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A Yearly Ritual, A Reason to Give

June 24, 2024

By Meredith St. Pierre

Meredith is the Development Director, working remotely from the Twin Cities. She enjoys every opportunity to return to Finland for work and reminisce about the 7 summers she was there for a week with Hopkins Summer Field Biology.

Story by Noam, Nia, and Wendy Freshman, family of Phil Freshman

A Saab, a scenic drive, and a Subway sandwich.


Each summer my dad, my sister, and I would make the five-hour trek north from St. Louis Park to Wolf Ridge, first as campers for six years, and for my sister, as a counselor for three. Loading up our dad’s hulking, 90s era Saab 900 we’d set off on this much anticipated journey to our home away-from-home in the northwoods.

One year, this drive north became a more memorable and lasting memory than all the rest.

Leaving the Twin Cities behind, we spent those hours in the car talking, listening to Bob Dylan on the radio, and anticipating the familiar sights. Through the sentinel-like WPA era Pines along I-35 near Hinckley, cresting over the bluff to get our first sight of Duluth and the sparkling Lake Superior below, and always stopping for a quick bite at the Subway in Two Harbors across from the cemetery (you know the one) before the final push to Cranberry Road.

For my sister and I, those long hours built anticipation and excitement for the week ahead—of learning, camping, and meeting new friends (human and raptor). For our dad, Phil, the drive was a welcome reprieve and excuse to get away from his desk—editing manuscripts and exhibitions for the Walker, The Minnesota Historical Society, among many other institutions.

But Dad always zoomed back to the city after dropping us off, until one year, his car had other plans.

While driving back down the ridge on the dusty driveway, his famously finicky Swedish car sputtered, and then went kaput—with just enough energy to drift into the nearest service station in Finland. Despite the car’s origins, and the Nordic heritage of the area, all parts needed for the repair were days away.

With a hearty and warm welcome, Mr. Smerud welcomed our dad back up to the Ridge. While waiting for parts, Dad spent those few days walking the trails around Wolf Lake, climbing Marshall Mountain, eating in the dining hall, and in classic Phil fashion, engaging in deep conversations with counselors and naturalists. He even helped out in the admin office by stuffing and licking envelopes. He preferred that to KP.

For our parents who grew up as city-kids in Los Angeles, it was important for them to send us to Wolf Ridge every year to spend time in, and learn about, nature. For our dad, who never had the opportunity to go to camp himself, those few days and nights at Wolf Ridge left a lasting impression on him. He experienced what all of us love about Wolf Ridge: the chance to slow down, the warm community of learning and curiosity, and the beauty of the woods and the landscape.

He spoke fondly of that summer, when his car broke down, for many years to come.

When he died last August we couldn’t think of a better way to honor him and support future campers, than by asking our friends and family to donate to Wolf Ridge in his memory. A place that played such a significant and formative role in all our lives and for our family—inspiring many more Freshman camping trips and hikes, and for one of us, a career in sustainability.

Today, Wolf Ridge’s mission to develop a citizenry that has the knowledge, skills, motivation, and commitment to work together for a quality environment is more urgent than ever.

We thank Wolf Ridge—its counselors and staff—for what they’ve brought to our lives, our dad’s life, and to generations of kids. We’ll always draw from our experiences at Wolf Ridge, be inspired by its pioneering work, and we look forward to supporting it for years to come.

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