In 1985, DuWayne Balken, director of the West Central Educational Service Cooperative, convened 14 education leaders to officially begin the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) on March 1.

That followed an initial four-hour breakfast meeting where a few rural school leaders gathered to talk about the possibility of a new way to advocate on behalf of Minnesota students. Learn more and watch the video.

“As rural school superintendents at that time, we felt that we needed to have a greater voice in what was happening at the legislature,” said Harold Remme, then superintendent of Tracy Public Schools. “We talked about how we might generate interest in a rural organization that could present a unified voice.” Remme became among the first leaders to serve as president of the MREA Board.

MREA became an affiliate of the National Rural Education Association, which has these guidelines for membership: “Any school district that is located in a community of less than 2,500 or 25 miles or more from a city or town of 50,000 or a school with K-12 enrollment of 1,000 or less is eligible.”

The first mission statement is consistent with this focus on the state’s smallest schools:

“The Minnesota Rural Education Association is committed to an increased awareness of the value of rural education and the rural way of life.”  

Balken acted as MREA’s first Executive Director and housed the organization in his Fergus Falls ECSU. At that time, Balken also served Rothsay School Board member, one of state’s smallest districts, and leads a statewide political fight to base district viability on outcomes rather than size.

To launch MREA and its bold vision to be a unified voice for rural students in Minnesota, Balken was joined by fellow ECSU directors, Glen Shaw of Marshall, Dean Swanson of Rochester, and Les Martisko of Mankato.

Shaw drafted the first bylaws and planned the first chartering conference where he framed the description of MREA that is still in use today:

“We are here to unify and present a common voice for rural education.”

The founders looked to Keigh Hubel, a national expert on rural education and a teacher at Southwest State University in Marshall, to publish a quarterly newspaper for the organization called, The Country Chronicles. Hubel served as a higher education representative on the first board of directors.

“The time is right,” he wrote. “There needs to be somebody to speak for rural education, to create more visibility.”

Keigh, Balken, Shaw and Carolyn Johnson, a planning consultant at Southwest/West Central ECSU, were asked at the first board meeting to serve as a leadership team.