Coming Home

Alumni move back to F-M area

Since it was founded as Moorhead Normal School in 1888, Minnesota State University Moorhead has served thousands of students from across the nation and the globe.

Some stay in the area for only a short while, and some never leave. Others, however, set out to explore the world and find themselves drawn back to Fargo-Moorhead.

Although their reasons for returning vary, the alumni who “come home” recognize the potential of the community and take pride in the home of their alma mater.

Moving Back

Billi Jo Zielinski ’95 (political science) and her husband Marc Zielinski ’94 (history) have traveled the globe, pursuing colorful careers and adventures.

The couple served in the Peace Corps as business development volunteers beginning in September 2000. They served in Turkmenistan and were evacuated amidst the tragedy of 9/11.

“It was a challenge to re-enter the United States and figure out what we were going to do because we were intending to be ex-pats,” Billi Jo said. “We were planning on participating in Peace Corps and then trying to get non-governmental jobs afterwards.”

The Zielinskis lived in St. Paul, Minn., for a year following their return to the U.S. but struggled to make a place for themselves. They later moved to Washington, D.C., where Billi Jo worked with several lawmakers, including Congressman Jim Ramstad and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Following the unexpected passing of Marc’s father in 2007, the couple decided they needed to be closer to their families. Along with their two small children who had been born in our nation’s capital, they moved back to St. Paul.

“I was recruited to work with the Pawlenty administration in a different capacity, working at the Department of Human Services as the assistant commissioner for healthcare administration,” Billi Jo said. “It was great because it got us closer to home and also gave me another challenge to work in government.”

Living in St. Paul for the second time, Billi Jo said the Twin Cities still didn’t feel like home to them, and after a few years there, she said. “I just had an epiphany that it was time for us to move and have the kids be part of grandma’s life and to be in Fargo-Moorhead.”

In the spring of 2012, the Zielinskis packed up once again and relocated back “home,” where they had both previously been heavily involved in community efforts.

“There has been an amazing transformation in this community, and I think, in large part, it is due to the leadership of those who took this vision and said we want to make our community a place that’s more than you expect,” Billi Jo said.

Safety First

Whatever experiences alumni encounter after moving away may be, one thing is certain; a top incentive for moving back is the family-friendly community.

After 25 years of working, starting a family and living in Arizona, Tammy Linn ‘81 (mass communications) and her husband Steve knew it was time to leave the Grand Canyon state.

Linn had started a marketing and consulting firm, traveled throughout the United States and Europe, helped start a bank as the vice president of marketing, and worked for the governor of Arizona before starting a foundation for character development and education. “I loved my career down there,” Linn said.

But after being the victims of criminal activity several times, the Linns knew they needed to leave. These incidents included threats, a car break-in, a ransacked office, her husband’s practice being burglarized, and Linn being stalked.

Linn’s car was even robbed after being bashed in when she parked for a short time on the side of a busy street.

“I just sobbed. I’m sitting there thinking how the police don’t even come out for this stuff because it happens so frequently. So I sat there for two hours wondering how I was going to get home.”

Only a year after that incident, yet another criminal act happened to the Linn family, and within a month, Linn resigned from her elected position as a city councilwoman. Two months later, they moved back to Fargo.

“God’s message to me was ‘Move back,’” Linn said. “It is a blessing we are back here. We wanted a place to raise our kids that had an excellent education system and great family community, and that’s what it is here. My kids absolutely adore it. They have never been happier, and we will never give it up.”

Coming home: MSUM alumni make their way back to Fargo-Moorhead

Education Calling

It is a testament to the hard work and impact of those bettering the community that many, like Vince Williams ’03 (secondary education), ’11 (MS, curriculum & instruction), chose to stay in the area following graduation. 

A Chicago native and Detroit transplant, Williams came to Moorhead State to play football, only to experience a bit of a surprise when he arrived.

“When I first came to Moorhead I experienced major culture shock,” Williams said. “I had a lot of animosity and frustration built up. Coach (Daniel) Lind saw that. He saw that attitude was leading down a destructive path. He intervened and kind of took me under his wing and helped me to see there was a different way; there were different choices I could make in life.”

Williams began attending an on-campus Bible study and his entire outlook changed. Coach Lind continued to make an impact in his life as he grew in his faith and overcame challenges.

“He stuck with me and intervened. He got me to see that we’re all people,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or if you’re white. You judge people on the content of their character, not their color. That’s one of the reasons I’m still in Fargo.”

Williams, who has been nominated as Teacher of the Year in the Fargo Public School District, had originally planned to work in an inner city school, but his love for the area and the memories of his changed life were a few reasons he decided to stay.

“I believe that this is my calling in life. Were it not for Moorhead State University, I would not be where I am. I believe that this is where God wants me to be.”

Working Life

Ben Taylor ’11 (English education) came to MSUM fresh out of high school. Like many, he believed Moorhead to be the perfect, “small, big city.”

“I really wanted to stay in Minnesota because I love this place,” Taylor said. “It is a beautiful campus all around and I was really excited to be a part of it.”

At MSUM, Taylor experienced a sense of community unlike any he’d seen before, and the memory stuck with him.

“I went to college during the two years of the flood, so I’ve seen the best of those people gathering around and helping one another,” Taylor said. “I think it’s ingrained in my brain that this community is just so pleasant that they would be willing to do anything for one another.”

After graduating, Taylor accepted a position near his hometown of Blackduck, Minn., where he has been teaching for the past several years. While he values the experience he’s gained, his heart has always been set on coming back to teach in the Moorhead Public School system.

“I always respected what they did,” Taylor said. “I always thought what they were doing was well beyond what other schools were doing. For me it was a career choice in going to a school that was ahead of its time.”

Taylor recently accepted a position at Moorhead High School, where he will begin teaching 11th grade American literature this fall.

“It’s not like I’m an expert or anything, but Moorhead is one of the better places you can live. It’s just perfect,” Taylor said.

Tyler Hagen ’08 (chemistry) moved back to Fargo after experiencing life in Colorado and Washington. “I knew it was time to come home.”

Hagen, a chiropractor, saw the expanding area in Fargo-Moorhead as a place of opportunity and growth and decided to plant his business, WestEnd Spine and Rehab, which officially opened for business in April 2015.

“Washington was too far from friends and family. I was out there by myself,” Hagen said. “I moved back and was an associate in the Twin Cities for a little bit and thought it was time to start my own business, and what better place than back in the Fargo-Moorhead area where most of my family and some of my friends are.”

Along with support from family and friends, Hagen has seen the benefits of the F-M community as the area grows.

“Fargo-Moorhead is really growing, and it’s a great place to live,” Hagen said. “It’s just a good community. It’s the people that bring you back.”


This story was first published in Moorhead Magazine, Fall 2015.

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