A lifetime of pitching – ideas, lessons, bills and baseballs

If you’re looking for Bud Heidgerken on a summer morning, chances are you will find him sipping coffee and sharing stories at Charlie’s Café. However, if it’s early in the evening, you will more likely find him on a pitcher’s mound, either pitching himself, as he has for the last 50 years or so, or teaching others how to do so. Bud coaches Pee Wee and Little League baseball, as well as both boys and girls fastpitch softball.  “I’m going to be out at the ball diamond this summer five nights a week,” he says as he smiles. Bud, who has pitched in five state championships, sees it as a way to give back: “Those are our building blocks,” he reflects, “and I feel there is no better way I can make a difference.” Over the years, Bud has also coached wrestling, basketball, and speech, as well as directing 28 plays; and although he has never acted in a play himself, he has performed in a skit with Garrison Keillor on a Prairie Home Companion. He has gone from being a pre-divinity student to being a café owner, and from being a cubmaster to becoming a legislator. Initially though, Bud was a student at St. John’s Prep, working in the kitchen while studying to become a priest. After graduation, he decided to go to St. Cloud State. “You don’t know until you actually go away if the calling is truly there,” Bud said, “so I went to St. Cloud State, and I lost the calling.” Instead, Bud decided to become a teacher, and for the next twenty-three years he taught in the public schools, mainly in the small town of Brooten. Then, he decided on a new career path: “My brother Charlie wanted to sell the restaurant [Charlie’s Café] and kind of talked me into coming in with him,” Bud remembered. Later, Bud, and his wife Ann, took over the restaurant.    They decided to keep the name, named after his older brother, a well-known figure in central Minnesota,     As Bud remarked, “The man’s a legend, why change the name?” Bud, however, wasn’t ready to settle down quite yet. In 2002, he ran for a seat in the Minnesota legislature and won. He would serve there for the next six years, driving back and forth from Freeport to St. Paul. “I ran as a Republican,” Bud said, “but I didn’t like parties.” At times, that perspective would lead Bud into conflict with the party leadership.  “I would represent my district before I would represent the party, and that’s something that most people do not have the ability to do, because they are relying on party money,” Bud said, “I didn’t take any party money…. too many of the politicians are bought and paid for.” One of the issues Bud felt most strongly about was rural education funding. “Jesse Ventura, suburban governor, passed through a property tax reform bill, and it redid everything when it came to education funding,” Bud remarked, “and believe me the suburbs came out a winner.” Due to his stand on education funding Bud received the 2005 Minnesota School Board Association ‘legislator of the year award.’ Furthermore, although they are usually at odds with the School Board Association, the state teacher’s union, Education Minnesota, also endorsed Bud. “How many people get the school board endorsement and get the teacher’s endorsement at the same time?” Bud mused. Sometimes, Bud’s restaurant and political lives merged, as when Governor Pawlenty came to Charlie’s Café to do his first live radio show, or when then Senator Dayton came out to a couple of dairy meetings there. However, between running the restaurant, driving into St. Paul during session, and meeting people around the district when home, Bud was missing out on what was most important to him, time with his family. “My oldest son came over to the cafe one day,” Bud recollects, “and he says ‘dad, you have to make a decision… we never see you, your grandchildren aren’t going to know you.’” So Bud decided to retire and spend more time with his family; sons Scott 40, Kyle 30, and Brent 28, and daughter Holly 36. They all still live in the area; as does their grandmother and great-grandmother, and now Bud sees them all regularly. Still, Bud keeps busy volunteering, serving on several Ag boards and on an advisory board for MN-Morris, as well as being President of his church council and newly elected President of the Freeport Lions; not to mention his evenings at the ballpark. So while Bud never did become a priest, he has always tried to live a life of service. Looking forward, Bud says, “People retire with gifts….I think everybody should, when you retire, give back.”

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