Erickson traces roots to education, business

Sondra Erickson on the deck of her Princeton home.

Just north of the Nation’s Capitol on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., stands a 10-foot statue of former Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft.

The inscription on the tower reads: “This memorial to Robert A. Taft stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage and high principles of free government symbolized by his life.”

What does that statue have to do with a state representative from Princeton, Minnesota?

Flash back to 1951.

Robert A. Taft, known as Mr. Republican, was running for the 1952 presidential post when he took it upon himself to visit every city of Taft in the United States.

That journey took him to little Taft, N.D., population eight, a train stop with a feed mill located four miles north of Hillsboro, N.D.

The eight residents of Taft were all from one family: a young girl named Sondra, her parents and five siblings.

Sondra Erickson’s father was the manager of the mill. The family lived across the road from the mill. When Robert Taft came to visit Taft, N.D., it was Erickson’s family to whom he paid a visit.

Sondra worked at the mill for her father.

“I was by my dad all the time. He prepped me on who Robert Taft was,” Erickson said.

“My dad taught me my Republican principles at a young age,” she said.

Sixty-one years later, Erickson is completing her sixth term in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She’s a lawmaker whose father taught her about honesty, indomitable courage and high principles of free government.

Erickson was first elected to the House in a 1998 special election, held after Rep. LeRoy Koppendrayer resigned to accept an appointment to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. She was re-elected in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006. She was defeated by Gail Kulick Jackson in the 2008 election, losing by just 89 votes after a recount, but regained her seat in 2010, after unseating Jackson.

Erickson currently serves as chair of the Education Reform Committee, and also serves on the Education Finance, the Ethics, and the Taxes committees. Previously, she served as chair of the House Ethics Committee from 2003-2007.

Three things have been constants in Erickson’s life: a commitment to her faith, a strong background in education, and an interest in business. That knack for business came from the years that Erickson worked with her father at the mill.

“He was a believer in a free market. It was my job as his assistant to help make money for the farmers,” Erickson said.

As a teenager, Erickson listened to the radio to monitor grain prices. When the markets were up they would strike quickly and sell the farmers’ grain.

She was also charged with checking out farmers’ fields. She’d drive a 1948 Ford truck and visit area farms and carry the grain back to the mill. Her father was very particular about the quality of grain coming into his mill, so at age 14, Erickson had already learned to be very fussy, she said.

While in eighth grade, Erickson committed to a Christian relationship. She earned a scholarship to Concordia College in Moorhead and intended to pursue a life as a missionary, spreading God’s word.

She minored in music and has a love for playing the flute. Her home is decorated with paintings, drawings and figurines of flutists.

But it was a path in education that Erickson would follow – just as her mother had before her. An academic advisor convinced Erickson that she had a gift and a calling to work with young people and be their missionary in the classroom. English is your strength, the advisor told her.

That led Erickson to Princeton.

For the full story and complete election coverage, see the Thursday, Oct. 25 print edition of the Times.