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Paul determined to use his talents to help others

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

DELAVAN, Minn. -- Gene Paul says the good Lord has given him a certain amount of ability and he has an obligation to use those abilities to help others.

He's used them in a variety of roles. Paul started farming in Faribault County in 1959, the same year he and Jane married.

They milked cows, raised hogs and grew corn, soybeans and oats.

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Then in the early 1960s, someone came to their farm, inviting them to town for a meeting to learn more about a new farm group, the National Farmers Organization. In 1962, the Pauls became NFO members.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," Paul said.

Farmers joining together and bargaining collectively for a price that is the cost of production plus profit is the right thing to do, he said.

In 1968, he quit milking and started working on the NFO staff. He spent many years in the dairy department, working first in Minnesota and Iowa, then Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Nebraska and before becoming director of operations for the dairy division, traveling from California to Maine to negotiate milk sales.

It was a joy to meet farmers throughout the country, Paul said. NFO members ranged from small Amish farmers in Pennsylvania to big dairies in California.

He spent a lot of time in airplanes and motel rooms. Back home, Jane and their six children tended the farm.

In the mid-1990s, he was encouraged to run for NFO president. It wasn't a position he had longed for, but once he made up his mind to run he campaigned wholeheartedly. He served four years as president, from 1996 to 2000.

As that job ended, another opportunity arose. For years, priests had been nudging Paul to consider becoming a deacon. He had no idea what a deacon was or did. His first exposure was in 1987 when a deacon baptized his oldest grandchild in the Twin Cities.

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He began taking monthly classes to learn more about the Catholic faith and discern if he was called to be a deacon. He concluded that he was called by God. On Aug. 6, after five years of study, he was ordained.

Paul, who's title is the Rev. Mr. Paul, is an ordained member of the clergy. His graduating class of 10 was the first group of deacons ordained in the Diocese of Winona that stretches from east to west across the bottom two tier of counties in Minnesota.

Deacons can be married, though they can't remarry if their wife dies, Paul said.

Deacons are servants of the people, he said, drawing their duties from a verse in the Acts of the Apostles where the Apostles name seven men to care for widows and orphans.

A deacon can call attention to the social justice issues of the day and help coordinate efforts to help those in need, Paul said.

His duties as deacon include visiting shut-ins and people at nursing homes, helping to teach religious education in the cluster of St. Casimir's in Wells, St. John the Baptist in Minnesota Lake and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Easton. He preaches monthly and serves on the board of directors for Catholic Charities. He can also perform baptisms and witness weddings and funerals without Masses. He's also visited prisoners.

Perhaps an extension of his ministry is working part time for a funeral home in Wells. He and Jane put up floral displays, move chairs and drive the hearse.

Paul also continues to work as a consultant for NFO, flying to Washington five or six times a year to meet with lawmakers and also attending meetings for the organization in other parts of the country.

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Do you know someone who has devoted his or her life to making our rural communities great places to live and raise families? Drop us a note at P.O. Box 6118, Rochester MN 55904 or email wilmes@agrinews.com or telephone Mychal Wilmes at (800)533-1727 ext. 659.

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