In a time when influencing is a marketing buzz-term, the positive impact of these affecters among us sometimes gets overlooked. But the reality remains influencers can inspire people, educate them and help them achieve their goals and make their lives better. St. Croix Valley residents Ann Bancroft, Richard J. Leider and Craig Hansen are far-reaching influencers who inspire countless others, and find their own inspiration in the river valley they call home.
Explorer and educator
Ann Bancroft was an elementary teacher at Clara Barton Open School in Minneapolis when she met polar adventurer Will Steger and became the eighth member of his 1986 expedition to the North Pole—the first woman in history to make the polar trek. After returning from the trip, Bancroft had an epiphany when she visited her school: She saw walls covered with kids’ artwork depicting the trip, heard them singing songs related to the journey and saw kids doing math lessons based on her adventure. “My colleagues had brought the experience alive for the students, as teachers always do,” she says.
“That’s when I understood I could be an influencer and educator, outside of the formal school setting,” she says. Bancroft promised herself if she ever made another public expedition, she would use the experience to educate and inspire people, “somehow do something bigger than my own, personal ambition,” she says. “At first you may want to be first at the top of the world, or whatever, and now I wanted something broader than that. I had a sense of purpose.”
Bancroft did complete more historic expeditions. In 1992, she led the first American woman’s east-to-west crossing of Greenland. The next year, she led the first American woman’s expedition to the South Pole, a 67-day expedition of 660 miles. In 2001, she and Norwegian Liv Arnesen became the first women in history to sail and ski across Antarctica’s landmass, a 1,717 mile trek.
She has developed school curricula for each trip, enabling first hundreds, then thousands, then millions of kids around the world “to come with us,” she says.
She also formalized and built on those efforts by starting the Ann Bancroft Foundation to help Minnesota girls reach for their goals, adding colleges and universities as partners, along with the Boy and Girl Scouts of America and other organizations that promote learning. The Science Museum of Minnesota and Twin Cities Public Television are partners in her current project, exploring the rivers of the world, to promote awareness of environmental stewardship. For more than two decades, Bancroft has lived in Scandia, overlooking the St. Croix, an ideal location for her outdoor lifestyle. “I’m so privileged to live here. When I am training for a trip, I don’t have to go to a gym; I can just snap on my skis or push a kayak down to the river. What’s really fun is there is such a mix of people up and down the river,” she says.
At 62, Bancroft continues to “model my life the same way I did when I was a young teacher,” she says. “If there is any inspiration to be drawn from the things I do, I hope it helps engage and motivate other people to do the things they want to do.”
Coach, consultant and speaker
Scandia resident Richard Leider is an internationally known speaker, coach and consultant who has left Paul Bunyan-size “footprints” in inspiring people to find purpose in their lives.
The founder of Inventure—The Purpose Co. is one of America’s pre-eminent executive-life coaches. Forbes magazine ranked Leider as one of its Top Five most respected executive coaches, its conference boarding calling him a “legend in coaching.” He has authored 10 books, including three bestsellers, and his books have sold more than 1 million copies in 20 languages. His PBS Special, The Power of Purpose, was viewed by millions of people across the U.S. since airing in late 2015.
Leider found his own life’s purpose back in the late ’60s as a graduate student in counseling psychology. He was inspired by meeting Viktor Frankl, whose 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, chronicled his experiences and survival as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II. Another inspiring acquaintance was Richard Bolles, who wrote the multimillion selling book, What Color Is Your Parachute?
After spending a dozen years working in human resources for two major corporations, the St. Paul native received a Bush fellowship grant to study “this whole business of the second half of life,” he says. He became an intern with the Harvard study of adult development, the longest-standing study of its kind. He started his own practice in 1975.
Today Leider has a global practice, including speaking appearances around the world (Singapore and England last year) and consulting to major corporations such as United Health Group and Ameriprise Financial. He is a keynote speaker and co-chairman of Gild, the Global Institute for Leadership Development, led AARP’s Life Reimagined project and is a University of Minnesota senior fellow.
“Purpose is fundamental to health, healing, happiness, longevity and to your productivity in the workforce,” he says. “It’s not about discovering it out there somewhere, but finding it within yourself. That’s what ‘Inventure’ means.” At 73, the pioneer in the “purpose movement” has no plans to retire. “Why would I retire after working so hard to be part of this movement? This is a golden time; I can really have in an impact,” he says.
Leider and his wife Sally (who grew up on the St. Croix River) have lived in Scandia, Minn., for 22 years. He has been a counselor, board member and canoe guide at Camp St. Croix. Both are members of St. Croix River Association and St. Croix Watershed Research Station.
“There is something magical about living on the river, seeing it every day,” Leider says. “It’s key to my inspiration to get up and write every day.”
Educator and author
Like many before him, Stillwater resident Craig Hansen began writing fiction for his own creative enjoyment. He took lit classes as a college undergrad and published a couple of short stories written “when I had the spare time,” he says. He published his first novel, The Skeleton Train (Sky Blue Waters Press 2010) after receiving encouragement from Kevin Giles, a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter he met in a writers’ group.
That became the first of a series of novels chronicling the experiences of a fictional, Midwestern teenage boy named Jason Audley, whom some have called “a modern-day Huckleberry Finn.” Some of Hansen’s fiction is based on his own experiences as a teenager growing up in central Illinois. Hansen and his buddies used to hop freight trains and ride them as far as Chicago or St. Louis. Subsequent novels followed.
No one who writes novels or other creative forms knows how their work will be received until they put it out there. Hansen was pleased to discover his books seem to appeal to a wide group of people ranging from “women’s book clubs to men who don’t normally like reading books. I guess they like the quirky characters and the humor,” he says. Most of what Hansen writes is fictional, although readers seem to “become convinced that person is me,” he says. He regularly hears from readers across the country (his top-selling state is California) on his Facebook site.
His next book will pick up the Audley story some years later, although it might be a while before Hansen finds time to write it. That’s because he spends his weekdays “double-deaning,” he says. Since 2016, Hansen has been dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Metro State University in St. Paul. He is also currently serving as interim dean of the school’s library.
Hansen has found great satisfaction in influencing students. “Metro State is an incredible place, diverse in every direction imaginable; 47 percent of the students are people of color,” he says. “When I work with students, and bring them along, I can help completely change their lives. It’s extremely rewarding.”
Hansen and his wife Karen have lived in the Stillwater area since 1982. They lived in the country, just north of town, for 20 years and now live in a century-old house on Fourth Street. “We both have had chances to take jobs in other places, but we’ve stayed here,” Hansen says. “With the parks and things to do outdoors, the Valley was a great place to raise kids; we’ve really been active in the area, and we’re really enmeshed in the community.”