Ulen woman discovered love for running, competition
By Deb Trygstad, M.S.
“Whether a mile or a marathon, you get there the same way. . . one step at a time. Such is life.” — Baylor Barbee
There are people who are satisfied with running one marathon in their life and feel accomplished, Therese Vogel has completed more than 20 (she quit counting), winning many in her age category. She was once dubbed the “fastest woman in North Dakota.” In addition to this, she has written numerous grants and dedicated her life to improving education and the arts in the Ulen-Hitterdal School in Clay County, Minnesota. She also helped launch a successful performing arts organization, Top Hat Theatre.
When Therese Vogel grew up 68 years ago, women were not encouraged to participate in athletics. In fact, in most of the country there were no girls’ sports when she graduated from high school in 1970 in North St. Paul. She always loved to run and participate in sports, so she did so on her own, just to stay fit. After high school, Therese went on to college at Winona State and got a business degree. This helped her land a job as a legal secretary in a law firm and later she worked at a food coop.
At the same time, Therese fell in love with her now husband, Mark, and her life took on a new course. Mark’s college degree was in Ag Research. This vocation brought him up north to farm country and eventually a position at North Dakota State University (NDSU).
Therese decided to continue her education and moved to Fargo with Mark to attend NDSU. Since she was a natural athlete, she pursued a teaching degree in Physical Education, minoring in Biology. During that time in her mid 20s she was running about 3-4 miles a day, primarily just to keep in shape and because she loved it.
In 1979, she decided to compete in the Red River Run, a “short” 15 K race held in Fargo. She did well in that race and learned she also loved competing. At the same time, NDSU was starting the first women’s cross country team and they needed runners. Therese was 28 years old, and the NDSU coach approached her to join the team.
Cross country running is a sport in which teams and individuals run a race on open-air courses over natural terrain such as dirt or grass. Serious training starts in August and they compete in the fall. Therese found that she did well at these races; the longer the better. Since she was an older than average student, she said her teammates called her “Grandma.”
“On the NDSU’s cross country team, I was typically always the 3rd place runner (on team results, the score of the first five runners counted). We were a small team, around 10 women during these early years. We raced a 5K distance at each race (3.1 miles).”
The NDSU Women’s Cross Country team won the conference in 1980 and then went to the national competition in Seattle, Wash., that fall. She also participated in track while at NDSU, mostly either 3000M or 5000M races.
Therese loved competing but could not participate in any other races during competitive seasons. But during off season she started training for marathons, running up to 8 miles per day, while gradually working up to 20 mile runs. Marathons are a race of 26.2 miles and most often divided into age categories depending upon the number of entries in the race. Women compete against women, men against men, usually within their age decade. She ran and won first woman overall in her first marathon at 3 minutes 18 seconds in 1981 in the Grand Forks Marathon.
Therese was hooked and went on to run many more competitions and win in her age category. Some that she remembered included: Twin Cities Marathon, 1982, 3:00:40; Twin Cities Marathon, 2002, 5th place (50-54) 3:33:10; 2007 Twin Cities Marathon, 2nd place, 4:03:57 (55-57); 2017, Dick Beardsley Marathon, 4:21:46 (65-69); 2nd place - qualified to run Boston Marathon in 2018.
Of her running career, she said, “It’s really hard to place at Grandma’s and Twin Cities Marathons, so my first place age-category wins in the half marathon last year at Grandma’s and at the 10-mile at Twin Cities were special wins. I’ve run many more races but can’t remember them all. I did end up in 3rd place in my age group at the Manitoba Marathon in 1986 not realizing I was 2 months pregnant - at that time I was in my early 30s and this was a relatively slow time for me at 3:27”.
After college, while all this running was going on, Therese was also busy living her life. The couple had bought a farmstead out by Felton, Minn., and had two daughters. Therese wanted a stay at home job to be there for her children, so she became a shepherdess.
“I wanted a type of farm animal I could handle,” she said. “Cattle were too big, but I could handle a 150 pound ewe.”
She described this time in her life as “raising children and raising sheep.” She loved helping the lambs survive and taking care of things. When her youngest child entered kindergarten, Therese decided to go back to work and became the Community Education Director for the Ulen-Hitterdal Schools. She worked at the school for over 20 years, later adding on the position of Career Guidance Counselor.
While working at the school, Therese realized she had another hidden talent that she was good at, writing grants. She had an affinity for the arts, so she began writing grants to bring in authors and performers to this small school in Minnesota to assist and inspire the students. She wrote grants mostly with the Art, Music and English teachers. Starting in 2000, the school was being renovated and a new gym was built. Therese and a committee from Ulen-Hitterdal Schools proposed to renovate the old gym into a performance space and the Top Hat Theatre was born.
“Top Hat Theatre was created in 2005 as an extension of the Community Education Department at Ulen-Hitterdal Schools. The old school gym was renovated in 2003 and was dedicated as a performance space. With 312 seats and handicap accessibility it is home to all of Top Hat Theatre’s events. A nine-member committee plus an Executive Director control all facets of the Top Hat Theatre organization. The mission of Top Hat Theatre is to promote the performing arts and provide exposure to the residents of the surrounding area. Their goals are, first to present a variety of quality programs throughout the year and to provide opportunities for musicians to perform, and secondly, when possible, to provide in-service workshops involving performers and the students of Ulen-Hitterdal School.”
Therese and her nine member committee have been instrumental in bringing in a variety of performers to the Ulen-Hitterdal Schools. They all come from somewhere, and she writes grants to help pay for their performances and other expenses. She often tags onto other, larger performing arts venues, like the Paramount St. Cloud, to book these performers.
“We are 45 miles from Fargo, so we try to bring these performers to this small community and to the elderly who can not drive that far in the winter months,” she said.
Therese has retired from her Community Ed job at the school but still remains Executive Director of Top Hat Theater and continues writing grants for the school. She would like to eventually be able to spend more time with her daughters who live in Vancouver and Washington, who also run. She certainly has not finished running races of all distances, but may be finished with the marathon distance. She was signed up for many competitions this year that had to be cancelled. She remains someone who is out there making a difference, who competes and has no fear or worries whether or not she wins or loses.
“Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don’t have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up.” – Amby Burfoot