the first two of their five children.
By then, the Thiers had moved to a farm near Rushmore, and Diane became a stay-at-home mom with an active role in the family's cattle business. It was quite a change of pace for a girl who lived most of her childhood in town, but Diane was eager to learn.
In 1984, with their youngest child in third grade, Thier was hired as office manager at the YMCA in Worthington. She remained there until the end of 2000, shortly after she won the election to become the District 2 representative on the Nobles County Board of Commissioners.
"The commissioner in our district was retiring, and I was going around asking people to run for (the office)," she said. "I thought we needed people on the county board that could see all sides of the situation."
Thier tried without success to find a willing candidate, but when someone finally challenged her to run, she decided to give it a try.
"I think it's the best decision I made," she said looking back on the past seven years. "I really enjoy it, and I'd like to accomplish a lot more."
Thier's district includes the communities of Adrian, Lismore, Wilmont, Leota and St. Kilian, as well as eight townships to the north and west of Worthington.
"I have a very good area of the county I represent," she said. "I've always been treated with respect. I want to thank the people in my district and the county for supporting me like they do."
Before her election, Thier's only involvement in leadership was to serve as president of the PTA while her kids were in school.
"In fact, it used to scare me to death to get up and talk," she said. "It doesn't scare me a bit to get up and talk now. I think that's something you just have to work through."
Common sense leader
Thier said it takes someone with good common sense -- and time -- to serve as a county commissioner.
She makes time to research issues she is unfamiliar with and, living up to a promise she made to herself when she first ran for office, attends all of her committee meetings (commissioners serve on about 20 different committees). She also meets with township and city officials in District 2 on an annual basis, at the very least.
"As a commissioner, you have to be able to see all parts," Thier said. "There are things at board meetings that I haven't been involved in personally, but I always find out about them. I don't believe in ever voting for anything that I don't understand."
When she is out and about with her constituents, Thier said she encourages them to become familiar with and get involved in government.
"I tell them to get involved at the township level -- that's where it starts," she said. "If you don't like the way something is done, get involved and try to change it."
Looking back, you could say that's why Thier became involved in county government in the first place.
Shortly after she took the oath of office in January 2001, Thier requested a previous decision by county commissioners be brought back to the table for discussion. The project was a proposed walking and bicycle trail that would have been built parallel to Nobles County 35 west of Worthington to the Rock County line.
"It's one of the busiest, if not the busiest road in Nobles County," she said. "It went nowhere, just on a very highly traveled road with lots of traffic, feedlots and large equipment."
The request led to a large, sometimes heated public meeting, but in the end, the new slate of county commissioners rescinded the motion and did away with the proposal.
"It was going to cost a lot of money," Thier said. "We were struggling for money for roads then like we always are."
Though Thier said she will forever be known as the bike trail person because of the issue, more recent discussions at the county level show the only female commissioner as a supporter of agriculture.
"In Nobles County, we need people to get the ag message across," she said. "It's very important to get across how much agriculture contributes to our county."
Serving in a district that is mostly rural, Thier supports growing the livestock industry in Nobles County. Not only does livestock production keep people in the rural areas, it provides jobs at feed mills and processing facilities and keeps small towns thriving.
"One grain farmer can farm an awful lot of land, but the livestock industry is hands-on -- you have to be there 365 days a year," said Thier.
While she doesn't serve on the county's planning and zoning commissioner, Thier can often be found at the meetings, especially when someone in her district is requesting a conditional use permit to construct a feedlot.
"I am very concerned when I see the opposition to conditional use permits," she said. "We need to understand that people putting up these livestock facilities, they live there, too, and they want the best for the environment."
It isn't always neighbors, however, that force a proposed feedlot to be put on hold. In recent years, a tiny minnow known as the Topeka Shiner has held up progress because it is on the endangered species list. It is also found in streams in portions of Nobles County.
"We're all environmentalists, but sometimes people get carried away with things. I think the Topeka Shiner is one of those," she said.
Another issue that doesn't appear to be going away is the move to ban burn barrels by 2010. Thier is against the idea.
"It affects farms, it affects small towns that aren't incorporated," she said. "I can see if you live in town, yes, you shouldn't burn. But on a farm, in a rural area, you should be able to use a burning barrel."
Work never ends
While the Thiers no longer live on the farm -- they moved to Adrian about 10 years ago -- they are still heavily involved in the family cattle business.
"I do all the book work and tax work for our farm corporation now," said Thier, who has been married to Bernard -- her high school sweetheart -- for 47 years. "I've always wanted to be involved so I understand what's going on."
In addition to her work for the farm, Thier serves on the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) ag and natural resources committee, as well as the AMC's Ag Task Force. She is also a member of the Rural Minnesota Energy Board.
"I'm very focused on the ag issues, and I will continue to be very involved in the ag issues," said Thier. "I'm proud of a lot of things we do as a county board. I don't think anybody on this board looks to feather their own cap. They want to benefit their own district, of course, but they want to serve the whole county."
In addition to her county roles, Thier serves on the renovation committee of St. Adrian Church, is a church lector and, in January, was elected to serve on the YMCA board of directors.
Of the Thier's five children, three live in the area. In fact, this fall, a mother and daughter will likely both be on the ballot in Nobles County. Diane will seek reelection for her District 2 Commissioner post, while her daughter, Julie Brake of Wilmont, is expected to run again for a seat on the Adrian Public School board.
The rest of the Thier clan includes daughter Kim Bullerman of Adrian, Laura Schoen of Delano, David Thier of Rushmore and Jodi Kramer of St. Cloud. The couple have 15 grandchildren -- 13 grandsons and two granddaughters -- and two great-grandsons.