LUVERNE -- He's traveled throughout the United States and all around the world, but Pat Baustian chose to live just a few miles from the home where he grew up -- and not just live there, but serve as his hometown's mayor.
It's a role he never saw himself filling -- not even after serving eight years on the Luverne City Council -- but after a few words of encouragement from retiring Mayor Andy Steensma and others on the council, Baustian ran uncontested in the fall of 2010 for the city's top spot and hasn't looked back.
In fact, he's always looking forward to new opportunities and improvements in this Rock County community.
While his role as mayor doesn't allow him to cast a vote at council meetings -- that was his main reason for not wanting the job -- Baustian finds the job can be just as rewarding when everyone works together.
"If you can communicate with your council and have consensus, I think everyone is happy," he said. "It makes for a more effective council, I think."
In the midst of his second year, Baustian is gearing up for re-election this fall, and continuing to plan for his community's future as one of the members of the Luverne 2021 committee.
Roots run deep
Baustian grew up on a farm northeast of Luverne as the fourth of seven children. He graduated from Luverne High School in 1981 and, while he had hoped to follow in his father's footsteps and be a farmer, 18 percent interest rates and a challenging agricultural climate forced him to look elsewhere. He attempted college, but realizing that wasn't for him, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force that October.
By February, he was on his way to basic training. Five years and three months later, having served stints in Mississippi, North Dakota and Hawaii, he was back in the Midwest, waiting for his paperwork to arrive so he could join the Air National Guard. February marked his 30th anniversary in the Air Force/Air National Guard.
In 1989, he was hired as a federal civil service worker with the Air Force's 114th Fighter Wing based at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, S.D. He is now its IT supervisor, working in communications.
"We do support communications for the fighter wing -- take care of Internet, telephone, tactical radio and secure communications -- we take care of it all," he said.
Baustian said the experiences he's had while serving his country have been incredible.
"I tell kids thinking about getting in the Air National Guard that it's such an opportunity -- it's the experience of a lifetime," said Baustian. "I feel really lucky that I took that path."
While he's been to far-off places like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Israel, Korea and Japan, he's never been gone for more than a couple of months at a time.
In fact, his longest deployment is coming up in mid-April, when he embarks on an assignment in the United Arab Emirates in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He expects to be gone from home through the end of July.
"It's a 90-day deployment," said Baustian. "That's how the Air Force works -- nothing longer than 120 days (in country)."
While four months doesn't seem like a long time, it is when Baustian has to leave behind his family and responsibilities at home. He and wife Katie have four children, Joe, 16, Jack, 13, Claire, 10, and Peter, 9, who attend Luverne Public School. Katie, in addition to serving as the director of Faith Formation at St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Luverne, is serving her first term on the Luverne School Board.
The upcoming mission to the UAE marks the first time Baustian has had to delegate his mayoral duties. Esther Frakes, the most senior member of the Luverne City Council, has reluctantly agreed to serve as mayor pro-tem in his absence.
"I can go and do all these things for the Air National Guard and our country, but it really comes down to the support of my spouse and my kids," he said. "Without (Katie), I would probably not be where I'm at, and just like Esther -- without her, it would make it really difficult to deploy. I really appreciate her support."
Having visited every state west of the Mississippi River and traveled "all over the East Coast," Baustian said none of his experiences compared to home -- the Midwest, and Luverne.
"It's a very nice place to raise a family," he said, counting off attributes such as the Midwest's strong work ethic, values, and its safe and secure communities.
"My parents live in Luverne, my wife's mother lives in Luverne. I can't imagine raising four kids and not having the brothers- and sisters-in-law and parents to help raise our family," he said. "We have strong family ties here. Luverne's my home."
One of Baustian's first leadership roles in Luverne came after completing the Blandin Community Leadership program in 1998. He came back eager to serve his community, and then-Mayor Bill Weber appointed him to the Airport Board.
"At that time, we were looking at extending the runway," Baustian recalled.
Those discussions were ongoing in 2002, when Baustian was elected to the Luverne City Council, and the planning finally came to fruition in 2007, with the reconstruction and expansion of the runway.
The project didn't come without its share of criticism -- a township road had to be closed to make the expansion feasible -- but Baustian believed it was for the betterment of the community. One of the airport's main customers now is the agricultural industry, and Baustian said the city's effort was a "big accomplishment."
"If I listened to all of the people that said all the negative stuff, I'd never get anything done," he offered with a smile.
As a city council member, Baustian not only saw the airport expansion to completion, he played a role in amenities such as Cardinal Field, the relocation of City Hall and establishment of the Minnesota West Learning Center in the former hospital building, the renovation of the Palace Theatre and working through the process of Sanford Luverne's $18 million hospital building project.
"We're really lucky to have a hospital as nice as what Sanford put here," he said.
Since taking on the role of mayor, Baustian has kept the momentum going. Talks continue about the feasibility of constructing a tunnel under U.S. 75 by the Luverne Public School to ensure the safety of both students and adults; and the Luverne 2021 committee is well into the process of identifying steps to make Luverne a destination community over the course of the next several years.
Vision for the future
One of the proposals in the Luverne 2021 project is the establishment of a historic preservation district, which would create an avenue for reimbursement of tax credits for those who own and want to revitalize buildings within the district's boundaries.
Baustian sees this project as a win-win for the community.
"We have investors waiting to buy buildings, and it makes it more palatable to remodel buildings back to their original state ... when they can (access state and federal) funding," he said.
In addition to the downtown project, plans are moving forward on improving the south gateway to the community. The project will include a water and sewer upgrade, along with five-foot-wide sidewalks, more green space and all new light poles leading from Interstate 90 to the north end of town along U.S. 75.
"At the end of 2013, that south gateway is going to look a lot more inviting," Baustian said.
The hope is that it will lead people to the downtown -- and lure businesses there as well.
"My ultimate goal is to make Luverne a destination, with little boutiques and shops," he said.
The community already has a "fabulous" bike path, a nearby state park and quarry, canoeing and kayaking potential on the Rock River and Redbird Field.
"We have a lot to offer," Baustian said, adding that the community is now working on establishing a campground within the city limits.
While Baustian admits he doesn't like to sit idle, he also gives a lot of credit to a proactive city council and city staff.
"That's what it takes -- to do the right things for the right reasons," he said. "We're positive about making Luverne a better place.
"It does take a lot of time. City council meetings, seminars -- it all takes away from family time," he added. "Hopefully I'm doing it for the right reasons."