More Insight from Legacy Family Members

The extended version of this month’s feature on Minnesota family dynasties

A portrait of Milissa Silva.
Milissa Silva

Portrait By David Ellis



Barbara Carlson Gage: “We’ve benefited from several deep and long-term relationships in the community over the years—some that have extended for decades. We are proud that Curt’s commitment to the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management lives on with each generation. It’s an exciting time for the Carlson School as its national and international reputation grows ever stronger. It’s also been incredibly rewarding to partner with several youth mentoring programs to improve the quality of mentoring overall, and establish more positive, caring relationships between youth and adults. And there’s more to do—so many of our young people seek mentors, and it is our hope that more adults will step up to serve in those roles. Mentoring makes a tremendous impact on the lives of young people, which also nurtures and strengthens communities overall. We’re pleased that over many years now, the family, the company and the foundation have been able to work closely with others to help prevent the sex trafficking of children. What’s happened in Minnesota has become a model for states around the country, thanks to leadership from so many in the nonprofit, corporate, government and philanthropic sectors.”

Diana Nelson: “I view the biggest challenge of being part of a family legacy is the risk that one’s family can be trapped in the past. It is important to tell the story of our roots and history as a family enterprise, but we must ensure that we have a living legacy. That lens will ensure that we are open to change and that we evolve and grow. While the voice of our founder is important, we must make room for the authentic voices of each successive generation.”

Wendy Nelson: “For instance, I am a Carlson, true, but I am also a mom, an athlete, a sometimes poet, a gay woman, a philanthropist, a businesswoman, and the list goes on and on. So the biggest misconception is that singular fact of being born into a family defines who we are. It influences us, inspires us, but it doesn’t define us. We are a collection of color with varied interests, experiences and passions.”

My family’s reputation in our community and beyond set the bar high, true. But I never felt pressure. I felt inspired. I felt an enormous responsibility but to me that is different than pressure. As children, we witnessed the impact of a single company on our community daily. We visited various parts of the enterprise from the hotels to the restaurants and met our fellow ‘Carlsonians.’ Our grandparents and parents would remind us that each employee was a member of our ‘greater Carlson family’ and that it was our responsibility to continue building a profitable business so they could provide for their own and our company could provide even more jobs.”




Eric Dayton: “We’ve always grown up with our parents having high expectations for us, which we have internalized and have put those high expectations on ourselves, which can be a good motivator. There’s a pressure there, but that has motivated us to find out what it is we’re passionate about and do the best we can. In healthy doses, that pressure can be a good thing.”

“When you’re younger, you’re trying to figure out who you are and your own identity, what you’re passionate about, what your purpose is. Back then, having a last name that was on the side of buildings sometimes felt like it had the potential to overshadow a little bit as we were trying to figure out just who we were as individuals, not necessarily in the context of a bigger family or last name. But we’ve each had the time to find our passions and find what we wanted to do and apply ourselves to that—so that’s in a healthy balance now.” 

“Look, no one really wants to hear about our ‘Dayton problems.’ We also recognize everyone has their challenges whatever family you’re from, everyone has their stuff. There’s certainly a tremendous about of good fortune and advantage and benefit that comes with the positions that we’re lucky to be in and we see that a lot more than any potential downsides, at least certainly at this stage of our lives.”




Matt Freeman: “There is an assumption from many that me working in politics wasn’t a choice—that it was something that I was forced to do or that was predestined. I actually went to college looking to be an English major, but politics and government classes were what interested me the most. I was conscious of not wanting to just fall into a career because it was “what I was supposed to do.” While I know that I was influenced by what I was exposed to growing up, my career path and vocation has been my own conscious and individual decision.”

“Another pet peeve is that accomplishments outside of the “family business” in our family don’t get their just due credit and recognition. My aunt Connie is incredibly accomplished in her work in African affairs. My sister Katie changes lives everyday as a magnificent family practice doctor in Frogtown of Saint Paul and shapes the next generation of family practice physicians as an assistant professor in the U of M Medical School residency program. She does incredible work every day, going above and beyond for our community and her patients. My sister Beth helped build Genesys Works Twin Cities (a phenomenal non-profit working with first generation college students and exposing them to tech jobs) from the ground up to the invaluable community asset it is today. She has made going to college and working in the tech field a reality for young people who may never have considered it without this program. Because their work does not fit cleanly in the narrative of a family involved in electoral politics, their accomplishments are not often noticed or highlighted the same way.”

Mike Freeman: “It can be tiresome to be compared to my father, Orville, who served here as Governor in the 1950s or to my son, Matthew, who has been a staffer in the MN Senate, an aide to a U.S. Senator, and now a policy aide to the Mayor of St. Paul. We each served in different roles and at different times. I am Mike, Dad was Orville, and Matt is Matt. We served at different times and in different jobs, but we were and are dedicated public servants and that makes me proud of all of us.”




Lee Kerfoot: “The contribution my family has made to Minnesota that makes me most proud is exposing people to outdoor recreation that they wouldn’t do on their own, but they’d like to do. Starting with the canoe outfitting business, going to dog-sledding, now I’ve got two zip-line tours. It’s the things that people love, that they think they want to do, that’s exciting and fun, and making it achievable or doable for people. Helping them explore in recreational ways that are exciting and fun, but are still soft on the environment.”




Hunter Palmer Wright: “Although political, business and social work influences are noteworthy, I am most proud of the family’s early contributions to Minnesota’s excellent cultural resources. Their commitment to creating places—a museum, an art school—for the community to come together for enjoyment, reflection, learning and connection through art was both timely and timeless. Members of the Morrison family, particularly Ethel Morrison Van Derlip, played an integral role in founding and governing the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, as well as creating an important endowment for future art acquisitions and educational opportunities and broadening the influence of the museum by inspiring the formation of Mia’s significant volunteer group, the Friends of the Institute.”

“One misconception about being part of a family legacy is thinking there is a singular legacy—similar to history, it is important to remember who is telling the story, and why, and to whom. A family legacy is not a hard and fast thing, a one-time event carved into a marble slab. It is families full of individuals, and it is a living, breathing story that is constantly unfolding, taking some of the past with it but primarily creating a relevant future. An example is the museum’s recent rebranding campaign, when the Minneapolis Institute of Art adopted “Mia” as its preferred nickname on its 100th birthday. I love hearing the passion in someone’s voice telling me the new name is perfect; or, equally, how they will never call it anything but the “M-I-A” or “The Institute.” The museum started as The Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, and has officially been both the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Art…each generation of my family has staunchly referred to it as the name of their time, now including my 2 and 4-year-old daughters…who only know the museum as Mia. Ultimately, what is important in a legacy is not the name, but the impact of adding value to our community.”




Dean Phillips: “There was a time in Minneapolis when a handful of families, probably four or five, essentially were the legs of the entire community stool, that built orchestra halls and financed many of the parks and many of the amenities that we now enjoy, because we had a lot of family businesses that were based here. Those times have changed. The ownership is now public in many cases, and leadership is not necessarily from here. That means that there’s a broader responsibility of those who have succeeded to share and help others. We have to encourage a new generation of families and individuals to participate, and that to me is a great opportunity. It’s what differentiates the Twin Cities from so many other places, is our generosity.” 




Milissa Silva: “The Silva family’s values are to love unconditionally, repent, forgive, and keep fighting; we are a resilient family, having overcome many, many challenges. As a business, we highly value offering only quality, authentic Mexican cuisine and groceries while experiencing a little bit of Mexico through the unique Mexican ambiance. Our parents didn’t start the business thinking about becoming rich, and we don’t continue the family business because of that either. Financial benefits are not our drive. When our parents immigrated here, they wanted to provide a future for the family, they missed the flavors of Mexico, and those things, combined with our mother’s cooking, were the motivation enough to jump into the business. Through their hard work and strong faith in God, they succeeded to both provide an authentic experience for our customers as well as a good life for our family. We value and appreciate our employees, customers, and community loyalty, our business success is truly because of them.”

“We are proud that Minnesotans of all cultural backgrounds and experiences have made El Burrito Mercado a family favorite market and restaurant. It is so rewarding to hear a Latino from Latin or Central America get excited when they find cooking ingredients in the market, or a Mexicano to say to us ‘I feel at home, I feel like I’m in Mexico’ It’s a really good feeling to provide Latinos the nostalgic flavors and cultural, traditional experiences of home, and it’s rewarding that non-Latinos embrace the culture and love our food. Whether it’s immigrants, first generation, assimilated second generation Latinos, or non-Latinos, they all seem to relate to something at El Burrito Mercado that feels good, and that’s the biggest compliment for us.”

“Growing in the family business is definitely a blessing. It’s also a true test of character, love, empathy, and resilience. I love working with my family; I have fun with them, we laugh, cry, stress, struggle, disagree, and reconcile together. Often times people have the misconception that people think because the business is passed on to us that we have it made and just sit back and collect a check. True, we are blessed that our parents successfully established a business that could be passed on to their children, but it’s up to us now to continue the legacy and that is only possible if we continue to work hard and embrace the values our parents passed on to us.”